OPERA IN LAS VEGAS…AT LAST!
By Hal de Becker
Photos: Richard Brusky
Under the general direction of Luana Devol and with seven successful performances behind it, Opera Las Vegas (OLV) has provided our City with a much needed professional resident opera company.
For 42 years Las Vegas has had a permanent ballet company in Nevada Ballet Theatre, and for almost as long a number of symphonic orchestral organizations. Opera took a little longer but its time appears to have come.
OLV’s presentation of Rossini’s opera buffa (comic) masterpiece ‘The Barber of Seville’ was a thoroughly professional production at Judy Bayley Theatre. While naturally not on a par with La Scala or the Met, it was indeed comparable to productions seen at other respected opera houses in Europe and elsewhere.
FIGARO, ROSINA, BASILIO, ALMAVIVA, BARTOLO
The cast consisted of seasoned professionals many of whom perform with New York City’s Metropolitan Opera as well at numerous other opera houses throughout Europe and America.
OLV’s 27 piece orchestra under the skilful baton of its artistic director and principal conductor, Gregory Buchater, was another huge plus.
So were the period perfect costumes and scenery. An elaborate set revolved in place to transport the audience from a public plaza on one side, into the interior of a Spanish home on the other.
The sub-titles were sight-line-friendly but in the interest of speed-reading brevity, not nuance-friendly.
The plot, based on characters from plays by Beaumarchais the 18th century satirist who targeted the French court and its nobility, centers around Count Almaviva’s attempts to woo and win Rosina over the obstacles put in place and in vain, by her guardian, Don Bartolo.
Almaviva enlists the aid of the barber Figaro, who does much more than cut hair. He is what would be called in Washington today a ‘fixer.’ He can obtain virtually anything for his clients in addition to solving their most delicate problems. The intrigue of lovers is his specialty and his services are in great demand by Seville’s aristocracy.
The story takes many twists and turns, not unlike the mayhem of a Marx Brothers film. Other delightfully ridiculous characters include Rosina’s long-winded music teacher, Don Basilio, and her maid Berta, whose complaints, common to us all, are love, work and aging.
As Figaro, Daniel Sutin’s full-bodied baritone and strong presence were impressive. He chose to portray the cunning barber more as a clownish figure rather than as the suave operator he’s become by his association with aristocrats. But the audience didn’t seem to mind at all.
Tenor Robert McPherson has portrayed Count Almaviva at houses in France and Italy and at the Met in NYC. He acted well and was especially amusing in his campy portrayal disguised as a music teacher. He floated some fine head tones in the sotto voce (soft) passages, though with the more full voiced, forceful demands his singing occasionally sounded pushed and harsh.
Mezzo soprano Renee Tatum’s small but appealing voice, youth and good looks made her an attractive Rosina. Even with her frequent shrillness on high notes and a need for more Latin temperament in her portrayal, her performance was enjoyable and promising.
The part of Don Bartolo, one of opera’s great buffa roles, calls for comedic acting and vocal skills of the highest caliber. Bass-baritone Peter Strummer, who is no stranger to the part, put his vast experience and insight into the role to good use. He brought to the production the kind of authentic Italianate opera style one doesn’t see much now-a-days.
Stephanie Weiss as Berta and Mark Covey as Almaviva’s servant, Fiorello, both gave outstanding performances. Ms Weiss sang beautifully in a supporting role that doesn’t always receive such a fine performance.
Mr Covey, in addition to good singing and acting, projected considerable charm. He also provided, on stage and within his role, guitar accompaniment for one of Almaviva’s arias. It was a unique and effective device.
For this reviewer the two most distinguished performances came from bass Philip Cokorinos, as Don Basilio and the OLV orchestra.
Mr Cokorinos’ filled the house with deep-toned sonorous singing and his interpretation of the wildly bewigged, overly exuberant Basilio was impeccable.
The orchestra played as if the ensemble itself was another singer. The hall’s acoustic was surprisingly good and from the open pit, up the sloping tiers of seats above it, the music rose with perfect harmony and volume.
Staging could have been better. Act I was played repetitiously from side to side, the singers facing mostly front and with little interaction between them. There could also have been more funny little bits of stage ‘business’ that contribute so much to any comedic work.
The Second Act was much better. The performers seemed to have more freedom to ‘do their own thing’ and play off each other. In any event, it was a more imaginative, livelier and visually interesting romp.
Included among the attending celebs was, of course, Ms. Devol, the driving force behind OLV and herself a renowned soprano. Also in attendance was composer-conductor, Prof. Virko Baley who decades ago at Ham Hall began exposing locals to modern classical music. Popular vocal coach Gary Fisher and NBT dancer-instructor Marcus Bugler were also there.
The performance was not as well attended as it deserved. This might have been due to some of the local public’s disenchantment having seen past opera presentations that were not always what they were touted to be.
Unlike those, Opera Las Vegas is the real thing.