Emily Pulley/Tim Mix/Robert Brubaker/Matthew DiBattista
St. Louis Symphony/Ward
Tim Mix/Robert Brubaker/Matthew DiBattista/Kelly Kaduce
St. Louis Symphony/Ward
Opera Theatre of St.
Thursday, June 13, 2013
“A married woman falls in love with a young man, and in a
jealous rage, her possessive husband takes his revenge. Il Tabarro
) and Pagliacci (Clowns)
operas. The same story:” Brazilian director Ron Daniels succinctly gives us the
gist of these two powerful music dramas. What a brilliant idea to present them
together in a single evening - a little grim, yes, but wonderfully
most often paired with Cavalleria
Rusticana. Il Tabarro, as
originally conceived by Puccini, was part of a triptych of one-act operas, the
other two being Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi. This evening’s unusual pairing was a welcome fresh
approach. In this instance, Il
Tabarro came off as somewhat schematic, upstaged by Pagliacci, clearly the masterpiece.
OTSL Has a Winning Formula!
I have long admired Opera
Theatre of St.Louis
(OTSL) for carving out a viable niche for itself
in the operatic world. As we all know, opera is expensive. Lavish productions
with world-class singers require big donors and big audiences. Too often this
process spirals out of control and the company ends up either cutting corners
on quality or going bankrupt – perhaps both. In St. Louis, management has found
a way to keep quality high and budgets in the black year after year. Now in its 38th season, this organization's success should serve as as model for companies all over the country.
Rather than spreading out its offerings throughout the year,
Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ presents its season over six weeks in May and June.
This year’s programming was typical; a lighter crowd-pleaser (Pirates of Penzance), a well-known opera
(Pagliacci), a world premiere (Champion) and an obscure but accessible
piece (Smetana’s The Kiss). This
is an imaginative mix by any standard. I suspect ticket sales will continue to
be strong and, based on the only evening I attended, audiences will be
impressed with what they see and hear.
|Timothy O'Leary, General Director|
In addition to programming astutely, the management of Opera
Theatre of St. Louis (General Director Timothy O’Leary, Music Director Stephen
Lord, and Artistic Director James Robinson) has wisely chosen its venue - a
small theater on the campus of Webster University in which audience members
have the great advantage of being close to the action in any seat, and has
engaged singers who, with rare exceptions, are not household names, but are
invariably excellent, with fine voices and admirable dramatic skills. To boot,
they are nearly always American. Clearly, the company is providing wonderful
opportunities for talented young artists here at home.
For Il Tabarro
, the directors furthered the
goal of developing home-grown talent by giving several artists leading roles in
both operas. This tactic not only saved money but demonstrated the versatility
of the performers involved: Tim Mix, Robert
were superb in both operas.
Another important element in Opera Theatre of St. Louis
productions is the policy of performing operas in English. One could argue that
in an era when English surtitles are commonly used by opera companies – OTSL
included singing foreign operas in
English is no longer necessary to make them intelligible to American
audiences, but singing in English is a long OTSL tradition, appreciated by its
audiences - so why change?
Not only theme, but also set design melded these two operas
together. For Il Tabarro, we had
a backdrop photo of a Seine river barge taken from Jean Vigo’s 1934 film Atalante. That backdrop was magically
peeled away during the prelude to Pagliacci to
reveal a circus setting.
Pagliacci Unquestionably the Masterpiece in this Pairing
Il Tabarro is
an extremely somber opera about very unhappy people. It has neither the
show-stopping arias that audiences have come to expect from Puccini, nor does
it offer comic relief. The mood is pretty dark from beginning to end. Singing
and acting in this production were on a fairly high level; that said, I did
find Tim Mix’s portrayal of the cuckolded barge owner Michele more inward than
it needed to be. His murder of both his wife and her lover at the end of the
opera seemed somewhat over the top given his character portrayal to that point;
I suspect, however, that director Ron Daniels would say “That is exactly the
point! This is a man seething with suspicion who explodes when his suspicions
are confirmed.” From my perspective, I would like to have seen a little more
seething from the beginning.
, on the
other hand, offers audiences a greater variety of moods and emotions and, in my
opinion, much better music as well. Here, director Ron Daniels made a great
work even greater. He encouraged his singers to create unforgettable characters
and demonstrated considerable ingenuity in extending the playing area beyond
the stage into the aisles. Another idea that worked well was having a team of
mute clowns act as a sort of Greek chorus
in mime on the action.
In this opera, Tim
was as animated as he was stolid in Il Tabarro
. He was outstanding as the fool, Tonio. Robert Brubaker
as Canio was totally into his tortured and malevolent character and sang
Kelly Kaduce's Nedda Outstanding!
To my mind, the truly outstanding performance of the evening
- vocal and dramatic - was given by Minnesota soprano Kelly
as Nedda. In her first aria, I found her hand gestures
excessive but during the play within a play she used her hands – and her voice
– with remarkable virtuosity. Her high energy Nedda set the drama in motion and
made her murder in the final scene incredibly shocking. Kaduce is a riveting
presence on an operatic stage and I will watch her developing career with great
the conductor for both operas and he did a creditable job, as far as I could
tell; unfortunately, one of the shortcomings of the Loretto-Hinton Center is
the sound of the orchestra. The positioning of the players deep in the pit and
partly under the stage helps to ensure excellent balance between singers and
orchestra, but it also practically guarantees that loud climaxes have little or
no impact. The explosive endings of both operas call for full-out fortissimos
from nearly every member of the orchestra; it is the combination of double
murders before our eyes and an orchestra reinforcing the drama with enormous
volume that gives the horrific final moments of both tragedies their true operatic
Opera Theatre of St. Louis has gotten almost everything else
right about running an opera company; perhaps it is time to give some thought
to improving the sound of the orchestra. The music deserves it - indeed, the
music requires it!
There is much to enjoy at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis:
the picnics on the lawn before the performance; the partying with the artists
at the end of the performance; the comprehensive, graphically outstanding
program book; the imaginatively appointed lobby area, featuring large color
photos of OTSL productions past and present, and last but not least, the
excellent Preview presentation by repetiteur Damien
before the performance. Lively and articulate, he
knew both operas presented this evening intimately, and played and sang
excerpts from each with impressive ease.