Reviewed by Sherri Strichman
Last night (Feb. 17) Tri-Cities Opera-goers were treated to seemingly unconnected works, written by two seemingly unconnected composers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The result was a well-received double bill, brilliantly conceived, produced and performed.
The first half of the evening was devoted to the cabaret songs, or Brettl-Lieder, of Arnold Schoenberg. For those who are panic-stricken by the composer’s very name, fear not. These are from his late romantic period, before he went all 12-tonal. They are beautifully lyrical pieces with bawdy texts that focus on a man’s earthier thoughts about women and sexuality.
The concept here was to have them sung by Marilyn Monroe (Stacey Geyer), interspersed with the woman’s perspective in a monologue made up of quotations from Monroe, selected and arranged by Stage Director James Kenon Mitchell. Geyer, whose glorious singing needs no gimmicks, gave a tour de force performance, making Marilyn her own. She was assisted in the comedic choreography by a quartet of lounge lizards (who returned in other roles after intermission).
The second half of the production was Maurice Ravel’s L’heure espagnole (“Spanish Time”), a one-act opera sung in French but set in Spain. Ravel, whose mother was from the Basque region in northern Spain, had a lifelong interest in things Spanish.
This story involves a clockmaker, his wife, a lover, a would-be lover, a muleteer,and two very large clocks. The resulting farce is enjoyable, although the wife, Concepcion, calls it a “pitoyable aventure.”
Mary Beth Nelson as Concepción was marvelous, her beautiful voice taking on dark colors not heard in her lighter Rossini repertoire. She sang upside down, sideways and every which way, with ease and drama. As her clueless husband, Seokho Patrick Park left us wanting more. Scott Purcell was an endearing muleteer, a man of brawn but lacking in intellectual attainments. Jordan Schreiner and Jake Stamatis gave excellent characterizations as a head-in-the-clouds poet and a financier, respectively.
Everyone sang beautifully; everyone acted beautifully. Stamatis, especially, was very funny. As usual.
This work, which calls for a large orchestra, was scaled down to piano (two- and four-hand) played by John Elam and Music Director William Hobbs (who also conducted); harp, played by Jessica Wilbee, and a wide variety of percussion, played by Joel Smales. Hobbs provided the piano accompaniment for the Schoenberg.
The production director was Cynthia Hennon Marino, and additional production staff included Scenic Designer AmarA*jk, Lighting Designer Craig Saeger, Costume Designer Betsy Thomson and Makeup and Hair Designer Shushu Vaughn. English supertitles were by Hobbs (Brettl-Lieder) and Jonathon Pape (L’heure espagnole).
But wait — there’s more! And it’s very exciting. Savoca Hibbitt Hall at TCO’s Opera Center now has comfortable seating (see page 17 in the program for details). No need to bring a cushion anymore.
There are three more opportunities to enjoy this delightful presentation: at 3 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 19) and Feb. 26, and at 7:30 p.m. Friday (Feb. 24) at the Opera Center, 315 Clinton St., Binghamton.
Worth the price? Yes. Go.
TICKETS: Call 772-0400 or visit www.tricitiesopera.com.