The plucky chamber opera company known as The Little Opera Theatre of NY has unearthed a little-known comic opera by Christoph Willibald Gluck; L'ivrogne corrigé, a short one-act piece premiered in Vienna in 1760, just two years before his well-known Orfeo ed Euridice. The stock situation of a young couple whose romantic plans are obstructed by a guardian is familiar to us from literature and opera libretti.
The venue chosen, 59E59 Theater worked surprisingly well. The sightlines are superb and Scenic Designer Neil Patel did a most effective job in dividing the small stage on the diagonal placing the musicians (comprising a string quartet with oboe and harpsichord) to one side and the operatic stage to the other. Nothing more was needed than a couple chairs, some hanging lights, and a wardrobe that doubled as a bed and a platform. Costume Design by Lara de Bruijn was lovely and appropriate to the period. Director Philip Shneidman kept the action lucid.
Herr Gluck wrote some gorgeous music here, some of it presaging his later works. Conductor Richard Owen at the harpsichord brought out many subtleties in the score; it was oboist Slava Znatchenii who captured our ears most often, as well as first violinist Francisco Salazar. The duet between the eponymous "hero" Mathurin, sung by tenor Anthony Wright Webb and his drinking buddy Lucas, sung by a very funny baritone Ron Loyd, involved some beautiful vocal blending. A subsequent duet between Mathurine the tippler's wife, sung by mezzo Teresa Buchholz, and her niece Colette, sung by soprano Jessica Sandidge delighted the ear with its harmonies in major thirds--very appropriate for two women discussing the price women pay for marriage.
The plot centers around the two women plotting along with Cléon, Colette's love interest, sung by tenor Jonathan Winell, in an effort to forestall Mathurin's plan to marry Colette off to Lucas. The three of them get the two unconscious drunkards onto the bed together (providing the audience with no small degree of laughter) then wake them and convince them they are dead; they then don masks and present themselves as Pluto and two furies who first condemn the men to the underworld but finally relent and allow them a reprieve if they beat each other. Mathurin must promise to drink no more and to allow his niece to marry Cléon.
The singing was fine throughout, as was the acting. Mr. Loyd was consistently hilarious. Mr. Winell was a bit stolid as Cléon but made much more out of his playing the part of Pluto. Diction was variable and therein lay the sole problem with this delightful evening. The original libretto by Louis Anseaume and Jean-Baptiste Lourdet de Santerre was written in French in rhyming couplets. Here we got a ham-handed translation by Ivana Mestrovic which did not scan and did not rhyme. Musical accents and verbal accents seemed at war with one another. The irony is that the plot is so straightforward that no one would have protested a performance in French, even without titles. This was an (un)artistic decision which we failed to understand.
Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable evening and we count on the feisty Little Opera Theater of New York will bring us more undiscovered gems in the future.
(c) meche kroop