Monday, November 25, 2013

Opera is Back and Columbus Has Got It

The title may be poor grammar but the excitement is sincere. Opera/Columbus has reinvented itself as an organization dedicated to local talent, world class excellence and a damned good time. Last weekend's performances of  Madama Butterfly at the Southern Theater is the beginning of a wonderful new chapter.

The New York City Opera has shut own after seventy years. World clas opera companies are teetering. The august Met no longer plays to packed houses, whether or not Anna Netrebko is singing. (I wonder how early the standing room line begins these days. In my day it was four a.m. to hear Sutherland, Pavarotti, Domingo, Milnes, Price, get my drift) Opera Columbus has been shipwrecked more than once. I don't think that will ever happen again.

I've seen Madama Butterfly a hundred times. So have you. I've seen it seen it set in  a whore house, in Hiroshima after the bomb, and as a drag show I shit you not. I've heard it sung in Croatian, French and sort of English. I know my way around this show. Opera/Columbus's production outshone most of these.

When an opera is done in this town I switch right into I know more than you so how you gonna impess me mode. Well, slap me on the ass and call me Sally!

This production markrs the beginning a collaboration with the Ohio State School of Music. Truth to tell, this is not new but has now been made o-fficial. The scene shops, orchestra musicians, singing musicians, and stage craft will all blossom with such a collaboration. I hope they involve Dan Gray and Kristine Kearney.
Rebecca Turk made bautiful costumes for this Butterfly.

But the audience doesn't care. Were they moved? Did the show look beautiful? Was the singing wonderful? How was the conductor? Did the stage director actually know the opera?

Yes. Yes. Oh, yes.  Terrific. Absolutely.

Olga Perez Flora, Espen Elfers, Priti Gandhi

Conductor Kostis Protopapas eschewed the Karajan-esque sentimentality that can drench and cheapen this opera. He gave us a brisk, unsentimental reading. The chours twice began to veeroff course. Protopapas firmly righted the ship, immediately. This maestro did something new to me: He conducted what Puccini wrote. No extra layers of musical psycho babble-unwanted retards, shifts in tempi, or cliff hanger note lingering were. Protopapas was Riccardo Muti was heart.

Harold Meers as Pinkerton
Likewise stage director Crystal Manich told the story of Madam Butterfly. She trusted the work to do its magic, by offering a clear, motivated and beautifully looking production. Manich offered several new touches: The prelude to Act III was staged with several Pinkertons and Butterfly fruitlessly searching for the real thing. There was a nice touch in Act I where Pinkerton was blocked by Butterfly's formidable mother. Little touches like this add up to originality.

Ron Kadri's multi screen set was attractive and functional and never became boring. Special congratulations to Christofer Popowich for his warm lighting, the sun reflected off the sea ('spira sul mare...')

John Nevergall
Okay, yadda-yadda yadda how was the singing? Soprano Priti Gandhi is a a fine musician.  Priti is what we on the old standing room line called a kunst-diva (say that carefully) meaning she is riveting and effective with more than a voice (think Anja Silja or Catherine Malfitano) What about her voice? She's more Callas than Tebaldi (bullshit, she's Priti and she's great) Hers is not the Butterfly voice I most want to hear. The voice lacks spin and a bit of float. She is the Butterfly I most want to see live the role. What do you do with Pinkerton, a naval lieutenant played as asshole deluxe? Harold Meers is a good looking man who sang it beautifully. You can't like the character, but it was good to have a handsome tenor with a fine voice and a good stage presence.
born actress and
Robert Kerr

More to the OSU connection, my boys Robert Kerr (Sharpless) and John Nevergall (Goro)  were front and center terrific. Kerr's was the voice of the show. He needs to go sing in New York and Chicago. His voice often moves me to tears. Yesterday I just set and kvelled.  Nevergall has developed into a character actor of great talent with a voice continuing to grow into leading roles. Full disclosure: I've worked with both of them and am crazy about both of them.

Olga Perez Flora made Suzuki very much a leading role. Her solo opportunities in Act III showed a voice that will one day sing Amneris and Carmen . The smaller roles were  well filled. Everyone created a character and every one down to the one-lines made an indelible impression-no doubt helped by Ms. Manich. There were no small artists in this show.

I despair of published music criticism in this town. I won't do it myself except on my own blog. Conflict of interest and all that. But believe me when I tell you, Opera Columbus is back, with a Madama Butterfly that had Puccini weeping with joy and counting his money  in heaven.

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