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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Kentucky Opera and UofL Combine to Present Double Bill of Fresh One Acts


Cesar Mendez-Silvagnoli, Danielle Messina & Marco Cammarota
in The King's Man. Photo – Jan Abbot Photography.


The King’s Man / Danse Russe
Composed by Paul Moravec
Written by Terry Teachout

Directed by David Roth
Conducted by Kimcherie Lloyd

Reviewed by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

First of all, I want to applaud the Kentucky Opera in that they are allowing composers and librettists a place to showcase their works in an effort to introduce the opera-listening audience to contemporary pieces of music. It is a fabulous idea for performance workshops and the development of new works and allows the audience to have a glimpse into what it is like for the creative process to begin to unfold.

This past weekend the Kentucky Opera introduced the Louisville audience to two one-act pieces: The King’s Man and Danse Russe, both by Paul Moravec, with libretti by Terry Teachout. The King’s Man is practically right out-of-the-box brand new, while Danse Russe was premiered two years ago at Center City Opera. I will be the first to admit that my musical tastes for opera lean more towards the classics, but I remain open and appreciate newer music as well. As you hear on WUOL often, even the classics were once new.

As I stated, The King’s Man is new; and, knowing this, I went into the performance with a different mindset. The stage is rather bare, save for a table and some chairs, two monitors on the side of the stage for supertitles, and a projection screen that served as an always-changing backdrop of important documents and portraits and photographs. The story is of the tenuous relationship between Benjamin Franklin and his illegitimate son William. William left America and served under the very same King George III that America was fighting, thus making William “The King’s Man” and causing such a rift between father and son that B. Franklin had his son arrested for treason. After William’s release, the father and son saw each other only once in an attempt at reconciliation. Unfortunately, that did not occur and the opera explores what that last meeting could have been like, based on historical truth.

It was apparent from the beginning aria from Mary (Danielle Messina), William’s fiancée, that this was going to be a dramatic opera as she sang of William’s anger and melancholy and her wish to help him feel better. As William (Marco Cammarota) enters, he paces the floor while glancing at the marble bust of his famous father staring at him, and he is even more distressed because of the imminent arrival of his father. Benjamin (Cesar Mendez-Silvagnoli), with a cane in his right hand, enters, and after some pleasantries the argument starts almost immediately. And most of this back and forth was recitative. Although there were some lovely solos and duets, I felt that the recitatives were highlighted more. As confident as the singing was from Mendez-Silvagnoli and Cammarota, they were at times rather stiff in their acting. But again, this is a work in progress. The star duet of The King’s Man came from a boy soldier (Aidan Arnold) and William singing about saying prayers after learning of the passing of William’s first wife. Absolutely a beautiful if not haunting tone was coming from this young man’s voice, and I hope to hear more from him in the future. I look forward to what I could hear to be a diamond in the rough to be shined up even more and presented again and again.

The second piece, Danse Russe, was a delight. As I stated earlier, this comic opera was debuted two years ago, but through Kentucky Opera’s program, as with many new-ish, newer pieces, there is always room for tweaking. In my opinion, not much else needs to be done to this little piece of fun. As the curtain rises, we see another sparse stage, the same projection screen as before, a ballet barre, a piano and a conductor’s podium. This story is about the creation of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” and the persons involved in its first performance and what happened that evening. We are introduced to Igor (Brad Raymond), who at this time is working for Sergei Diaghilev (Christaan Smith-Kotlarek), the producer of Paris’ Danse Russe and the company’s premier ballet artist and Sergei’s lover Vaslav Nijinsky (Sergio Gonzalez) and conductor Pierre Monteux (John Arnold). Stravinsky’s inspiration for “Rite” was on the heels of a visit to Mother Russia. Upon the first examination of the draft, his colleagues were not impressed; but through some convincing it was performed and was a flop the first night, insomuch that police were called in because of the mob-like mentality of the attendees.

Of course we now know “The Rite of Spring” as one of the most recoded and played pieces of music written, and it is unmistakable whenever heard.

As with “Rite” I can honestly say I could listen to Danse over and over again. The harmonies shared among Brad, Christiaan and Sergio were at times ethereal; and when those trios became quartets with the addition of John, well let’s just say that I was entranced.

I was very glad to hear many of the same Kentucky Opera Young Artists performing under the esteemed baton of Kimcherie Lloyd, who led a small University of Louisville orchestra. Some of the highlights of Danse were in the portrayal of the story in a vaudevillian like manner, complete with an easel set up downstage left that allowed for a lovely card girl to place cards announcing the changing of the acts, complete with whistling sounds and sliding notes accompanying her. Also, cheers to Director Michael Ramach for showing off those nostalgic ways in his staging and even allowing the principals to do a little dancing reminiscent of soft shoe.

Overall, the operas were night and day, one heavy, one light, and planned to be like that, similar to Cav/Pag. I truly look forward to the growth potential that is King’s and to see what little things may be done to Danse, but absolutely an educational and fun afternoon of Opera. 
  
The King’s Man / Danse Russe  
October 11 & 12, 2013
Kentucky Opera and University of Louisville School of Music
Margaret Comstock Hall
University of Louisville

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