Hubbard Hall Opera Theatre once again filled its house and earned rave applause for its production of Gianni Schicchi, by Giacomo Puccini. This opera which seems so straight out and comfortable is actually a very hard score, both vocally and orchestrally. It could fairly be called the most intricate of Puccini’s compositions. This is why it was good that there was superb, precise ensemble singing. Schicchi can seem almost like a choral opera with the occasional solo. Solo turns that were well taken I heard particularly from Andrew Adelsberger as Gianni Schicchi. He did not oversing. His actions on stage convinced me that he was a real person, not a caricature. Each of the persons in the opera is subtly and deftly drawn. None needs overdoing. Sarah Nordin sang beautifully as Zita, a role that is often roughly sung. Because of the excellence of her line and the beauty of her voice, we believed what she said, and almost had sympathy for the old dear. For me this was the elegant performance of the evening. Erin Nafziger sang her floating high notes in the ensembles warmly and individually, again always singing, never pushing her voice beyond beauty. There was an excellent playfulness in the staging by Kirk Jackson, director.
There was also some loud, blunt singing in this production. This works with the audience for a while, but as a great teacher said to me once, loud is interesting for about ten minutes, then we must have beauty. Specifity is beauty, and takes singing which is on the voice, not pushing the voice. I have great affection and admiration for Hubbard Hall Opera Theatre. For me, the direction it needs to go in is toward greater subtlety, a subtlety which makes people listen, which makes them lean forward to hear all the details, which makes the characters on the stage into real human beings. Special praise must go to Julia Scott Carey who conducted the performance I heard. She was confident, the players and singers were not just led, but were energized. Schicchi is a tough score, and Julia stood the test.
Oldcastle Theatre’s My Fair Lady was one the best I have seen in years of play-going. This was because it was honest. No star turns, an elegant musical accompaniment, and players who reached the heart. Emma Ritchie as Eliza Doolittle was entirely believable. In the darkest moments, she had a parcel of hope which not only sustained her, but reached us. She was not merely reactive. If she did not portray this small optimism all the time, that was good. We had to trust, and we believed it was there. There was nothing overdone in her performance—no over-pronounced Cockney, no yowling. It had dignity from beginning to end.
Scott McGowan as Henry Higgins stayed pretty much the same from the beginning to finish, but it was a believable consistency, if a little relentless. It left us, as it should, in doubt as to what would happen to the pair. I still don’t know the answer to that, as it was played in this production, and that was also good. Richard Howe did not overdo Alfred P. Doolittle. His cockeyed logic came across as making a heck of lot of sense. A Falstaffian character even though his actions toward his daughter were reprehensible, we loved him because he had exactly what Falstaff has—a persistent exuberance. Christopher Garcia as Freddy Eynsford-Hill sang with a beautiful, classical sound. Peter Langstaff proved an ideal Colonel Pickering, and Christine Dekker played Mrs. Higgins to perfection. There was no darn amplification. This plague affects every musical I see these days. It gives a whisper the same presence as a high note. It is not real speaking, and it certainly is not real singing. There were elderly people in the audience on Friday night, and no one complained. At this performance there was real singing, powered by a human body, not an electric current.
It was wonderful to see and hear this pleasant new theatre space full. I remain full of admiration for the effort the whole community has made to settle Oldcastle Theatre in its new home.
Earlier in the summer the company presented Amy Herzog’s Four Thousand Miles. Here also I saw accomplished actors investing strongly in what it is like to be young in our culture. Andrew Krug as Leo gave a particularly comprehensive performance of a young drifter. His beautifully acted relationship with his grandmother Vera, played by Janis Young, was at once tender and difficult.