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The Nose: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

“If I lacked ears, it would be bad, but still more bearable; but lacking a nose, a man is devil knows what: not a bird, not a citizen—just take and chuck him out the window!”

Věc Makropulos in San Francisco

A fixation on death at San Francisco Opera. A 337 year-old woman gave it all up just now after only six years since she last gave it all up on the War Memorial stage.

The Pearl Fishers at English National Opera

Penny Woolcock's 2010 production of Bizet's The Pearl Fishers returned to English National Opera (ENO) for its second revival on 19 October 2018. Designed by Dick Bird (sets) and Kevin Pollard (costumes) the production remains as spectacular as ever, and ENO fielded a promising young cast with Claudia Boyle as Leila, Robert McPherson as Nadir and Jacques Imbrailo as Zurga, plus James Creswell as Nourabad, conducted by Roland Böer.

Academy of Ancient Music: The Fairy Queen at the Barbican Hall

At the end of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus delivers a speech which returns to the play’s central themes: illusion, art and the creative imagination. The sceptical king dismisses ‘The poet’s vision - his ‘eye, in a fine frenzy rolling’ - which ‘gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name’; such art, and theatre, is a psychological deception brought about by an excessive, uncontrolled imagination.

Vaughan Williams and Friends: St John's Smith Square

Following the success of previous ‘mini-festivals’ at St John’s Smith Square devoted to Schubert and Schumann, last weekend pianist Anna Tilbrook curated a three-day exploration of the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams and his contemporaries. The music performed in these six concerts was chosen to reflect the changing contexts in which it was composed and to reveal the vast changes in society, politics and culture which occurred during Vaughan Williams’ long life-time (1872-1958) and which shaped his life and creative output.

Bloodless Manon Lescaut at DNO

Trying to work around Manon Lescaut’s episodic structure, this new production presents the plot as the dying protagonist’s feverish hallucinations. The result is a frosty retelling of what is arguably Puccini’s most hot-blooded opera. Musically, the performance also left much to be desired.

English Touring Opera: Xerxes

It is Herodotus who tells us that when Xerxes was marching through Asia to invade Greece, he passed through the town of Kallatebos and saw by the roadside a magnificent plane-tree which, struck by its great beauty, he adorned with golden ornaments, and ordered that a man should remain beside the tree as its eternal guardian.

English National Opera: Tosca

Poor Puccini. He is far too often treated as a ‘box-office hit’ by our ‘major’ opera houses, at least in Anglophone countries. For so consummate a musical dramatist, that is something beyond a pity. Here in London, one is far better advised to go to Holland Park for interesting, intelligent productions, although ENO’s offerings have often had something to be said for them.

Don Pasquale in San Francisco

With only four singers and a short-story-like plot Don Pasquale is an ideal chamber opera. That chamber just now was the 3200 seat War Memorial Opera House where this not always charming opera buffa is an infrequent visitor (post WWII twice in the 1980’s after twice in the 40’s).

“Written in fire”: Momenta Quartet blazes through an Indonesian chamber opera

“Yang sementara tak akan menahan bintang hilang di bimasakti; Yang bergetar akan terhapus.” (“The transient cannot hold on to stars lost in the Milky Way; that which quivers will be erased.”) As soprano Tony Arnold sang these words of Tony Prabowo’s chamber opera Pastoral, with astonishingly crisp Indonesian diction, the first night of the second annual Momenta Festival approached its end.

English National Opera: Don Giovanni

Some operas seemed designed and destined to raise questions and debates - sometimes unanswerable and irresolvable, and often contentious. Termed a dramma giocoso, Mozart’s Don Giovanni has, historically, trodden a movable line between seria and buffa.

World Premiere Eötvös, Wigmore Hall, London

Péter Eötvös’ The Sirens Cycle received its world premiere at the Wigmore Hall, London, on Saturday night with Piia Komsi and the Calder Quartet. An exceptionally interesting new work, which even on first hearing intrigues: imagine studying the score! For The Sirens Cycle is elegantly structured, so intricate and so complex that it will no doubt reveal even greater riches the more familiar it becomes. It works so well because it combines the breadth of vision of an opera, yet is as concise as a chamber miniature. It's exquisite, and could take its place as one of Eötvös's finest works.

