|Gorgeous Gloria, as sketched by Doug Fitch|
The fine music by the Viennese composer HK Gruber has the jazzy and raucous flavor of German cabaret mixed with French comic opera. One could not have asked for a better performance than that given by Juilliard's AXIOM ensemble comprising a solo violin and harp, two percussionists, and lots of wind instruments including our beloved bass clarinet, tuba, flugelhorn and several varieties of saxophone. As conductor, the eminent Alan Gilbert not only led the ensemble but joined in the fun. There was a stunning moment at the end of Act I when the musicians quit the ensemble one by one, leaving only the violinist bowing away at her instrument. One could not help thinking of Poulenc's Dialogue des Carmelites.
The libretto by Rudolf Herfurtner is a lot more sanguine than Janacek's well known The Cunning Little Vixen, making it suitable for children. The story concerns a very beautiful pig named Gloria who has glorious golden curls. She is, as they say, "pretty as a pig-ture" and, like Cunegonde in Bernstein's Candide, she knows it. But she is different from her swinish family and feels lonely and rejected. At the end of Act I, she dreams of her Prince Charming and the music becomes absolutely luminous.
But the man she expects to rescue her from her sad state turns out to be (YIKES!) a farmer who means to butcher her. And then the REAL prince charming shows up, a wild boar named Rodrigo, and comes to her rescue. In the epilogue, there is a family of piglets and Rodrigo feels.....trapped.
The success of this whimsical tale rests upon the artistic design and for this we must thank the director, costume designer and co-set designer Doug Fitch. The masks were witty and, realized by Anna Yates, outstandingly effective, allowing the singers voices to emerge successfully while still conveying pigs and boar, not to mention the frogs and birds and sausages.
About those singers we have nothing but praise. Each of the five cast members assumed many roles. Soprano Lauren Snouffer made a winsome pig and tenor Alexander Lewis shone in the role of the farmer/butcher. Mezzo Brenda Patterson and baritone Carlton Ford were also excellent while bass Kevin Burdette almost stole the show as a sexy wild boar with a most effective boar's head around his torso which nodded when he moved his pelvis.
We loved the chorus of frogs and the duet for sausages.
Co-Set Designer was Kate Noll and Lighting Designer was Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew. The fairy-tale designs were colorful and apropos.
We have only one small criticism. The English diction left much to be desired and, although the gist of the story was easy to understand, we missed a lot of the dialogue which we think was probably too clever to be missed. We would have appreciated projected titles or, even better, to have heard the work in it's original German since it is a work of singular Austrian flavor. There is no point in presenting a work in translation if the English is not crystal clear. The English version was by Amanda Holden. Maestro Gilbert warned us at the beginning that we might not understand the animals who were speaking gibberish, but that was only a small part of the libretto.
This work was part of the New York Philharmonic Biennial Festival and a worthy entry. Giants are Small was founded in 2007 by the above-mentioned Doug Fitch and the Swiss filmmaker and producer Edouard Getaz with multimedia entrepreneur Frédéric Gumy. We can barely wait to see what they come up with next.
© meche kroop