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.

Saturday, July 7, 2018


Leonard Bernstein's Peter Pan at Bard College Summerscape

We have been traveling up to Bard College every summer to enjoy their Summerscape offerings, generally comprising forgotten or neglected works.  Bernstein's Peter Pan certainly falls into that category since we had never heard of it. 

We adore Candide and never tire of it; we consider it to be on the operatic end of the musical spectrum. We also adore West Side Story which leans more toward the Broadway Musical side of the spectrum, although we have heard unamplified operatic voices singing thrilling versions of arias and duets extracted from the work.

We have no knowledge of A Quiet Place and only a single exposure to a number from Trouble in Tahiti which didn't thrill us.  But we never knew that Bernstein wrote a musical based upon the 1904 Barrie play Peter Pan, which ran for over 300 performances in 1950, a couple of years before the Disney film and the Broadway show, neither of which we are familiar with.

That being said, the opinions of our several companions, who were familiar with the film and the show, matched our own; we experienced a lack of involvement in the production which did however receive a large ovation. It was neither opera nor Broadway show. It was a "post-modern entertainment" which left us puzzled and disappointed. We hold the director Christopher Alden responsible. It seemed, like so many contemporary productions, to be an attempt to dazzle the audience with effects and to garner attention for Alden's reputation rather than an attempt to tell a story.

Nonetheless, Bernstein's music was delightful, played by a chamber group of six musicians whose outsized talent left us feeling no loss for the reduced orchestration, credited to Garth Edwin Sunderland. Music Director Michael A. Ferrara played the piano and led the combination of Flute (Ryu Cipris),  Cello (Melody Giron), Percussion (Charles Kiger), Clarinet (Patrick Sikes) and Violin (Una Tone). The music could not have been better, and what would one expect with a "melody" and a "tone" on board!

We liked the acting of Peter Smith as Peter Pan, who did not get a song to sing.  We don't give a rat's whisker whether a performer is LGBT or Q as long as they can sing or act; we don't know why the program mentioned that "they" (preferred pronoun) are "non-binary".  They is (are) an appealing performer who engaged us as a character, in a way that Erin Markey as Wendy, also identified as "non-binary" did not.

We liked the songs but did not care for the way they were sung. "They" lacked the youthful innocence needed for the part and belted out "their" songs standing in front of a microphone (!) in a way that lacked integration with the story and taxed the limitations of "their" upper register. (Could someone please suggest a new pronoun to avoid this clumsy circumlocution?)

In the double role of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, William Michals sang robustly and convincingly. The director managed the conversion of roles by having Nana the dog bite his hand off, leaving just a hook.  That was just plain sick-making.

The petite Rona Figueroa played the roles of Mrs. Darling, Tiger Lily, and the Crocodile, walking around with a huge clock that appeared borrowed from the Met's current iteration of La Traviata, another embarrassing attempt by a director to steal the show.

The role of Tinker Bell was portrayed by Jack Ferver, whose tiny stature and silver jumpsuit did nothing to convince us that he was a fairy. He created a character that was nothing more than a possessive jealous bitch who crawled all over Peter Pan and did what he could to destroy Wendy.

What a concept! The proposed playfulness of this iteration was melded with conscious or unconscious darkness. Was Wendy's father so awful that he had to be seen as a murderous pirate? Was Mrs. Darling so awful that she had to become a crocodile (with some truly awkward costume changes onstage). Was Wendy meant to be a very forward sexpot trying to get sex out of the asexual Peter Pan? How very post-modern!  How very incomprehensible!

The set design by Marsha Ginsberg was peculiar.  Everything onstage was bright yellow. Half the stage was consumed by a real carnival ride with cars painted like mid-20th c. imaginings of spaceships for Peter and the Lost Boys to fly in. JAX Messenger's lighting was effective.

Costumer Terese Wadden dressed the ensemble in yellow jumpsuits. The five young performers (Catherine Bloom, Milo Cramer, Jewel Evans, Alec Glass, and Charles Mai) were excellent but were sometimes made to speak with voices strangely altered electronically. Sporting balaclavas, they doubled as pirates, looking very much like terrorists.

When the production opened all five were racing frantically around the stage, incomprehensibly lining up potatoes on the apron of the stage. Later, as pirates, they speared the potatoes and roasted them over a fire in a strange scene in which they jumped through a trapdoor in the floor. There was talk of walking the plank but no plank appeared.

The bottom line is that this was a chance to hear Bernstein's lovely and accessible music, well-played and badly sung. It distorted the Barrie story rather than adding a new dimension. If mindless entertainment with lots of eye candy is your brew, go and enjoy. Most of the audience last night did.

(c) meche kroop

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