|Kim Feltkamp, Emily Kate Naydeck, Griffin Candey, Amber Treadway|
We are big fans of OperaRox Productions and generally admire their adventurous risk-taking productions. In spite of some fine performances and Amber Treadway's on point direction, we felt a bit let down by last night's Sweets by Kate.
Having been billed as "a lesbian opera" we wish the "book" had focused more on the relationship and backstory of the lead couple. We did glean that Elizabeth Brigmann (beautifully sung by Kim Feltkamp) had lost her mother and departed her small town because her father/shopkeeper Joe (Michael Hofmann) did not accept her sexual orientation.
We further gleaned that she had taken off for San Francisco a dozen years earlier and had a relationship with Kate (lovely Emily Kate Naydeck) who loved to bake and that the two of them returned to the aforementioned small town to open a bakery in the late father's shop. But we wanted a better grasp of who they were as people. Kaitlyn Day's 1950's costumes emphasized the "butch-femme" cliche but did nothing to show well developed characters; and composer Griffin Candey's music did nothing to limn the characters' personalities. It was difficult to care about these two-dimensional characters.
The opera comprised two short acts but there might have been time to develop the characters of these women had there not been a secondary story occurring, one that was given primacy for most of the evening. There is a satanic character named Carl (performed with sinister glee by Brandon Evans) who poisons the father and destroys the fledgling bakery with a spell making everyone who partook of the baked goods have feelings of despair. But that was only after mistakenly hexing the baked goods with a spell of feelings of success in the consumer.
Perhaps that made an interesting take-home point. Even gossipy small town bigots can feel tolerance when their lives are successful. But watch out when people feel despair!
So, we found fault with the dichotomous nature of the story; we also did not care for Thom Miller's libretto. Although there were some attempts at rhyming the language was clumsy, save for some very clever wordplay when the ladies of the town met and, instead of exchanging information, spouted meta-communications like "gossip gossip bibble babble" and "appropriate greeting" and "comment about the weather".
We could not find much to like about Candey's music; if we had, we would have entitled our review "Sweets by Candey" or some such. Maestro Candey himself conducted and we had no problem with the keyboard performances of Peiharn Chen, nor the violin of Sara Dudley or the cello of Spencer Shen. Candey did provide an aria for each of the main characters but none were tuneful or memorable. The recitativi would have been better spoken than sung.
We were impressed by how Amber Treadway made such good use of the miniscule stage upstairs at the historically important Stonewall Inn. We would be surprised if the stage exceeded 12' in width and 6' in depth!
We also enjoyed Keith Browning's turn as the funny job-seeker and would-be lover Doofey MacLaran who garnered most of the giggles. That is one funny guy! Elizabeth's father was portrayed by Michael Hoffman and he was killed off early in the evening so there was no reconciliation scene with his daughter.
Ryan Colbert did a fine job as Mrs. Webster and the other three gossipy ladies of the town were Zoe Marie Hart (well remembered from her work with Utopia Opera), Emma Bonanno, and Sarah Murcek. We thought the entire cast did their best to bring this flawed work to life. No one stinted on commitment or were short of talent. It's just too bad that the work itself was unfocused.
Perhaps there is material there for two operas--one about two women winning over a small town with their wonderful baking, and another about a satanic character manipulating people's tolerance. But I would hope that the dialogue would be punchy and the music melodic!
(c) meche kroop