Variety show

By LLOYD SCHWARTZ  |  March 8, 2006

Sherman was back for the second evening in his complete series of Mozart sonatas at Emmanuel Church. He played three sonatas — K.284, in D, with its extended finale of 12 variations; the heavenly K.332, in F; and the brilliant, playful K.309, in C — and he was increasingly authoritative, relaxed and confident, his timing revelatory. The high point was the Kegelstatt Trio in E-flat, K.498, for piano, clarinet, and viola. The honey-toned clarinettist was John Laughton, who’s also an arts administrator and a conflict-resolution mediator. His playing made you want him to resolve all your conflicts. Emmanuel regular Betty Hauck was the eloquent violist. This trio, named after a billiard parlor, rarely gets its due. It did here.

Opera Boston presented a real rarity — Emmanuel Chabrier’s fanciful comic operetta, L’étoile (“The Star”) — in a production that wanted to be liked more eagerly than it succeeded in making me like it. Scott Edmiston, who staged Opera Boston’s ambitious and unforgettable Nixon in China with such knowing economy, had some delightful touches (streams of falling stars, a wedding procession with white balloons), but he overlooked one of the basic rules of comedy: it’s funny only when, even in the most absurd situations, the characters believe that what’s happening to them is real and that their lives depend on it. Not here. There was no satirical edge. Archness ruled. My ribs ached from being relentlessly elbowed. The cast seemed to have been encouraged to be self-consciously cute, except for endearing mezzo-soprano Valerie Komar, who played the “trouser” role of Lazuli, the hero, an itinerant peddler of cosmetics. Komar was always in character, and she sang — elegantly, stylishly — with both wit (she even had to sneeze on cue) and feeling.

Susan Zeeman Rogers’s abstract set, a spiraling platform that looked like Hollywood’s idea of a fashion salon, with touches of Alexander Calder and Dr. Seuss, and Gail Astrid Buckley’s hot pastel costumes contributed to the air of unreality. Heather Buck warbled prettily as the beautiful princess who’s the object of Lazuli’s desire. Tenor Alan Schneider also sang especially well as Tapioca, the amanuensis to the emissary to King Ouf. Torrance Blaisdell (King Ouf), baritone Drew Poling (the emissary), and soprano Emily Browder (the emissary’s wife, who prefers Tapioca) are all capable performers who were in need of better direction. The wonderful baritone Robert Honeysucker had to wait until nearly the end before he sang.

The libretto, which anticipates The Mikado in its plot device about executing the hero, was skillfully translated by Jeremy Sams (who even borrowed a line from The Mikado), but like most English translations of French, it utterly flattened the Champagne and made everything sound like wholesome Gilbert & Sullivan, even the sly double entendres, many involving approval of infidelity (surely more French than English) and a torture chair with a large corkscrew rising up from the seat. The music itself is quite sexy, but a trio about getting tickled and a double duet about making love veered between vacuous innocence and tired dirty joke.

Gil Rose’s conducting had zip and style but could have suggested more innuendo. The small orchestra played well, muffled in the Majestic pit, and the chorus was both attractive and energetic. I’ve sat through worse evenings, but it seemed a shame that this rare little star had so little twinkle.

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