It hardly needs to be said that a musical revue is meant to be fun, and even if the “Opera Scenes” put on by the Yale College Opera Company is not precisely a revue, it is certainly as entertaining as one. Perry So’s ’04 production is fun, exuberant, well-presented and well-sung.
And, if you missed any of the fall a cappella jams, you will have the opportunity to catch up with past and present members of groups including the Duke’s Men of Yale, the Spizzwinks, The Alley Cats, and Mixed Company. The cast draws much of its talent from campus singing groups.
There are three scenes in this two-act show, and, despite how disparate the scenes are, they unfold nicely, the energy of the first and last feeding off the stillness of second.
The first two scenes are contrasting short pieces. Billy Schraufnagel ’03 — whose fine, spirited directing holds the show together — begins with a vignette from Stephen Sondheim’s farce “A Little Night Music” and moves on to Gian Carlo Menotti’s supernatural “The Medium.”
The storyline of Sondheim’s piece is rather complicated, so the program notes are indispensable, even though the scene is in English. But to appreciate the tension in the scene and the exceptional job the actors do in quickly fleshing out distinct characters it is necessary to understand the background.
Suffice it to say, we are given two men cheating on their wives — with the same woman. The wives find out about the treachery, and want their men back while the men compete for the woman they are cheating with.
To complicate matters, invited or not, everyone is heading to a country estate.
The actors nail the exaggerated farce of the scene, with blustery acting and excellent singing.
The principles stand out — Ann Moller ’03 as a young, married virgin, Darien Lamen ’04 as a stiff soldier, Jessica Rivkin ’05 as a dour wife, and Timothy Bradley ’03 as the leading man.
Even the small parts are given excellent attention. Grace Kuckro ’03 plays an amusingly bubbly maid, and Jonathan Boschetto ’04 the sullen son.
It should be noted that the production is put on in the Silliman Common Room, which is a challenging place to stage any play for a director and technical crew. This challenge is sufficiently met by Schraufnagel and company.
In the first two scenes, Schraufnagel elects to use an arena-style stage, with one half of the audience facing the other while the action takes place in the middle.
It would seem to be a particularly formidable challenge for an opera, where the acoustics of a particular scene depend on whether a particular actor, who is only steps away, is facing your side of the audience.
Schraufnagel neatly deals with the issue. In the first scene, the actors constantly wheel around the stage — it almost looks like a square dance — giving both sides of the audience the full power of the actor’s voices.
The second scene, “The Medium,” finds us with a gypsy named Madam Flora (Shayna Strom ’02) who works with her mute boy-servant Toby (David Friedlander ’05), and her daughter Monica (Claire Owen ’03) to cheat yuppies out of their money by staging seances for parents with dead children.
Rivkin provides the evening’s most subtle performance as a mother who has lost her daughter; her angst is evident everywhere, particularly in her lusty voice.
After the intermission, Schraufnagel puts on Giaocomo Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi,” which quickly asserts itself as the evening’s best piece, a self-assured, fun romp through a popular opera.
Edward Bailey ’03 is the production’s star performer, contorting his face and voice to great comic effect.
As with all three scenes, the orchestration by So is pitch-perfect.
Even though the technical elements occasionally lag behind the energy of Schraufnagel and So’s “Opera Scenes” — the up-lighting, while appropriate for a comedic scene, goes straight in the audience’s eyes — the intimacy of the performance gives the audience an unusual opportunity to hear opera up close.