Manitoba Underground Opera: Mozart and Offenbach

Manitoba Underground Opera took audiences on a journey — literally and figuratively — as it presented its latest installment of repertory opera between August 19–26.

Stars of Lyric Opera 2016, Millennium Park, Chicago

On a recent weekend Lyric Opera of Chicago gave its annual concert at Millennium Park during which the coming season and its performers are variously showcased. Several of the performers, who were featured at this “Stars of Lyric Opera” event, are scheduled to make their debuts in Lyric Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Das Rheingold beginning on 1 October.

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.



Frank Loesser
21 Mar 2006

City Opera’s Production of The Most Happy Fella

The New York City Opera opened its spring 2006 season with a new production of Frank Loesser’s The Most Happy Fella, which premiered on Broadway fifty years ago in 1956.

The question of whether Fella is a musical or an opera has long been discussed: while it was premiered as a Broadway production (and revived there in 1979), in many ways the score is more complex than your average musical, indeed, more complex than even Loesser’s other hit musicals, including his beloved Guys and Dolls. Fella director Philip McKinley chose to reinstate two of Marie’s arias that had been cut from the 1956 production, a decision lauded by Loesser’s widow and advocate Jo Sullivan Loesser. The added character development and emotional content that was the result of this decision—not to mention the greater length of the production—certainly supports the arguments on the “opera” side of the debate.

In the end, though Fella offers all the best of Braodway musicals: rousing ensembles, sentimental love songs, and big, exciting dance pieces. Especially appealing about Fella is the way that Loesser, who wrote both the music and the book, interweaves dialogue and singing without any awkwardness; the words do not take a backseat to the music at any point during Fella, which keeps the drama moving.

At its heart, Fella—like most musicals—is a love story: it is a tale of how an older Italian immigrant living in the Napa Valley (Tony) falls in love with and seduces a young waitress from San Francisco (Rosabella—her real name is Amy, but no one calls her that). Tony and his Rosabella fall in love twice—once through a pen pal correspondence and once after they had been married already. Like all love stories, the lovers have to work through a number of obstacles, and this pair has more than their fair share. As the show unfolds they conquer the wide gap in their ages, a case of mistaken identity, a near fatal car accident, the machinations of Tony’s spinster sister, and the fallout from a one-night affair, which includes an unplanned-for pregnancy as well as hurt feelings.

The media leading up to the production focused on the highly anticipated performance of Paul Sorvino as Tony. Sorvino is a well-known actor with extensive film and television credits, and a Tony nominee for his performance in That Championship Season. Much the media buzz focused on whether Sorvino really can sing, and he shows in Fella that he certainly can. Additionally, Sorvino seduced his audience with his sweet portrayal of a sometimes bumbling bachelor, and he elicited much laughter from the audience with his impeccable timing in delivering lines. It is a role that could easily be cloying—Tony is just such a nice, lovable guy—but Sorvino creates the character so adeptly that one can understand why he is so adored by all the other characters. Any nervousness that Tommasini may have noticed in his review of the premier had vanished by the middle of the run.
The entire cast was energetic and appealing, but none more so in my opinion than Leah Hocking who played a relatively minor role as Rosabella’s co-worker and friend Cleo. Hocking was a delight to watch every time she came on stage, and her confidence and charisma started the production off on the right foot in the comical solo “Ooh! My Feet!” She also lit up the large ensemble and dance number “Big D,” and provided much needed comic relief throughout the second act with her beau Herman, played by John Scherer.

The sets, designed by Michael Anania for a 1991 production, were delightful with their rich colors and a homey feel in all the Napa Valley scenes. The stage was further brightened by the fun and costumes by Ann Hould Ward, which looked especially charming in the big dances scenes. Peggy Hickey was responsible for choreography that worked particularly well in the faster, more exuberant pieces; she also includes a more balletic number in the second act, which is beautiful, but slows down the story without providing much drama or interest—a rare moment in this delightful recreation of a classic.

New York City Opera’s Most Happy Fella continues through this weekend, the final show is March 25.

Megan Jenkins
The Graduate Center – CUNY

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