|Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live!
We wish more opera lovers were aware of the joys of operetta. The art form is part of American musical history and laid the foundation for the American Musical. They provided grand theatrical entertainment for both Americans and Austrians of la belle époque. Their plots are delightfully silly and their music is gloriously tuneful.
King of the composers of operetta was Victor Herbert, who was born in Ireland and raised in Germany; he composed his great hits in the USA around the turn of the 20th c. For bringing his works to the attention of New Yorkers, we have Alyce Mott to thank; her visionary stewardship of the Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live! has resulted in an ever-growing audience. Last night, Christ and St. Stephen's church was packed to the very last pew with adoring fans.
Last night's production of The Serenade, Herbert's second big Broadway success, employed the original libretto from 1897 by Harry B. Smith. The preposterous situation involves a Duke (the wildly funny David Seatter) who is so possessive of his flirtatious ward Dolores (the stunning Vira Slywotzky) that he is ready to murder anyone of whom he is suspicious. The running joke is that the beautiful "serenade" is sung by almost everyone in the show at one time or another.
Dolores is in love with Alvarado (the wonderful Bray Wilkins), a star of the Madrid Opera who has won her with his "serenade". Also in love with her is the tone-deaf tailor Gomez (the effective Brian Kilday) who gets a singing lesson from the retired tenor Colombo (the hilarious Glenn Seven Allen). With three characters like this, one can just imagine the hilarity of the has-been teaching the never-will-make-it!
Colombo has a beautiful daughter Yvonne (performed by coloratura Natalie Ballenger, who IS beautiful, both in appearance and voice). We don't get to find out whom she will marry until the very end.
Meanwhile we get exposed to the Royal Madrid Brigands Association with their pop-guns. In a move worthy of W.S. Gilbert, they become politicians at the end. As a matter of fact, in his skill with wordplay and rhyming, Mr. Smith comes close to Mr. Gilbert. But Mr. Herbert's music owes no debt to any other composer.
Our funny bone was tickled by the hijinks of hiding in cloister and monastery and by the changing of costumes between Yvonne and Dolores, which fools the near-sighted Duke. Our ears were tickled by the gorgeous singing.
Led by Stephen Faulk (who had a stunning ballad toward the end-- "I Envy the Bird") and by Matthew Wages, the group of brigands included Daniel Greenwood, Drew Bolander, Jovani McCleary, and Seph Stanek. Their choral numbers were finely handled and exhibited good English diction. We particularly enjoyed their rendition of the "serenade".
The female chorus was also fine--Angela Christine Smith, Sarah Caldwell Smith, and Chelsea Friedlander--all nuns led by Mother Superior Katherine Corle. It was a bit more difficult to understand their words, as it usually is with higher voices.
Some highlights of the evening included Mr. Seatter's patter song "A Duke of High Degree", the female chorus' number "In Our Quiet Cloister" (which was rhymed with "oyster"), and Dolores and Alvarado's duet "Don Jose of Seville". One very special aspect of VHRPLive! is that they are an ensemble company and one gets to enjoy the same wonderful artists in different roles.
Alyce Mott did a swell job as Stage Director and Music Director Michael Thomas not only conducted but sounded the chimes, as William Hicks played the piano score, which was compiled by Dino Anagnost.
We are already planning to enjoy more of VHRPLive! next year but you can still catch them this year since The Serenade has one more performance tonight at 8:00.
(c) meche kroop