Let’s start with a quiz.Â 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 . . .Â ?”Â Well, my quiz is, which one of the following would be most likely to appear to complete the sentence, “People who enjoyed Rossini’sÂ Count OryÂ also enjoyed”Â
AÂ Â Â Â Â Verdi’sÂ Aida
BÂ Â Â Â Â Puccini’sÂ Butterfly
CÂ Â Â Â Â Wagner’sÂ Ring
DÂ Â Â Â TheÂ Marx Brothers’Â 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 notÂ Pocket OperaÂ so it’s sung in a foreign language, andÂ Donald PippinÂ 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 atÂ Pocket Opera’s production ofÂ Count OryÂ on Sunday April 15, 2012, and you enjoy all aspects of opera — music, words, plot — THEN you could only answer D.Â I mean, theÂ mÉnage é troisÂ bedroom scene in Act II has much more in common with theÂ Marx Brothers’ crowded stateroom scene than with Cio-Cio San’s tragic finale.
A couple of years ago I was at theÂ MetHD Live’sÂ Comte OryÂ and enjoyed it very much.Â TheÂ Met did a good job of making their immense stage seem small enough forÂ Rossini’s intimate opera.Â Achieving a small stage was, of course, not a problem forÂ Pocket Opera.Â Â 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 asÂ Juan Diego FlorezÂ (Count Ory),Â Diana DamrauÂ (CountessÂ Adèle), andÂ Joyce DiDonatoÂ (Isolier) with gifted young artists such asÂ Darron Flagg, Jennifer Ashworth, and Jennifer PanaraÂ 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.Â 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 outÂ Jennifer Panara.Â This is at least the third time I have seen her on aÂ Pocket OperaÂ stage.Â 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 inÂ Massenet’s Manon.Â Sunday she really shone in the trouser role of the page, Isolier.Â 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.Â In fact, there was something in her stance that reminded me of my grandson.
The other two principals were also familiar.Â Three years ago, before I started writing opera reviews, I had seen Darron Flagg inÂ Stanislaw Moniuszko’sÂ The Haunted Manor, and it was a pleasure to see him again as the rascally Count.Â 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.Â He was quite convincing in all three costumes.
I had previously seen and heardÂ Jennifer AshworthÂ in several lead roles of theÂ Lamplighters’ recent productions:Â the Captain’s daughter Josephine inÂ Pinafore, Elsie Maynard inÂ Yeoman of the Guard, and Mabel in the sing-along version ofÂ Pirates of Penzance, but I believe her performance as CountessÂ Adèle inÂ Count OryÂ is her first withÂ Pocket OperaÂ — I hope it won’t be her last.
Jonathan Spencer, on the other hand, is familiar from bothÂ LamplightersÂ andÂ Pocket Opera.Â With the former he has recently sung both Major General Stanley and the Sergeant of Police in Pirates of Penzance, Captain Corcoran inÂ Pinafore, and Sergeant Meryll inÂ Yeoman of the Guard.Â WithÂ Pocket Opera, his role as the Professor inÂ Count OryÂ is somewhat similar to his Taddeo inÂ The Italian Girl in Algiers; other recent appearances have been Maxie inÂ The Haunted Manor, and Rambaldo in Puccini’sÂ La Rondine.
And, of course, I can’t conclude this review without mentioningÂ Michael Mendelsohn, this time as the Count’s trusty henchman Raimbaud.Â As always, he did a superb job with his part, both singing and acting.
If you’ve ever seen any performance ofÂ Count Ory, you know that the star scene is theÂ mÉnage é troisÂ bedroom scene which supposedly takes place in total darkness. DirectorÂ 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 AshworthÂ||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 atÂ Marines Memorial Theatre
April 22 at theÂ Hillside Club
And while you’re checking your calendar, put down dates to attend some or all of the rest of Pocket Opera’s 35thÂ season:
TeseoÂ Â (Handel)
June 3(M)Â Â Â Â Â Â June 10(H)
June 24(M)Â Â Â Â Â July 1(M)Â Â Â Â Â Â Â July 8(H)
Tales of HoffmanÂ (Offenbach)
July 22(M)Â Â Â Â Â Â July 29(M)Â Â Â Â Â August 5(H)
All performances 2 pm on a Sunday
M =Â Marines Memorial Theatre
H =Â Hillside Club
Photos: Robert Selinsky for Pocket Opera
This review by Philip G Hodge appeared in sanfranciscosplash.com on April 19, 2012.