In Review > North America

María de Buenos Aires (7/6/17), A Little Night Music (7/7/17), Turandot (7/8/17), Billy Budd (7/9/17)

DES MOINES, IA
Des Moines Metro Opera

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A Little Night Music at Des Moines Metro Opera
© Duane Tinkey

DES MOINES METRO OPERA'S forty-fifth-anniversary summer festival boasted three company premieres as well as a welcome revival of a beloved Italian repertory standard.

Astor Piazzolla’s María de Buenos Aires bowed at the Temple for Performing Arts on July 6, as part of DMMO’s “Second Stages” series. The mounting was distinguished by a blazing performance of the title role from mezzo Elise Quagliata, who threw herself into the sensuous character with striking commitment. Baritone Ricardo Rivera sonorously essayed El Payador, and Rodolfo Nieto was the enigmatic El Duende. Director Octavio Cardenas and designer Adam Crinson created an immersive theater experience by placing the action in a seamy café with onstage seating for audience members. Dancers Guillermo Merlo and Jairelbhi Furlong executed the tangos splendidly. Stefano Sarzani led the score fervently, and the presence of bandoneonist Daniel Binelli and pianist Polly Ferman among hisinstrumentalists ensured an idiomatic atmosphere.

ON JULY 7, DMMO returned to its accustomed venue, the Pote Theater at the Blank Center for the Performing Arts, for Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. The versatile Quagliata threatened to purloin the evening with her deliciously caustic Charlotte, though Joyce Castle’s perceptively nuanced Madame Armfeldt wouldn’t quite let her. As Desirée Armfeldt, Kelly Kaduce delivered a touchingly understated “Send in the Clowns.” Troy Cook’s burnished baritone made him a suave Fredrik Egerman. Lauren Snouffer sparkled prettily as Anne. Tenor Quinn Bernegger was an appealing Henrik, while Melanie Long contributed a perky Petra. Designer Isaac Mizrahi’s visuals nodded toward A Midsummer Night’s Dream in placing matters amid a magical setting of lush greenery, with performers mostly garbed in pristine shades of cream. The quintet of lieder singers thus became woodland fairies, and they sang enchantingly, though their dewy youth mitigated the sagacious mid-life wisdom of the text. Director Matthew Ozawa utilized DMMO’s emblematic downstage playing circle astutely. The dialogue wanted tighter pacing and was often distractingly broad in delivery. (Lee Gregory played Carl-Magnus like a Keystone Cop on amphetamines, but the crowd loved him.) Sondheim’s lyrics were the production’s ultimate stars. It was a great pleasure to hear the score in full orchestration under conductor Eric Melear.

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Alexandra LoBianco, DMMO’s Turandot
© Duane Tinkey

JULY 8 BROUGHT Puccini’s Turandot and a much-anticipated assumption of the vengeful principessa by Alexandra LoBianco. LoBianco’s thunderous performance would have been formidable in a 2,500-seat house; in DMMO’s intimate theater she nailed you to your seat. However, she commanded a wealth of sensitive dynamics and handled the transition from blood-lust to vulnerability most convincingly. Jonathan Burton, her Calàf, delivered a clarion account of “Nessun dorma.” Federico De Michelis was a sympathetic Timur. Michael Adams, Brian Frutiger and Chris Carr formed an engaging Ping, Pang, Pong trio. The unmistakable audience favorite was soprano Vanessa Vasquez, whose exquisitely floated conclusion to Liù’s “Signore ascolta!” all but brought the house down. Stephanie Sundine’s staging was conventional but entirely serviceable, as was designer R. Keith Brumley’s attractive vision of Peking. Mary Traylor created the vibrant wardrobe. 

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Thomas Hammons and Craig Verm in Billy Budd at DMMO
© Duane Tinkey

THE WEEKEND CONCLUDED July 9 with Kristine McIntyre’s spectacular mounting of Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd. DMMO scored a coup in commissioning Britten specialist Steuart Bedford to craft an orchestral reduction that may finally enable other small-scale companies to approach the opera. It was stunning. Conductor David Neely’s leadership—on fine display a few nights earlier in Turandot—was also superb in the Britten; every detail rang forth gloriously. Craig Verm’s handsome Billy was ineffably moving, with a luxuriously sung “Billy in the Darbies.” Tenor Roger Honeywell’s noble Vere reconfirmed his status as one of the most complete artists at work in opera today. Zachary James scored a hit with his malevolent, sexually sadistic Claggart. James’s cavernous bass is intrinsically beautiful, and he deploys it with intelligence: James appears to sing always within his natural means, never artificially darkening the sound. Thomas Hammons was the devoted Dansker. There was excellent work from Christian Sanders as the frightened Novice, and Michael Adams was back as a delightfully rowdy Donald. Dennis Jesse, De Michelis and Kristopher Irmiter essayed the conflicted officers, Redburn, Flint and Ratcliffe, respectively. Brumley’s design cleverly transformed the playing circle into the bow of the Indomitable. There was a marvelous effect when the exceptional ensemble leapt upon the railing to unleash a mammoth wave of golden sound for “This is Our Moment.” Barry Steele’s projections left the audience with a final image of Billy vanishing for eternity into the enveloping sea. This Billy Buddwas an extraordinary theatrical experience and showed DMMO at its zenith.  —Mark Thomas Ketterson



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