Saturday, October 12, 2013

Cuter than a box of puppies

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of seeing Baltimore Concert Opera's performance of L'Elisir d'Amore.  I wrote about it here.

On Friday, October 11, I had even more pleasure in seeing the same cast perform a fully staged version at Opera Delaware.  And I don't know where to begin. While it is impossible to avoid comparisons between the two performances, I do not want in any way to dilute the high praise I paid the Baltimore Concert Opera. But holy cow, what a sweet show this was!

This Elixir was full of delightful directorial detail that continually had me giggling or murmuring,  "Awwwwww!" (I don't giggle lightly, and although I murmur far too often, rarely is it, "Awwwwww!") I tried to tell my DH that this show was cuter than a box of puppies.  He didn't believe me, but he wasn't there. I hope you'll be there Sunday for the second and final performance.

This is unlike me, but I really must rave about director Dean Anthony. He showed great skill in traffic control and stage business, and very sweet and clever directorial touches. He also had a cast of talented singer/actors and a highly spirited chorus throw themselves completely into a delightful production with a unity that is well beyond what one might see at other regional opera companies.  I don't want to give too many secrets away, but I can't resist sharing how I was completely charmed during the overture, when a 9-year old Nemorino and a 9-year old Adina mimed the sort of romance that 9 year olds have. This really brought home what we sometimes forget--that these two have known each other all their lives, and it's quite likely that everyone in their little worlds has assumed forever that they'd be man and wife one day. No wonder Adina is resistant--an independent, intelligent, relatively privileged teenage girl being told about her future. And it's no surprise that the entire village has watched them all their lives and knows how deeply she loves Nemorino long before she herself realizes it. (Kudos to young actors Gavin Cross and Katarina Swann as young Nemorino and Adina--especially for sticking around to take a curtain call at the very end!)

William Davenport and Sharin Apostolou
Photo: Mark Garvin, Opera Delaware
I wrote two weeks ago that it seemed the cast felt limited by the constraints of a concert performance, as they had been in staging rehearsals for a week already. No such issue now! All of the cast threw themselves into their roles with a wanton abandon that is delightful to see. And all of the cast sang even more beautifully when given the freedom to inhabit their roles fully.

In particular I must say William Davenport really redeemed himself. Two weeks ago I questioned casting him as Nemorino, for he has a fuller, larger voice than I prefer as Nemorino. Although he sang it well, I thought his voice was too big for the role.  Now I must correct myself and say it was likely just too big for the room. At the Engineers' Club in Baltimore, it seemed like he was holding back the vocal sound. No such feeling in the Grand Opera House in Wilmington. He sang with his own voice, comfortably filling the hall with sound, and oddly enough, in doing so he sang at times with a lighter, more supple sound. His Nemorino was all country bumpkin--a true innocent who wears his heart on his sleeve.

Sharin Apostolou's acting talent, about which I have written before, was clearly evident in this production. We know her Adina isn't the cold-hearted teenage girl about which popular movies and TV shows are made (think Shannon Dougherty, back in the day), but rather a quite human mix of innocently self absorbed and truly caring (Jennifer Love Hewitt?). As with Mr. Davenport, throwing herself into the role made her singing even more beautiful than before. I do wish the orchestra, under the capable baton of Jerome Shannon, hadn't overpowered her so often.

All the praise I gave Trevor Scheunemann two weeks ago in Baltimore held true in Delaware. His singing was glorious, and he acted the ridiculously vain Belcore with a great joy and passion that was a pleasure to see. As I wrote before, to Belcore love and war are both games, and not only does he not take his own braggadocio seriously, he doesn't really expect anyone else to believe it, either. The only thing I'd have added was more of an "Oh, @#$%!" moment when Adina consents to marry him that very day, but that is directorial icing on the cake. The cherry on an already delicious sundae.

William Davenport
Photo: Mark Garvin, Opera Delaware
Once again Stephen Eisenhard proved a capable Dulcamara and Kimberly Christie a charming Gianetta. The chorus, under the direction of Jeffrey Miller, sounded wonderful while also acting as country peasants with great spirit. Jerome Shannon and the unnamed orchestra played well, but there were points where they overpowered the singers, as I mentioned above, and a few points where the pit and the stage were not in perfect synch. (Given the very high cost of having an orchestra at all, a small opera company can be forgiven for small points like this. I also wonder whether the balance issues I mention held true in all parts of the house.) Costume, wig/makeup, and lighting were all charming.

Finally, I must now rave about the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, Delaware. This beautiful old performing space was opened in 1871 as a Grand Lodge for the Masons (the edifice features Masonic images).  The Grand has played host to thousands of renowned entertainers and performing artists over the years, including Ethel Barrymore, Buffalo Bill Cody, and John Philip Sousa, but it had evolved into a vaudeville house and movie theater by the mid 20th century.  Lovingly restored in the early 1970s, the Grand is now the venue for Opera Delaware productions and a wide range of other performances. I noticed in the lobby large posters for upcoming shows with Bonnie Raitt and Wanda Sykes.

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