Worldwide reviews for a worldwide audience
Opera Boston's "L'etoile" is a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and a whole lot of fun to watch.
FRIDAY, MARCH 3, 2006
Photo: Clive Granger
Reviewed By: Paul Joseph Walkowski
Opera Boston likes to take chances and that’s a good thing. Of course, when one takes chances such as this, one risks one’s audience. And last night at the Cutler Majestic Theater in downtown Boston, the audience, while respectable in number, made up far less than a full house – and that’s a shame because this light-hearted musical/comedy/play/opera/ vaudeville performance of a King in search of a victim to execute, as is his customary practice on the festive occasion of his birthday celebration, was a hoot to watch and a pleasure to the ear.
With regard to the story, only one thing stands in the King’s way: his astrologer has predicted that the King will die 24-hours after the death of his intended victim. Worse for the astrologer, the King tells him that it is in his Will that he, the astrologer, will be executed fifteen minutes after the King’s death – the former, so he can serve the King in the afterlife. Naturally, everyone wants to keep the “victim” alive for as long as possible – even if this means allowing him to flirt with the King’s harem and steal the somewhat dimwitted King’s reluctant bride-to-be.
To tell this entertaining story, Opera Boston gave us a fine ensemble cast and brought back the team that gave us the gloriously colorful 2004 ‘Nixon in China’.
While this ‘opera’ that sounds and looks a lot like a Broadway musical, may not satisfy hardened fans of opera, it will most definitely satisfy (at least this version) fans of theater, and on that level it scores a resounding success. Indeed, the fun of this opera can be found in the sum of its parts: fine animated acting, solid singing performances (although for the life of me I cannot understand why companies insist on casting trouser roles any longer): solid stage direction (Scott Edmiston); economical, very attractive and bright set design that consisted of a concentric circular razed stage on one side set off against sheer curtains and wonderful colors in the sherbet spectrum of aqua, lime, peach and magenta to name a few, on the other side (Susan Rogers); superb lighting design and adept usage throughout (Christopher Ostrom); funny and colorful costumes (Gail Astrid Buckley); and a wonderfully choreographed production from the full cast, including a talented and lively chorus (Judith Chaffee and Scott Edmiston).
Ironically, what may have brought this production down from the heights it could have achieved was the lack of stirring arias or memorable music that would linger after the production ended – or even during intermissions. And this is said, knowing that the score was hailed in its day for its complexity and beauty by the likes of Debussy, Satie and Stravinsky. That’s not to say the music, provided here in characteristic good fashion by Opera Boston’s music director, Gil Rose, was not pleasant to the ear; it was. It just that it doesn’t last afterward. And that’s why the color of this production, as well as the singing and animated style of its highly charged cast meant so much. If there was one critique of the orchestra, it would be that the timpani and bass seemed to hold back where they should have been allowed to announce themselves with greater dramatic emphasis. The Cutler Majestic isn’t that big a hall; it can be filled with sound, and should be at every opportunity.
With regard to the cast, we saw a couple debuts last night, and the return of a few favorites.
Tenor Torrance Blaisdell, as King Ouf, was a blast to watch: he was animated and lively, and dressed in those silly colors, was the life of this show, especially when he removed his top hat to reveal a five point gold crown attached permanently to his follicle deficient head. Talk about being in love with your job! Blaisdell’s tenor was clear, rich and charged with enough emotional involvement such that he became the lovable lug of a dimwit he portrayed. Wonderful!
Singing the role of his astrologer, Siroco, was Boston favorite, baritone Robert Honeysucker (See our profile of Mr. Honeysucker in our archives). Honeysucker seems to get better with age, and brings not only a solid voice to whatever role he lends his considerable talents, but equally solid and relaxed acting. This was another fine job and feather in his astrologer cap.
Mezzo-Soprano, Valerie Komar, (also making her Opera Boston debut) sang the “trouser” role of the victim Lazuli, who believed he/she died and went to heaven when he/she awoke in the middle of a harem of silk-gowned nymphs eager to take him/her for a test drive. Ms. Komar gave an outstanding performance as Lazuli, and sang comfortably within the tessitura. She has a lovely voice that resonates with feeling and is animated enough on stage in the ways of a man that her Lazuli (a male role) was an interesting character to observe, especially, and on more than one occasion, when he/she kissed soprano Heather Buck, cast as the princess-in-disguise, Laoula, square on the lips.
The four singers pictured above (L-R): tenor Alan Schneider, singing the role of the ambassador’s male secretary, Tapioca; soprano, Emily Browder, singing the role of the ambassador’s wife, Aloès; soprano Heather Buck, singing the role of Princess Laoula; and Drew Poling, singing the role of Ambassador Hérisson, each gave solid acting and vocal performances, and provided an ensemble style that was fluid in every way, contributing to the overall enjoyment of this entertaining outing.
As noted above, this production is marked for its total and solid ensemble and production merits and, if for no other reason, is worth attending and seeing. For hardcore opera fans it may not be your cup of tea; on the other hand, if opera is the total package, this baby might be right up your alley. Enjoy!
Conductor, Gil Rose
Stage Director, Scott Edmiston
Producer, Carole Charnow
Scenic design, Susan Rogers
Costume Design, Gail Astrid Buckley
Lighting Design, Christopher Ostrom
Choreography, Judith Chaffee and Scott Edmiston