WASHINGTON, September 12, 2014 – The In Series’ online description of its latest production, Kathleen Cahill’s good natured tragic opera pastiche, “Fatal Song: ” is excerpted from a Salt Lake Tribune review of the piece last autumn when it was performed by the temporarily renovation-exiled Utah Opera:
“A bunch of opera heroines start to notice that someone or something is killing them off. They then wink their way through some of opera’s most celebrated moments. A delightfully daffy send-up of the opera genre…”
That’s as succinct and accurate a description you’re likely to get for this amusing, genuinely high-quality show. It’s a musical anthology that seems almost tailor-made for the In Series as it continues to perfect its successful “pocket opera” concept.
Another increasing plus for the In Series is the company’s apparently increasing ability to sign up better and better soloists for these pocket opera programs. Their current show is a fine example of this steadily increasing quality.
Featured soloists Heather Bingham, Annie Gill, Adrienne Ivey, Daniele Lorio and CarrieAnne Winter—with a nice, occasional assist from male soloists Brody DelBeccaro and Jason Lee—delivered to Wednesday’s slightly sparse opening night audience an amazing succession of ripping good performances, recalling some of the most sparkling, yet tragic moments in classical- and Romantic-era opera.
Kathleen Cahill’s lightweight but amusing script imagines a backstage or perhaps a cabaret-style scenario in which a number of female opera stars encounter each other and their various signature characters behind the curtain. In the process, each singer morphs from tragic heroine to tragic heroine without a whole lot of logic. But in truth, that’s not the point.
Their opera-centric banter is Ms. Cahill’s wry, witty, and sometimes uproariously funny way of setting the scene for each solo or ensemble number while at the same time providing useful bits of insight into each character.
In the process, the dialogue connects the dots for everyone, amusing those in the audience who are already familiar with the opera plots while providing a light introduction to the action for the opera newbies in the crowd.
On the surface, the patter may be cotton-candy lite for some. But it’s an awfully effective way of introducing opera newcomers to some of the West’s finest music, much of which is in danger of slipping away, given that it’s no longer encountered in most educational curricula.
It’s hard to pick out the musical highlights in this production since all the soloists were on top of their game. Yes, there were little shortcomings here and there, but for our money, this show could be one of this young season’s top bargain tickets.
In alpha order: Soprano Heather Bingham (Violetta, Desdemona, Countess Almaviva) was perhaps at her best in Desdomona’s quietly tragic “Ave Maria,” during which she prays to the Blessed Virgin in quiet desperation, knowing that with Verdi’s vengeful Otello lurking outside, this moment of prayer may be her last. Ms. Bingham’s performance was deeply emotional and moving, a somber contrast to some of the evening’s lighter moments.
Soprano Annie Gill (Mimi, Despina, Pamina) was perhaps most convincing in Mimi’s early introductory aria, excerpted from Puccini’s all-time hit, “La Bohème.” Ms. Gill caught every nuance and sensation as Mimi’s emotions run the gamut, touching on her tragic fragility as well as the excitement of her unexpected, newfound romance.
Adrienne Ivey (Giulietta, Manon Lescaut, Carmen, Dorabella) was at her best in Carmen’s sultry “Habañera,” wonderfully capturing both the tragedy and the carnality of Bizet’s sensuous, amoral, but irresistible gypsy smuggler-queen. Ms. Ivey showed some nifty comic acting chops early in the production as well, as her Giulietta character was gradually, realistically, but amusingly overcome by a bit too much vin ordinaire.
Soprano Daniele Lorio (Lucia di Lammermoor, Manon, Olympia) had to deliver some of the evening’s most challenging vocals. She was particularly effective and moving in Lucia’s winsome yet sorrowful aria “Regnava nel silenzia” (“Stillness reigned”), which, perhaps, marks the beginning of her cascading madness as the central figure in Donizetti’s classic opera, based on Sir Walter Scott’s tragic, romantic novel “The Bride of Lammermoor.”
But Ms. Lorio will likely be better remembered by audiences for her hilariously apt and vocally adept portrayal of Olympia, the mechanical doll who becomes the hallucinating Hoffmann’s bizarre love interest in Jacques Offenbach’s bizarre, messy, but wonderful masterpiece, “Tales of Hoffmann.”
Channeling Black Forest cuckoo clocks and the vintage rock group Divo at the same time, Ms. Lorio, both vocally and as an actress, did a fine job bringing off Olympia’s aria “Les oiseaux dans la charmille” (“The birds in the forest grove”) one of opera’s weirdest but most challenging soprano solos.
CarrieAnne Winter’s silvery soprano voice proved the perfect match for her trio of roles, including Mozart’s Susanna (“Marriage of Figaro”) and Queen of the Night (“Magic Flute”) and Bernstein’s Cunegonde (“Candide”).
It was in the latter two roles that Ms. Winter got to roll out her considerable vocal firepower and finesse, as both her well known solos—“Der Hölle Rache” (“The wrath of hell”) from “Magic Flute” and “Glitter and be gay” from “Candide”—are challenging show stoppers. We could have used a millisecond more hang-time on the impossible high notes in each aria, but Ms. Winter’s vocal wizardry won the audience without dissension.
Although this was an evening almost strictly devoted to the ladies, we’d be remiss if we didn’t give a hat tip to the gents in this production. Brody DelBeccaro strong, romantic voice provided an excellent counterpart to Ms. Winter’s quick-thinking Susanna in Mozart’s clever seduction duet.
Likewise, Mr. Lee’s warm and winning performances in his duet opposite Ms. Bingham’s Violetta (Verdi’s “La Traviata”).
Both men joined the rest of the cast in the uplifting ensemble scenes that provide and optimistic and hopeful close to Mozart’s “Figaro,” which in a way, for this show at least, sent the audience home with a bit more of a positive spin than they might have expected for an evening highlighting some of opera’s greatest tragic heroines.
Kudos goes as well to popular area pianist Frank Conlon who was in fine form as this production’s “orchestra,” and also to veteran director Rick Davis who kept the production on its toes with a light but positive touch imparting an excellent sense of timing to this already fine cast of singer-actors.
“Fatal Song” will be running in repertory with the Series’ current “Cole Porter Project” through September 21.
Rating: *** (3 out of 4 stars)
Tickets and Information: “Fatal Song” continues at the Source through Sunday, September 21. For tickets ($42, $20 student and youth) and further information, visit InSeries.org. Or call 202-204-7763.
Location and parking: Source, 1835 14th St. NW, Washington, DC 20009. On street parking can be difficult to find nearby. For local garage suggestions, visit the parking page of the InSeries website.