Let’s start with a quiz. You know how when you buy a book or disk from Amazon they’ll try to entice you to buy more by showing you a few more books and saying, “People who bought your selection also bought . . . ?” Well, my quiz is, which one of the following would be most likely to appear to complete the sentence, “People who enjoyed Rossini’s Count Ory also enjoyed”
A Verdi’s Aida
B Puccini’s Butterfly
C Wagner’s Ring
D The Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera
IF you go to an opera without knowing the language, and you sit with your eyes closed so you don’t see the supertitles or any of the action, and it’s not Pocket Opera so it’s sung in a foreign language, and Donald Pippin doesn’t give you his “right-on” irreverent analysis of the plot, THEN you might choose B or A, based solely on the music.
But IF, like me, you were present at Pocket Opera’s production of Count Ory on Sunday April 15, 2012, and you enjoy all aspects of opera – music, words, plot – THEN you could only answer D. I mean, the ménage à trois bedroom scene in Act II has much more in common with the Marx Brothers’ crowded stateroom scene than with Cio-Cio San’s tragic finale.
A couple of years ago I was at the MetHD Live’s Comte Ory and enjoyed it very much. The Met did a good job of making their immense stage seem small enough for Rossini’s intimate opera. Achieving a small stage was, of course, not a problem for Pocket Opera. But I was still impressed by how they accomplished so much with so little in convincing me that the action all took place in an impregnable castle.
And how does one compare internationally known veterans such as Juan Diego Florez (Count Ory), Diana Damrau (Countess Adèle), and Joyce DiDonato (Isolier) with gifted young artists such as Darron Flagg, Jennifer Ashworth, and Jennifer Panara in the same roles?
One doesn’t, except to say that seeing an intimate opera live and close enough to see facial expressions – all as part of an enthusiastic audience – made the total experience on Sunday even more satisfying than the impersonal movie theater atmosphere two years ago. And who knows? A decade from now some of these talented young people may be appearing as international stars on Live in HD.
I want to particularly single out Jennifer Panara. This is at least the third time I have seen her on a Pocket Opera stage. Two years ago she sang the trouser role of Goffredo in Handel’s Rinaldo, and last year she had the minor role of Javotte, one of the three young ladies who fawns on Guillot in Massenet’s Manon. Sunday she really shone in the trouser role of the page, Isolier. She had an outstanding bel canto mezzo voice, and her costume, makeup, demeanor, and facial expression made her entirely believable as a love-stricken teenage boy. In fact, there was something in her stance that reminded me of my grandson.
The other two principals were also familiar. Three years ago, before I started writing opera reviews, I had seen Darron Flagg in Stanislaw Moniuszko’s The Haunted Manor, and it was a pleasure to see him again as the rascally Count. In a sense, he had three roles, since in the opening scene he is disguised as a Hermit, and later he enters the castle disguised as a nun. He was quite convincing in all three costumes.
I had previously seen and heard Jennifer Ashworth in several lead roles of the Lamplighters’ recent productions: the Captain’s daughter Josephine in Pinafore, Elsie Maynard in Yeoman of the Guard, and Mabel in the sing-along version of Pirates of Penzance, but I believe her performance as Countess Adèle in Count Ory is her first with Pocket Opera – I hope it won’t be her last.
Jonathan Spencer, on the other hand, is familiar from both Lamplighters and Pocket Opera. With the former he has recently sung both Major General Stanley and the Sergeant of Police in Pirates of Penzance, Captain Corcoran in Pinafore, and Sergeant Meryll in Yeoman of the Guard. With Pocket Opera, his role as the Professor in Count Ory is somewhat similar to his Taddeo in The Italian Girl in Algiers; other recent appearances have been Maxie in The Haunted Manor, and Rambaldo in Puccini’s La Rondine.
And, of course, I can’t conclude this review without mentioning Michael Mendelsohn, this time as the Count’s trusty henchman Raimbaud. As always, he did a superb job with his part, both singing and acting.
If you’ve ever seen any performance of Count Ory, you know that the star scene is the ménage à trois bedroom scene which supposedly takes place in total darkness. Director Phil Lowery handled this deftly by leaving the lights on so we the audience could see what shenanigans were going on, meanwhile having the three participants ostentatiously don blindfolds to indicate that they were always fumbling in the dark.
|Darron Flagg||Count Ory||Tenor|
|Jennifer Ashworth||Countess Adele||Soprano|
|Jennifer Panara||Isolier||Mezzo Soprano|
|Diana Kehrig||Ragonde||Mezzo Soprano|
|Brendon Hartnett||Bass Baritone|
|Nicolas Aliaga||Production Manager|
|Julie Chin||Assistant Production Manager|
You still have two chances to see this delightful farce at 2 pm on a Sunday:
April 15 at Marines Memorial Theatre
April 22 at the Hillside Club
And while you’re checking your calendar, put down dates to attend some or all of the rest of Pocket Opera’s 35th season:
June 3(M) June 10(H)
June 24(M) July 1(M) July 8(H)
Tales of Hoffman (Offenbach)
July 22(M) July 29(M) August 5(H)
All performances 2 pm on a Sunday
M = Marines Memorial Theatre
H = Hillside Club
Photos: Robert Selinsky for Pocket Opera
This review by Philip G Hodge appeared in sanfranciscosplash.com on April 19, 2012.