Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Opera review: Lysistrata at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth
The contrast in the festival lineup is huge and offers something for everyone in the opera continuum.
Mark Adamo's Lysistrata (playing once more at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth on June 3) is loosely based on Aristophanes' fifth-century anti-war play. Loose fits the campy tone of the Fort Worth Opera's production of this opera buffa which premiered in Houston in 2005.
At the opening of the curtain towering cartoon-like statues of Ares and Aphrodite flanked each side of the stage priming us for a night of pure buffoonery. However, the quality of the scenery designed by Richard Kagey was pale and lightweight. The use of aluminum tables and chairs seemed especially out of place in a story about ancient Greece. The exception was the more elaborate and fitting bedroom scenery.
Given the turmoil in modern Greece over financial instability, it was nice to laugh a bit at a light-hearted approach to struggles of the ancient Mediterranean civilization. Light comedy best describes this production.
The plot is not complicated, Athenians and Spartans are at war over territory and the women decide to withhold sex until the men come to a truce. They argue and complain and in the end of Act II, come to an agreement. The gods heal battle wounds incurred and warn the humans to learn from their mistakes. All's well.
Soprano Ava Pine, a Metroplex favorite, sings the title role as the plucky wife of the general who convinces her fellow female Athenians and eventually the Spartans to ban together in a ban on sex. Her comedic delivery of lines such as "This is one tough crowd" and "The tigress must digress" caused bursts of laughter from the audience. Ms Pine's flippant humor and light singing quality worked well in this role, however, some lower tones were inaudible. Still her singing of the repetitive "No" in one aria was beautifully executed and touted the vocal fluidity for which Ms Pine is well known.
Lysia's lover, the Athenian general, Nico, is sung by tenor Scott Scully who fit the role well as he tried to be bigger than life and yet was small in stature. Nico stretched to his tiptoes in one faceoff with the taller Spartan general, sung by the rich-toned bass-baritone Seth Mease Carico. Mr. Scully handled his character's arias well which often had a split personality and were buoyant and yet ended with a jazzy Sondheim-like final phrase.
The soldiers were not so sonorous but were more interested in growling at each other than truly battling. Michael Mayes as Kinesias had an illustrious voice and was the most believable macho warrior. The sex boycott brings all the warriors to their knees and to a point of very obvious sexual frustration. The soldiers awkwardly toddled about with erections bulging under their skirts that was funny at first but wore out its welcome, and dragged on too long. One Spartan soldier, in his sex-deprived state, even asked another if he could "spoon" to him as they bedded down for the night.
An audience member relayed to me that he noticed the two generals did not have erections which said to him that they were not the same as their men. That particular veteran did not agree with the playwright and said, "We were all the same on the battlefield."
The costumes were interestingly done, using color to visually separate the two sides, assigning orange golden tones to the Athenians and green/blue tones to the Spartans. After being granted the name Lysistrata, Lysia wore pants as the newly appointed ruler of the women. This was an obvious reinforcement of her more masculine role as a leader. When the women all joined together as one, they dropped their separate colors and wore the same gray/blue glistening gowns symbolizing unity. Lampito, commandingly sung by mezzo-soprano Alissa Anderson, wore a Wonder Woman-like costume when she appeared as the dove of peace. She sported wings of large chunky feathers and a plastic skin-colored bodice that was Victoria Secret gone Burnside. Ms. Anderson pranced about as an Amazon-like general's wife and brought down the house with her Elmer Fudd accent attributed to all of the Spartans, saying I "gweet you ... Gweeze."
The united women humorously performed as a Greek chorus as they observed Myrrhine, sung with a plush and seductive mezzo-soprano voice by Ashley Kerr. She beguiled her warrior husband, Kinesias, and taunted him. When she left him groaning and unsatisfied, the chorus commented, "Strategy is everything."
The strategy of wig and makeup designer, Steven Bryant appeared to be variety. He created a molded hairdo with spiky large white flowers for Lampito that matched her imposing character well. All the various hairstyles of the Greek women were stunning and certainly emphasized the text of the libretto, "Hair: wild, check!" Even the supertitles were arranged in a comical way with their colons and checkmark symbols.
Strangely yes, the opera, sung in English, had English supertitles since operatic singing distorts all languages to a certain level of incomprehension. The Bass Hall acoustics and the diction of the singers was a factor. I found myself resorting to looking at the supertitles more than I would have liked to understand the words. The operatic English was much more understandable in FWO's other modern opera, Three Decembers, also playing at Scott Theatre for two more performances during the festival.
The lighting designed by Chad Jung gave an opulent golden glow to Lysia in one scene which allowed the beauty of her velvet burnt orange gown to radiate. However, the lighting in the final scene when the gods descended was mundane and did not enhance the magnificent moment. The gods' costumes, while gold in color, were rather bland, with no extensions or headdresses. Aphrodite and Area were sung by Jamie-Rose Guarrine and Logan Rucker respectively. Their voices were pleasing but not big enough to evoke deity. The staging brought them down to the same level as the humans, making their supernatural stature less believable. Lighting was better in the scene when the entire cast donned velvet costumes. As they reconciled, a red glow cast over them all helped to emphasize that romance had returned.
Like the drama, the busy orchestration was full of highs and lows with nothing shy about it. The percussion section was used to rousing effect by Mr. Adamo and the sound of the marimbas added an interesting flavor. Conductor Joe Illick reeled in Adamo's relentlessly wild rhythms while still holding the volume to an appropriate level so the singers could be heard. Even in the opening scene when the three furies' voices were high above on balconies and much too faint, the orchestra was at the correct volume. The furies were cleanly sung by Corrie Donovan, Hailey Clark, and Amanda Robie, but were too soft for the important invocation of the drama.
Lysistrata ended with a resonating a cappella section that was spot on and perfectly in tune once the orchestra rejoined the singers. If one couples this peaceful ending with the mostly brazen vaudeville-like drama that lead up to it, one is left with the satisfaction of viewing a production full of variety that leapt to the other end of the spectrum from the FWO's grand but tragic Tosca. The contrast in the FWO`s festival lineup is huge and offers something for everyone in the opera continuum.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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