Tag Archives: Stephen Lord

A Memorable “Marriage”

Opera Maine
“Marriage of Figaro”
Merrill Auditorium
July 25, 2018
by Christopher Hyde

If you don’t have tickets already, buy whatever is available for Opera Maine’s new production of “The Marriage of Figaro.” on Friday. It has everything—a great cast of singers, an interesting Downton Abbey-style set by Portland’s Christopher Akerlind, an understandable plot (if chaotic at times), Mozart’s music played by a fine orchestra under maestro Stephen Lord, humor, romance and sex. Even the supertitles are good.

Thanks to artistic director Dona D. Vaughn for one of the most memorable presentations of this work in recent years.

Where to begin? Probably with Figaro himself, sung by bass-baritone Robert Mellon. If he were not a world-class singer, he could make a career as a stand-up comic. HIs facial expressions as he tries desperately to explain events in the countess’ chamber are priceless, like his antics with the dowdy Marcellina, sung by mezzo-soprano MaryAnn McCormick. He is perfectly cast.

Speaking of perfect, soprano Maeve Höglund as Figaro’s betrothed, Susanna, had better be careful or she will be type-cast as Mozart’s favorite heroine. She is a fine actress, and her voice has remarkable clarity and power without a hint of shrillness. Her duets with soprano Danielle Pastin, as Countess Almaviva, are enthralling in their subtle contrasts of tone and timbre.

Baritone Keith Phares makes an ideal foil for Figaro and Susanna’s machinations as the pretty-boy Count Almaviva who has abolished his droit de seigneur powers because he can fool around quite as well without them. I got the impression that the lovely flower-girl chorus was composed primarily of his conquests among the servants.

Among the principals, mezzo-soprano Hongni Wu stole the show as the equally lecherous Cherubino, the teenaged go-between who loves the Countess but will take anything he can get. He/she lightens up the stage whenever she appears. My theory is that she is Mozart, who puts himself in his operas the way Alfred Hitchcock did in movies.

The ancillary roles are sung and acted with humor and authenticity. Special mention should be made of bass Kevin Glavin, as the scheming Dr. Bartolo. His rapid-fire rendition of legal polysyllables must have inspired Rossini’s “Largo al factotum,” in his own “Barber of Seville.”

The Victorian sets work quite well, as do the costumes by Millie Hiibel. The first three acts take place in rooms typical of those in a British manor, suggested by a tapestry-like background. They provide a feeling of intimacy, yet with ample room for Mozart’s characteristic device of characters at odds with each other singing from opposite sides of the stage.

The final seduction scene, however, takes place in a “pine grove” portrayed by huge pinecone-like scales in the background, with the foreground dominated by two giant segmented horns. Tree trunks, phallic symbols, or the duplicate horns of a cuckold? The characters in their cloaks look like wraiths, indicating that something serious is at stake.

But all is resolved in the end, the lighting becomes more cheerful, Susanna and Figaro, and the Count and Countess are reconciled, and the entire cast joins in a gigantic chorus. The curtain falls and it is time for the cheers, bravos and flowers.
Next year “The Magic Flute.”

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at classbeat@netscape.net.

Opera Maine “Marriage of Figaro” Will Surprise

Opera Maine “Marriage of Figaro”

Mozart at his most mischievous is a good characterization of “The Marriage of Figaro,” to be presented July 25 and 27 by Opera Maine at Merrill Auditorium.

The composer must have jumped at the chance to paint musical portraits of a count and countess, the cunning barber (of Seville), a horny teenager (himself?) a silly girl, a conniving doctor and an unconventional young woman, all wrapped up in a bawdy tale that had to be cleaned up a little to pass the Viennese censors. (The libretto is based on a popular play by Beaumarchais, adapted by Lorenzo DaPonte.)

The combination of aristocracy, romance, humor and great music has made The Marriage of Figaro” one of the ten most popular operas of all time.

Opera Maine artistic director Dona D. Vaughn finds it relevant in the “me too,” age, when men still use wealth and authority in an attempt to control women like Susanna (Figaro’s bride to be). “You often hear ‘I was afraid to speak up,’ but Susanna isn’t afraid at all.” She outfoxes Count Almaviva, who is trying to cheat on the Countess and assert his droit de seigneur before the wedding.

Vaughn likens the play to an Alice-in-Wonderland world, where anything can happen. It makes it possible for the music to range from heart-breaking to farcical without missing a beat.

“When we scheduled the opera (for the second time in 17 years), I thought ‘What have I done?’ but every time you produce it you find something different. Several of the cast and our conductor, Stephen Lord, have done it before, and everyone has an idea of how it should go. The result is a collaborative effort, and something new.

As usual, Vaughn has some surprises in store. They are not in the role of Susanna—she has portrayed strong women before—but in the setting. Originally staged in Count Almaviva’s palace not far from Seville, in the18th Century, the Marriage will take place in a lavish country manor, in a different country, around 1900, when class distinctions were more evident, and all sorts of eccentricities were tolerated: “You can do anything you like here, just don’t do it in the yard and scare the horses.”

Props lent by the Victoria Mansion will provide period authenticity.

Vaughn is enthusiastic about this year’s cast, which includes several who have sung at the Metropolitan Opera and other world-famous venues, plus others who are on the cusp of major careers.

