Opera reviews: Pittsburgh sopranos shine in Florida operas
March 1, 2015 12:00 AM
Sari Gruber starred in Miami-based Florida Grand Opera's production of Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte."
Palm Beach Opera's world premiere of Ben Moore's "Enemies, A Love Story," based on a novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer, starred Danielle Pastin and Daniel Okulitch.
By Robert Croan / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.— Fort Lauderdale has no opera company of its own, but Miami-based Florida Grand Opera brings some of its productions to this city’s elegant Broward Center. Palm Beach Opera’s Kravis Center in West Palm Beach is a one-hour drive to the north. Both companies provide high-level presentations that often feature Pittsburghers on stage.
In February, two Pittsburgh sopranos — Sari Gruber and Danielle Pastin — were prominent, as was former resident baritone Jonathan Beyer, who will return to Pittsburgh Opera next season in the title role of Rossini’s “Barber of Seville.”
Palm Beach Opera’s world premiere production of Ben Moore’s “Enemies, A Love Story” was a major area event, attended by a glittering, enthusiastic crowd. Mr. Moore’s easy-to-listen-to melodic style, combined with Nahma Sandrow’s lucid libretto and a brilliant staging by Sam Helfrich (remembered locally for Pittsburgh Opera’s production of Philip Glass’ “Orphee” and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s staged version of “Messiah”), translated into immediate audience approval. This operatic “Enemies” was a really good show.
Based on a novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer that spawned a successful film by Paul Mazursky, “Enemies” is a dark comedy about a Holocaust survivor, Herman Broder, who immigrates to New York after World War II and marries (out of gratitude) the Christian peasant girl, Yadwiga, who saved his life. He is also supporting a mistress, Masha, in an apartment of her own, when his first wife, Tamara, whom eyewitnesses had pronounced dead, turns up, very much alive. There are parallels with Mozart’s Don Giovanni, a romantic anti-hero juggling three women with unforeseen consequences.
Baritone Daniel Okulitch’s multisided incarnation of Herman was a tour de force, vocally and dramatically, while each of the women personified a differing type: Yadwiga’s simplicity delineated in Caitlin Lynch’s bright high timbre, Masha’s self-destructing impetuousness defined by Ms. Pastin’s opulent voice and passionate delivery, Tamara’s solid good sense emanating from Leann Sandel-Pantaleo’s deep-toned mezzo.
The orchestra played splendidly under David Stern. Allen Moyer’s scenery consisted of three boxed mini-sets, one for each of the women’s apartments, with ingenious projections above (by Greg Emetaz), of posters and ads from the 1940s to clarify where Herman was at any given moment. A highlight was the Act 2 opening, a trio in which each of the women is seen in her own room, contemplating her problems, alone and then simultaneously — a feat not possible in spoken theater.
Meanwhile, Florida Grand Opera’s zany staging of Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” was a delightful spree in which director Bernard Uzan updated Mozart’s racy 1790 comedy of romance and infidelity to a gambling resort in present-day Monte Carlo. Mr. Uzan also modernized the ending: After the two sisters have each succumbed to the other’s disguised fiance, the men forgive their faithless lovers. When they get back together, however, they go off in their new pairings, not with their original spouses-to-be.
Ms. Gruber is an accomplished light soprano whose usual role in this opera is the servant girl Despina. For this production, she moved up to the more dramatic part of the proud, pretentious Fiordiligi — a parody by Mozart of the singers of his time — and carried it off, conveying elegance and humor, while handling Fiordiligi’s daunting vocal challenges with high intelligence and artistry. Ms. Gruber, who performed Despina with Pittsburgh Opera in 2006, will go back to that role when the company revives “Cosi” in November, with Ms. Pastin as Fiordiligi.
Mr. Beyer brought youthful ardor, resonant baritone sound and comic flair to Guglielmo, one of the suitors who wagers a losing bet on his woman’s fidelity. But it was not just the Pittsburghers. Even with a new conductor (Domenico Boyagian) on the podium, the entire cast displayed a team spirit and ebullience that benefited from their having performed together several times previously.
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