A singular departure this year at summer’s end. Hubbard Hall Opera Theatre (of Cambridge, New York), the dream-child of Alexina Jones, has lost its creator and mentor. She goes on to a position with Saratoga Arts. This young women is an intrepid creator. She built a company from nothing, fit it into the seasonal circumstances of Hubbard Hall, and with the help of her husband, Jason Dolmetsch, plodded through hundreds of hours of planning, auditioning, fund-raising. The Company started out in a modest way—a few instruments, mostly local singers. One of the first of these singers, Kara Cornell, turned in a Carmen that was utterly believable. Watching an opera of this sort in a small hall requires detailed specific acting; the grand gestures seem absurd.
Alix has gone on, through her skill at casting, and her connections with larger operatic consortia, to fielding casts which boast some of the best young singers in the country. In the final performance of Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Beibei Guan, as Cio-Cio San both charmed and moved the house with her intense voice and graciousness of gesture. Jon Jurgens, as Pinkerton, made his less-than-playable role work, particularly in his high singing, which was both resonant and beautiful. Strange as it may sound, in this production the most striking performance, for me, was sung by Monica Soto-Gil as Suzuki. Suzuki is not a small part. It does not require a great deal of singing, but staying with the action and providing a foil for Butterfly was beautifully and rarely done by this fine actress. When she did sing, her voice was consistently beautiful—no forcing.
I am hoping there is a way for this grand beginning of opera in Cambridge, New York to live on and thrive. Alix showed us what can be done, and it was magical.
Hats off to Shakespeare and Company for programming two plays—one a collection of plays in fact, that one almost never sees on stage: The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Henry VI. Verona was splendid. The actors handled the loquacious moments with such skill. They found a kind of humor in the euphuistic length of the great passages. While the excellent John Hadden as Launce spouted forth endless streams of words, his sweet dog lay at his feet. John did not lose the contest, nor did his dog win—they seemed to be in perfect harmony. Hadden is an actor who always has gentleness. He asks you to listen, and you do. Once again, the rare performance in Verona was that of Kate Abbruzzese as Julia. She got to a “T’ the shifting from happiness to sadness. Each was clear. She made them relate somehow. In this wordy play, Ms. Abbruzzese seemed the most human, the most real person on stage. Her bewilderment at the end of the play was one of the most moving few minutes I have seen on stage this summer. Thomas Brazzle as Proteus gave an energetic and detailed performance of the cad and bounder that Proteus is. Director Jonathan Croy made this play work—not seeming too long, finding a way to make the verbosity striking and real.
I also attended the Worse Than Wolves performance, part five in the sprawling day-long project on Henry VI. Bella Merlin was terrific. She spoke the most clogged passages as rich things, not as difficult things. Caroline Calkins was a worthy and energetic partner.