On (and off) track

By LLOYD SCHWARTZ  |  April 29, 2008

The best Belmontes caress every lyric note. Norman Reinhardt has a pleasant voice, but he sings as if he were worried about an audition. Tenor Timothy Oliver was clearly enjoying the lighter role of Pedrillo. (Where else in opera is there such a gorgeous quartet for two sopranos and two tenors?) Another BU alum, bass-baritone David M. Cushing, was an audience favorite as the comic villain Osmin (his most substantial role with BLO). In tails and amply padded pantaloons, he had fun with director Robinson’s antics, and he negotiated all the sub-basement notes. But Mozart’s music adds dimensions of menace and heartbreak to the stereotype that Cushing never suggested. Actor Jim Spencer gives stiff dignity to the speaking role of the Pasha, but his high-pitched voice seems inappropriate for a man of power.

Willie Anthony Waters, artistic director of Connecticut Opera, and one of the world’s few African-American opera conductors, delivered sparkle and tingle, and his sure pacing went a long way toward counteracting Robinson’s lack of musicality.

Not all “concepts” are misguided. Take Sharon Daniels’s staging of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia (“The Barber of Seville”) for the BU Opera Institute. The student singers and orchestra under William Lumpkin ranged from fine to exciting. Italian diction was clearer than the BLO’s English. The simple two-level set was elegant. Daniels’s inspired idea to revivify this over-familiar work was to update old Seville to Franco’s Spain in the 1950s. Meanwhile, pale 18th-century “ghosts” of the five major characters hover in the background, sometimes still as statues, but at crucial moments pulling the (literal) strings of the “living” characters. Barbiere usually isn’t about anything other than the fun of doing it; here it was also about the relation between “real life” and “operatic tradition.” Amid all the hilarity (which included a stunning first-act finale involving hula hoops, careering spotlights, and characters dancing the Charleston and the twist) was something chilling — and moving. Daniels revealed dimensions inherent in the music that few productions attempt to explore or realize.

Guerilla Opera presented the world premiere of Boston composer Andy Vores’s No Exit, a hair-raising new chamber opera based on Sartre’s famous one-act play, which concludes, “L’enfer, c’est les autres” (“Hell is other people”). The play itself is a kind of operatic trio, with each of its three characters doomed to spend eternity demanding something from the one person who can’t or won’t satisfy that need. At the Boston Conservatory’s little Zack Box Theatre, with Allison Choat’s easy chair and two divans demarcating each figure’s territory and Sally Stunkel’s powerful blocking, tenor Michael Rausch as the coward, mezzo-soprano Leslie Ann Leytham as the lesbian, soprano (and general manager) Aliana de la Guardia as the adulterous baby killer, and baritone Peter D. Weathers as the grinning valet who ushers them into Hell sang Vores’s gnarly, unsettling recitatives with intense passion and cool irony, while Kent O’Doherty’s tenor sax (screaming or sweetly flute-like), Elizabeth Holub’s grim viola, Eliza Jacques’s gutsy cello, and Mike Williams’s wild or sneaky percussion revealed their inner hysteria or stymied silences. Vores created a mesmerizing series of musical extremes (some of the scariest moments involved long-held notes on single instruments). I can’t imagine anyone left the theater unshaken.

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