The Dicapo Opera Theatre has managed to fill the house with music and laughter during its extended run of Frank Loesser's The Most Happy Fella--so much so that we were reminded of our long-held wish that one of New York City's small opera companies would fill in one of the gaps in our opera scene. At the time we expressed this opinion, South Pacific was filling the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center night after night. BUT, big but here, they used amplification; Dicapo does not. It is a comfortably intimate house that seats but 200 and, in this case, involved a cast who moved gracefully from opera to "a Broadway sound" without any feeling of noblesse oblige. These singers brought the show to life without making any compromises. Reflecting on what we previously wrote about what comprises an opera, we consider this an opera, especially when it is sung by good voices and without miking.
As the eponymous hero, baritone Michael Corvino gave a most committed performance. He was completely believable as the lonely Italian vintner establishing himself in Napa Valley, CA in the mid 20th c. He absolutely oozed garlic. His sister Marie was gorgeously sung by mezzo Lisa Chavez, who, while very much looking the part did not have an old-country accent at all, leading us to speculate on how she managed to lose it!
The San Francisco waitress with whom Tony falls in love and whom he calls "Rosabella" was winningly acted and impressively sung by soprano Molly Mustonen. The big issue that this couple must deal with involves a series of betrayals and ultimate forgiveness. Tony woos Rosabella by mail with a photograph of a much younger and handsomer man, his foreman Joe, in which role Peter Kendall Clark gave a persuasively cocky performance that benefited from his generous baritone voice. His solo "Joey, Joey" was moving and went a long way toward establishing his character.
In a blind rage at the deception, Rosabella behaves badly, marries Tony anyway but has an intimate encounter with Joe which results in a pregnancy. Tony also has his issues. Fear of Rosabella's discovery of his deception leads him to have a driving accident and he is carried home in very bad shape for the wedding. How these two flawed human beings resolve their issues leads us to care for them and want them to be together in spite of Marie's warnings about the difference in their ages. Marie wants Tony to be an old man she can look after and is threatened by Rosabella's taking over her duties.
This is serious stuff but comic relief is provided by Rosabella's friend Cleo (the delightful belter Lauren Hoffmeier) and Tony's employee Herman (the hilarious Brance Cornelius) who somehow manage to get together also. Their show-stopping number "Big D" won our hearts. As if this weren't sufficient to keep us smiling, we also heard some wonderful ensemble work in "Standing on the Corner" and, our personal favorite "Abbondanza".
That delicious word just about sums up the entire production. An abundance of good singing, good acting, good storytelling and good music provided by (gasp!) a full orchestra, ably conducted by Maestro Pacien Mazzagatti. For unknown reasons, the orchestra was not in the pit but onstage behind the singers. John Farrell is credited with the set design which consisted of nothing but a few benches and a table; more was not necessary. Costumes by Julie Wyma were apropos the period. Francine Harman was responsible for the choreography which we truly enjoyed in the "Big D" number. General director Michael Capasso did better as Stage Director than he did as an actor portraying the manager of the San Francisco restaurant where Rosabella was working.
We thank him and Diane Martindale, the Artistic Director, for showing us a realization of our dream--to see an American musical treated as the opera which we believe it to be. With pleasure we noted that next season's roster includes Kismet. We are filled with anticipation.
(c) meche kroop