Monday, November 7, 2016
Review: Light Opera of NJ’s Menotti Double Bill Standout Event
We are constantly amazed by the exceptional quality of the theater talent, both acting and vocal, that resides here in the Garden State (yes, I have said this before, but it demands repeating). This Saturday night, we had the opportunity to hear and see some of the outstanding classical vocal talent performing in our area.
The program was a double bill The Telephone and The Old Maid & The Thief, both by Gian Carlo Menotti. Menotti, may be best known for his classic Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors.
The venue was a church, St. Mark’s, in the community of Basking Ridge. St. Mark’s is the home of the Light Opera Company of New Jersey. Until several seasons ago it was known as the Ridge Light Opera Company. The company was founded 22 years ago by the husband and wife team of William and Lauran Corson. Bill is the lead producer/director with Lauran serving as the Artistic Director. Lauran is a soprano with impressive credits having sung professionally throughout the country in both opera and musical theater.
The two operas, both in English, The Telephone and The Old Maid & The Thief, are short, thus, the plots are rather uncomplicated. The music is charming, if not particularly memorable, however, the joy is in the excellent, fine voiced, cast; Chelsea Friedlander, Matthew Ciuffitelli, Samantha Dango, Carolyn Aguirre and Barbara Nowicki.
The first opera was The Telephone with Chelsea Friedlander and Matthew Ciuffitelli (top photo). Both highly talented (superior voices), with Ms. Friedlander, clearly on her way to star status. The original plot that centered on a conventional telephone has been updated to the iphone with amusing results. Here is a brief summary: “Ben, bearing a gift, comes to visit Lucy at her apartment; he wants to propose to her before he leaves on a trip. Despite his attempts to get her attention for sufficient time to ask his question, Lucy is occupied with interminable conversations on her cellphone. Between her calls, when Lucy leaves the room, Ben even takes the risk of trying to smash her iphone, though his attempt is unsuccessful. Not wanting to miss his train, Ben leaves without asking Lucy for her hand in marriage. But Ben makes one last attempt: He calls Lucy, via video skype, and makes his proposal. She consents, and the two join in a romantic duet over the video phone connection, at the end of which Lucy says yes.” (Terrific use of video projection)
The second half of the program was The Old Maid and The Thief with a spot-on cast: Carolyn Aguirre as the Old Maid, MissTodd; Samantha Dango as her maid Laetitia, veteran performer Barbara Nowicki as the the busybody, Miss Pinkerton, and Matthew Ciuffitelli as Bob, The Thief (he doubles as Ben in The Telephone). Each was excellent, well cast, with Samantha Dango and Barbara Nowicki deserving of a special nod, as is Matthew Ciuffitelli in his dual roles.
Here is a brief synopsis of The Old Maid and The Thief; "The middle-aged spinster Miss Todd, who spends most of her days simply knitting and gossiping with fellow spinster Miss Pinkerton, has her world turned upside-down when a beggar knocks at her door one rainy afternoon. She and her maid Laetitia quickly become smitten with the handsome wanderer and are eager to shelter him. Even when they find out that he may be an escaped convict, they turn to stealing and robbery to keep him around. Having corrupted all of her morals, Miss Todd is then devastated to discover that not only does Bob not care for her, but he is in fact not the thief. Bob does, however, turn to thievery when he and Laetitia run away together with all of Miss Todd’s money when she threatens to pin her own crimes on him. A fast-paced and melodramatic opera buffa, The Old Maid and the Thief shows exactly how “the devil couldn’t do what a woman can: make a thief of an honest man!” The Old Maid is a unique piece as it was originally commissioned by the National Broadcasting Company to be the first opera composed for radio.
Supporting the cast is a very fine seven piece orchestra lead by music director Lois Buesser (piano). The others are: Joan Keeler, flute; Dan Sagi, clarinet; Andrew Pecota, bassoon; Nancy Vanderslice, oboe: Lisa Nettleship, french horn; and, Sariah Mourik Johnson, cello.
The creative staff includes: Lauran Corson, artistic director, costumes, set dresser; William Corson, executive producer, lighting design; Joanna Hoty Russell (The Telephone) and Jamie Baer Peterson (The Old Maid & The Thief) directors; William Ward, stage carpenter; Diane Giangreco, projection and graphic design.
Yes, it is too late to see this event, but in April (7&8) they return with Giachino Rossini's comic opera The Barber of Seville. Stage direction by Jamie Baer Peterson and Roberts Butts handling the music direction. Come July (14-23) they are mounting a major production of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd to be presented six times at the SOPAC in South Orange. Jeffrey Fiorello will direct. Music direction by Stephen Fox.
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio November 6, 2016