|The cast of Naughty Marietta|
Over the past few years we have been made aware of a couple small companies in New York City that present operettas; thankfully Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live! (VHRP LIVE!) has just crossed our radar screen. We say "thankfully" because we just passed a completely delightful evening with them getting acquainted with a very naughty girl named Marietta who first delighted audiences in 1910.
We are not a member of the group that finds these works outmoded, any more than we would call a Renoir "outdated". We can only express our joy that the ambitious Alyce Mott has seen fit to share the works of Mr. Herbert with present day audiences.
Ms. Mott is the Founder and Artistic Director of VHRP LIVE! and has also written a new pocket libretto for Mr. Herbert's tuneful operetta. The story was narrated by Georga Osborne who appeared in the speaking role of Marie Le Valleau, a voodoo queen of late 18th c. New Orleans. Ms. Mott's libretto has made some nips and tucks that serve to move the story along and eliminate unnecessary distractions.
Musical values were grand all around with conductor Michael Thomas moving things along and pianist Wilson Southerland excellently playing the overture and intermezzo, as well as supporting the superb singers.
Soprano Sarah Caldwell Smith excelled as the eponymous Marietta, a runaway Italian contessa, recently escaped from a French convent. Her sparkly bright instrument was perfect for the role and she effectively portrayed a spunky young woman who was going to create her own future.
Tenor Glenn Seven Allen sang beautifully as Captain Richard Warrington, leader of a group of rangers sent by General George Washington to arrest a pirate plaguing the territory. He was most effective as Marietta's love interest.
His competition was Etienne Grandet, the son of the Lieutenant Governor, actually none other than the pirate himself, sharing his booty with his father. Baritone Justin Ryan sang and acted up a storm.
His quadroon mistress Adah was wonderfully played by soprano Vira Slywotzky whose larger darker soprano lent itself to the role and gave gravitas to her fear of being sold when Etienne tired of her.
Comic relief was provided by David Seatter whose song "Sweet By and By" reminded us of a Gilbert and Sullivan number. Further comic relief was on hand courtesy of Stephen Faulk who portrayed the Captain's aide Simon O'Hara with a brogue as thick as molasses. Nathan Brian was amusing as Rudolfo who owned the marionette theater and gave disguise and employment to Marietta, pretending she was his long-lost son.
If the plot sounds confusing, rest assured that in the performance everything was made clear. Although we were fascinated by the politics of the period, one didn't need to be in order to appreciate the fun and the music. In fact, this is very close to the period in history John Guare illuminated in his play A Free Man of Color, which we saw half a dozen times!
New Orleans changed hands a couple times before the Louisiana Purchase and at this time it was owned by Spain but dominated by the French. It was a free-wheeling time with ample sophistication and wealth. But it was also a time when people of color were bought and sold. A beautiful quadroon like Adah could expect to be set up in a house with beautiful clothes and jewelry. Just this little bit of knowledge served to enhance our appreciation.
Some musical highlights were "Taisez Vous" sung by the Rangers and the "casquette girls", women given dowries by the King of France so they could come to the New World and find husbands--(Natalie Ballenger, Katherine Corle, Mitchell Roe, and Matthew Wages).
Ms. Caldwell Smith led the company in "Italian Street Song" filled with coloratura fireworks. Her duet with Mr. Allen "It Never, Never Can Be Love" was outstanding. Ms. Slywotzky had a delightful duet with Mr. Faulk --"If I Were Anybody Else But Me". Mr. Ryan's solo "You Marry A Marionette" was deliciously witty.
Of course the finale was the peak of the evening--"Ah Sweet Mystery of Life". Captain Dick has helped Marietta finish her unfinished song and the couple who tried hard not to fall in love has been united. Adah has been purchased by Captain Dick and freed. And now the audience can leave the theater feeling really really good.
(c) meche kroop