Keith Phares will perform the role of Count Almaviva and soprano Danielle Pastin is the Countess. Returning to perform with Opera Maine are tenor Robert Brubaker as Basilio, baritone Robert Mellon as Figaro, and soprano Maeve Höglund as Susanna. Mezzo-soprano Hongni Wu joins the cast having just won the Metropolitan Council Auditions. Also featured are soprano MaryAnn McCormick as Marcellina, and bass Kevin Glavin as Bartolo.

The opera will be sung in Italian, with supertitles in English.

In another current production by Opera Maine, mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis leads the cast of Jake Heggie’s “Three Decembers,” which also features Studio Artists soprano Symone Harcum, and tenor Yazid Gray. This opera was composed in 2008 with librettist Gene Scheer. Set in the Decembers of 1986, 1996, and 2006, the 90-minute opera tells the story of a famous stage actress, Madeline Mitchell, and her two adult children, Beatrice and Charlie, as they struggle to know and love one another.

“Three Decembers” can be heard Friday, July 13 at Deertrees Theater, Harrison; Sunday, July 15 at The Temple, Ocean Park; and Monday, July 16, at Camden Opera House.

PORTopera Offers Major New Production of “Carmen”

“Carmen”
Merrill Auditorium
July 27 and 29
by Christopher Hyde

PORTopera’s 2016 production of George Bizet’s “Carmen” promises to be a landmark in the company’s long history in Maine. It was first performed 22 years ago at the State Theater, 11 years ago at Merrill Auditorium, and this year in a fully staged version at Merrill, with lead singers from the Metropolitan Opera.

Dona D. Vaughn has directed all three productions, and, as usual, has a surprise in store for audiences. She won’t say what it is, but it occurs in the third act. “Carmen” is scheduled for two performances at Merrill Auditorium: Wednesday, July 27 and Friday, July 29, and there are still a few tickets left. Maestro Stephen Lord will conduct a full orchestra, an auditioned adult chorus is being rehearsed by Robert Russell, and a children’s chorus by Sarah Bailey.

Why “Carmen” (again)? “It’s the most popular opera in the repertoire, surpassing “La Boheme” and ”Madame Butterfly,” and every time you see it, you find something new,” said Vaughn.

The opera has appeared in many guises, including the movie “Carmen Jones” with Harry Belafonte. Vaughn’s version will be traditional, sung in French with English supertitles, but set in the 1930’s around the time of the Spanish Civil War.

“Google is wonderful for authenticity,” Vaughn remarked. “You want Spanish wine bottles or rifles from the Franco era, and there they are. There’s no guesswork.”

The period sets were designed by Judy Gailen. “Just the change in style makes a difference in stage direction,” Vaughn points out. “The actors move differently in different costumes.”

The cast of the new production is a blend of Met singers and audience favorites from previous PORTopera presentations.

Maya Lahyani, mezzo-soprano, will sing the role of “Carmen.” The Israeli opera singer is a 2010 grand finalist of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and the recipient of an Adler Fellowship at San Francisco Opera. Highlights of Lahyani’s 2015-2016 season include performances at the Metropolitan Opera as Maddalena in “Rigoletto,” and Lola in “Cavalleria Rusticana.” “She not only has a wonderful voice, but is also a good actress and an artist passionately devoted to her role,” said Vaughn.

Adam Diegel, tenor, returns to PORTopera as Don Jose. This season, Diegel will also perform as Pinkerton in “Madama Butterfly” at Opera San Antonio, a role in which he was greatly admired a few seasons back by PORTopera fans.

Amanda Woodbury, soprano, will sing the role of Micaëla, in which she made her professional debut at LA Opera in 2013.

Ed Parks, baritone, will sing the role of Escamillo. Parks sang in Metropolitan Opera productions of “La Bohème,” “Die Zauberflöte,” and “Don Carlo” in the 2014-2015 season. This is his third time singing with PORTopera Previously he played Marcello in “La Bohème” and made his debut as Sharpless in “Madama Butterfly,”

Kenneth Kellogg, bass, will sing the role of Zuniga. .

Sahoko Sato, mezzo soprano, will sing the role of Mercédès. She is a native of Tokyo and grew up in Japan, Germany and the US.

Robert Mellon, baritone, returns to PORTopera to sing the role of Le Danca. He performed with PORTopera as Marullo (“Rigoletto”), in the title role in “Gianni Schicchi,” as Prince Yamadori (“Madama Butterfly”), as the Corporal (“La fille du régiment”) and as the Man (“Café Vienna”).

Lucas Levy, tenor, returns to PORTopera to sing Le Remendado while covering the leading role of Don José. In the summer of 2015, Levy joined PORTopera as a Young Artist, singing Spoletta in “Tosca” and the trio tenor in “Trouble in Tahiti.” Previously, Lucas appeared as Borsa in “Rigoletto” and Gherardo in “Gianni Schicchi.”

The role of Morales will be sung by Jorelle Williams and Maeve Höglund will sing Frasquita.

While we’re on the subject of PORTopera, the company’s Young Artists production of Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Medium,” can be seen tonight (Friday) at the St. Lawrence Theater in Portland, and at Ocean Park in Old Orchard Beach on Sunday.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at classbeat@netscape.net.