We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


Alyce Mott and the cast of Victor Herbert's The Red Mill

The Red Mill has turned and as it turned it changed a very cranky reviewer into a smiling member of a joyful audience.  Such is the power of art.  We do believe that "entertainment" and "art" can be synonymous. Today's audience might not consider an operetta from a hundred years ago to be a form of entertainment but, dear reader, trust us on this one.

We were transported back in time to an era when telegrams were novel and were called "magic letters". How welcome this was when our day was spent dealing with a recalcitrant printer and unhelpful tech support. For two hours we were immersed in good humor, romantic longings, and ultimate fulfillment. What could be more soothing!

The enormous popularity of Victor Herbert's musical entertainments can be attributed to his gift for melody and his astute choice of librettist. Henry Blossom provided an enchanting story and wrote dialogue and lyrics that fit the music like glove to hand. Somewhere in between the late 19th c. association between Gilbert and Sullivan and the mid 20th c. Rogers and Hammerstein, we have an artistic partnership that delighted early 20th c. audiences in similar fashion.

The work premiered in 1906 on Broadway and was revived in 1946. Alyce Mott, Founder and Artistic Director of Victor Herbert Renaissance Project LIVE! has tweaked the operetta with some seamless writing and the insertion of some reprises which were not in the original.  Extraneous characters were removed to good advantage.

The charming story will be familiar to those who recall the pre-feminist era. A father is marrying his daughter off to a man who will enhance the father's position. She is in love with a ship's captain and is determined to undermine her father's intentions.  In this she is supported by her widowed aunt and aided by the ridiculous rascals Kid Conner and Con Kidder, who supply much of the comic relief, especially when convincing Papa that they are Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Watson!

Regular audience members, such as we are, are delighted to see the same beautiful faces and hear the same beautiful voices in each production.  This consistency attests to successful casting. As Gretchen, the lovelorn daughter, we heard the scintillating soprano Sarah Caldwell Smith; as the helpful Aunt Berta, we heard soprano Vira Slywotzky, whose generous soprano made a lovely contrast with Ms. Smith's. We adored their duet "I'm Always Doing Something I Don't Want to Do" which speaks volumes about female subjugation.

The male leads were just as well cast and performed.  Tenor Christopher Robin Sapp lent his sweet tone and fine phrasing to the role of Dori van Damm, the sea captain loved by Gretchen. As the conniving pair of swindlers we had the very funny Drew Bolander and Matthew Wages.  We loved their duet "Always Go While the Goin' is Good".

As the controlling Burgomaster of Katwyk-ann-Zee, Gretchen's father, we heard the fine Anthony Maida with Shane Brown portraying the sneaky Sheriff who wants to do Aunt Berta the favor of marrying her.  That was a "no go"!

The brilliant veteran performer David Seatter delighted us as the very nice Governor whom Gretchen doesn't marry, and if you can guess whom he does want to marry, we will invite you to VHRPL!'s next show.

The smaller role of British Solicitor Joshua Pennyfeather was taken by Brian Kilday with much humor spent on his vain attempt to relate his mission, an attempt which was ignored until the very end, lending a delightful twist. Alexa Devlin portrayed a French Noblewoman with a French accent as silly as Mr. Kilday's British accent.

No Victor Herbert musical would be complete without a chorus and what a well-rehearsed chorus we had last night, with every word clear to the ear.  That was most fortunate because the words are so clever! The female chorus was meant to be "models"--Joanie Brittingham, Tanya Roberts, and Hannah Kurth. The male chorus was meant to be "artists"--Jonathan Fox Powers, Daniel Greenwood, and Jonathan Heller.

Highlights of the evening included (but were not limited to) Gretchen's aria "If He Loved But Me" and her duets with the Captain "I Want You to Marry Me" and "The Isle of Our Dreams". Ms. Smith and Mr. Sapp sounded sensational together. The other hit was "Because You're You", sung by Berta and The Governor.  Uh-oh!  We have given it away.  We should have included a "spoiler alert"!

Ms. Mott directed with her customary excellent taste whilst Music Director Maestro Michael Thomas did his fine work with baton in hand. William Hicks played the piano reduction with panache. Emily Cornelius' choreography was charming and period appropriate. 

We would like to point out that the company will perform "The Enchantress" in April with a live orchestra! You can even make a donation to sponsor one of the musicians.

But you don't have to wait until Spring. You can enjoy Ladies First, a concert honoring Victor Herbert's leading ladies, in February.  Even better, you can catch tonight's performance of The Red Mill at Christ and St. Stephen's Church. Even if you didn't have a stressful day you will have a great time!

(c) meche kroop

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