When one thinks of the activities of a typical Yale student, drinking, sleeping around and occasionally studying come to mind.
Seeing an opera, much less performing in one, is not usually part of the Joe College experience. For many Yalies, the word opera still conjures up images of large women wearing horns and carrying spears.
The members of the Opera Theater of Yale College, now in its seventh season, hope to change that. Their fall production of two one-act operas, Carlisle Floyd’s “Slow Dusk” and Mozart’s “Der Schauspieldirektor” (“The Impresario”), while not without its flaws, demonstrates that opera should be worthy of our interest.
The two one-acts, double-cast and directed by Danielle Ryan ’06 with music directed by Stephen Hopkins ’06, could hardly be more different. I observed one set of actors performing each of the two operas. “Slow Dusk,” written in 1949 while Floyd was still a student at Syracuse University, is a tragedy set in the American South during the Great Depression. “The Impresario,” written by Mozart in the same period as his famous “The Marriage of Figaro,” is a light comedy set by Ryan in 1955 West Berlin.
While the actors in both productions are quite talented, when one compares the work of a college age Floyd to that of a mature Mozart, one cannot help but see amateurish flaws in the former.
“Slow Dusk” chronicles a fateful day in the romance between Sadie (Megan Stern ’06) and Micah (Aaron Lambert ’06), two poor southern teenagers from rival religious sects. The two agree to marry, only to be met with the opposition of Aunt Sue (Christine Slaughter ’07) and Sadie’s brother Jess (Patrick Levin ’05). Micah’s tragic drowning resolves that question, and the show ends with an aria of mourning by a heartbroken Sadie.
The material is overly melodramatic, and the actors cannot rise above it. This is a shame, because Stern and Lambert acquit themselves quite well as the two lovers. Both have strong voices that remain powerful across their low and high registers, and both have quite expressive faces. One only wishes they had more sexual chemistry, since without it, Micah’s end is far less tragic. Nevertheless, Stern’s final aria is quite impressive. It is a testament to her abilities that she manages to appear so heartbroken despite such weak material.
Since it refuses to take itself so seriously, “The Impresario” is far more interesting and enjoyable to watch than its counterpart. The libretto, performed as an updated version in English, may contain a number of terrible puns, but is also quite witty.
The plot, such as there is one, follows the Impresario, or opera manager (David Carpman ’06), as he auditions two rival sopranos presented to him by a rich, would-be opera patron, Mr. Angel (Sean Leatherbury ’06). As the old and experienced Madame Goldentrill, Nicole Rodriguez has a vocal duel with the young but talented Mademoiselle Silverpeal (Claudia Rosenthal ’08).
There are standouts of the cast, however. Rosenthal possesses a wonderful tone and delivers her flashy coloratura aria with assurance and poise, and Avi Feller ’07 perfectly embodies the Impresario’s henchman, Mr. Bluff, as a sort of lovable goon. At one point Feller even conducts along to the music with a champagne bottle.
Their characters’ interactions are also memorable. For instance, when Rosenthal mounts the desk as if it were a piano and she were a sleazy lounge singer, Feller stares up rapturously at her. Priceless.
There are some overall problems which plague the production. The pit orchestra, in addition to being off at times, is simply too loud for the singers’ to be understood. In fact, Mozart’s “Impresario” lyrics, with the aid of supertitles, are easier to comprehend than the English lyrics of “Slow Dusk.”
After seeing the show, one line from “The Impresario” comes to mind: that against all odds, “Opera inevitably wins the battle for survival.” With such talented actors, provided that they find stronger material than “Slow Dusk,” the Opera Theater of Yale College is on the right path to prove Mozart correct.