|John Callison, Katherine Cecelia Peck, Chad Kranak, Heather Jones, Victor Khodadad, Claire Kuttler, Tom Mulder, and Chelsea Bonagura in Jacques Offenbach's The Island of Tulipatan|
If you are reading this in the morning you just might have time to get to Theatre 80 on St. Mark's Place in time for today's matinee; if you have missed this delightful production you can still hear it because Light Opera of New York will be recording it, as they have done for several prior productions.
In either case, you are in for a treat. This tuneful and topical one-act operetta premiered in 1868 at Bouffes-Parisienne at the apex of Jacques Offenbach's popularity. Bouffes-Parisienne had been delighting Parisian audiences since this prolific composer established it in 1855 for the Paris Exposition. The Island of Tulipatan is a protean work and has been heard all over the world. It's good-natured satire makes it easily adaptable.
Light Opera of New York's adaptation was particularly successful with a libretto by Gregg Opelka and dialogue by Jack Helbig. The fact that we enjoyed the English translation so heartily should tell our readers a great deal! The cleverness of the wordplay and rhyme schemes contributed enormously to our delight. We couldn't help thinking about W.S. Gilbert's way with words.
The story involves a Grand Marshal who is dissatisfied with his tomboy daughter and the Duke of Tulipatan who despairs over his effeminate son. It would be spoiling the fun to tell you how this all works out but there is a lot of Gallic wink-wink. And if you've never seen tall handsome tenor Tom Mulder in a dress you haven't truly lived.
We hold that opera is entertainment (in spite of some not-so-entertaining contemporary misfires). Whether serious or comic, the value lies in taking us out of the daily struggle and showing us a different world. When we leave a performance, there is ample time to consider whether the tale is relevant to our present day. Surely, parental disappointment is very relevant as is gender dysphoria!
Gary Slavin's direction was superb, just as it was for last week's Ballad of Baby Doe at Utopia Opera.
Offenbach's music comprises an outpouring of tunes to delight those of us who cherish melody. Music Director Tyson Deaton at the keyboard ensured that we did not miss an orchestra.
Mr. Mulder's tenor was as splendid as his acting, which involved his galumphing around the stage as the tomboy Hermosa, to his father's annoyance-- and his trying to teach Alexis, the wimpy son of the Duke, how to propose to a woman. As Alexis, soprano Claire Kuttler was funny but also moving as she sang about the loss of her pet hummingbird with a bright clear tone tinged with sadness. Good comedy must be performed seriously!
Papa Romboidal, the Grand Marshal, was finely portrayed by tenor Chad Kranak and mezzo-soprano Heather Jones did a swell job as his wife Theodorine. They were convincingly French, arguing the way couples do in French film. Of course, it is her fault that their daughter Hermosa is so unladylike! Why isn't Maman teaching her social graces! Haha. If Papa only knew!
The Duke of Tulipatan was just as dense as everyone else and delightful in his clueless state. Tenor Victor Khodadad inhabited the role perfectly and sang equally well. We grant a huge round of applause to all the singers who managed to sing English very clearly whilst maintaining a Gallic style. Nothing was lost in translation!
As if this weren't enough entertainment for one evening, we were also gifted with a curtain raiser comprising a number of selections from Offenbach's oeuvre, sung in French. One can never go wrong with duets from Les Contes d'Hoffman and "Kleinzach" was performed by Mr. Mulder and baritone John Callison. Soprano Chelsea Bonagura and Ms. Jones harmonized beautifully in the "Barcarolle", and Ms. Kuttler gave us a fine "Elle a fui".
Unfortunately, all of the above were "on the book" which truly impairs the connection with the audience. It felt awkward particularly when Ms. Bonagura, Ms. Jones, and lovely soprano Katherine Cecelia Peck sang "Ah! Quel diner!" from La Perichole. It was an interesting idea to perform it as a trio but every time someone interrupted the acting by looking down or turning a page, the magic was gone.
So special credit goes to Mr. Khodadad who committed to memory "Au Mont Ida" from La Belle Helene. and for this reason we would call that our favorite selection from that part of the evening. He was able to relate unimpaired to his three goddesses and to connect thereby with the audience.
Aside from the use of scores for most of the songs, the entire evening was very much worth our while and left a smile. We are so fortunate in New York to have such a plethora of small companies, each staking out a special territory and giving us opera lovers such an amazing variety of experiences. Bravo LOONY!
(c) meche kroop