Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Review: Our Town (opera by Rorem) at CUA

As I mentioned in my previous post (see below), Catholic University of America's 2008 President's Festival of the Arts was held last week and culminated in productions of both Thornton Wilder's play Our Town and Ned Rorem's opera of the same name.

Rorem's operatic setting, with libretto by J.D. McClatchy, has really gotten me thinking. It's so interesting, in fact, that I will save my review of the opera itself for another separate post, to be written in the next few days. Before that, here is a full review of this specific CUA performance...

Director James Hampton is to be commended for his use of lines and texture on stage. The sparse, linear approach to the opening and closing scenes formed an effective bookend for the drama, and the blocking was as natural as most any other opera I've seen. Unfortunately, the Saturday evening performance also experienced a number of technical problems including the curtain catching twice on scenery, some running crew confusion, and a projection screen that was consistently lowered too far.

Conductor Murry Sidlin successfully led a well-rehearsed and talented orchestra through this relatively new score. The ensemble played as one and at a consistently appropriate level - always a challenge when not playing in a pit. Trumpet player Michael Mergen was particularly notable for his warm tone.

The prize for most notes sung certainly goes to Eric Gramatges, who sang with power and ease as the Stage Manager. His is a perfect example of a character who sings a lot of lyrical, beautiful, instantly-forgettable phrases. If only the Stage Manager had one or two well-defined, stand-alone arias, every lyric tenor in the country would jump at the chance to sing this role.

While the Stage Manager certainly sings the most notes in the opera, Emily Gibbs is the real lead character, due largely to her impressive and powerful "arias" (kind of) in the third act. Soprano Diana Bryan sang this role with impressive agility, tone, and character. John Murray (George Gibbs) offered a lighter, more fitting timbre for his youthful character; he matched Bryan in his energy and dramatic timing, but sounded somewhat strained that evening.

Damain Savarino and Bridgid Eversole demonstrated such fine singing and acting as Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs that one wishes Rorem could expand their roles. Eversole sang with her usual free and beautiful tone, while Savarino's rich, sonorous bass-baritone voice was the surprise of the evening for audience members who, like me, missed him in Elixir last year.

The team at CUA gave a quality DC premiere of this new and exciting opera. The voices and instruments made good music sound great. The dramatic effect on stage, however, was less than the original.

But that... is the the subject of another review.

Now that you've suffered through me, check out Cecelia Porter's Washington Post review of CUA's production of the opera.


  1. HEY Kyle...thanks for the lovely review...It was nice to get to talk to you about the opera last night..Im interested to see what you write next :)