Sunday, May 23, 2010

Opera Cleveland: Lucia di Lammermoor

The short version: There's very little not to like about Opera Cleveland's production of Lucia di Lammermoor (And if you've never heard Opera before this is a good way to wet your toes -- last chance is Sunday afternoon at 2, use "OPERAGO" for a nice little discount, too).

The longer version: Opera has its share of stereotypes: Interminably long productions, a patron base with one foot in the grave, the fat lady with horns singing on a barren stage--heck, even the phrase "it ain't* over 'til the fat lady sings". Opera Cleveland's production of Lucia doesn't fit any of these.

The generally young cast belts it out with a level of theatricality that makes it more and more difficult to differentiate between opera and musical theater; there's not a 'fat lady' in the cast, the set had a stunning visual interest, and it was probably the youngest** audience I've ever seen at an opera.

A preshow "cocktails and conversation" with Artistic Director Dean Williamson drew an interesting attendance -- including at least one pair of first time operagoers. Based on his discussion of the evolution of opera away from "park and bark" I took the opportunity to ask where he would draw the line between musical theater and opera, Mr. Williamson answered that he didn't think that you could draw that line any more, and I'm inclined to agree.

The set, re-purposed from another company's production of a different show, carried visual interest on its own but were extended through both front and rear video projection. Shakespeare's Fallstaff said that "The better part of valor is discretion" and Opera Cleveland's discretion as far as utilizing technology requires credit. The creative team remained innovative while steering well clear of overuse and the other usual pitfalls of projection; the rear projection, carefully used, and certainly not overused, particularly was of stunning quality and there were a few moments where I didn't think that I was watching projected scenery.

The story, pulled into a 1930s mob context by stage director Tomer Zvulun, was moved effectively by the cast. Nili Riemer as Lucia was a particular standout including singing on her back and a beautiful duet with flute, but the remainder of the cast didn't trail far behind. The Opera Cleveland Orchestra, likewise, didn't leave anything to be desired. Perhaps, most telling is that the three act two intermission two hour and forty minute performance seemed to fly by, and I not once had the urge to check the time. Truly, the only complaint I had was so minor as to qualify as a nitpick: The spotlight operators seemed really rough.

Over the past week I've heard countless times from countless members of the company that they though this may be the best production Opera Cleveland has put on. I'm inclined to agree.

*-This, prayerfully, will be the only time you see the psuedoword "ain't" typed by these fingers.
** - By highly unscientific visual poll, consisting mostly of the questions "Do most of them have hair?" and "Is that hair a color other than gray?".

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