We are going to share our views on what constitutes an opera; you may well have strong opinions of your own and we welcome your comments below. We believe that the operetta evolved from opera and that the "Broadway Musical", whether on Broadway or off-Broadway or VERY FAR off-Broadway evolved from operetta. If the work tells a story through music, if it is sung without amplification, EVEN IF the dialogue is spoken, EVEN IF the work is driven as much by telling the story as it is by music, then it is an opera. And if it's bad, it isn't opera. It must be entertaining!
The musical Donnybrook! now playing at the Irish Repertory Theatre is a case in point. Not having had a great success on Broadway in 1961, this work, based on the film The Quiet Man, is highly successful as a chamber opera in this intimate house. It has some wonderful characters, a fine plot, and, best of all, some really tuneful music composed by Johnny Burke (who also wrote the lyrics) with some contributions by Jimmy Van Heusen; the small but effective orchestra comprised John Bell at the piano, Karen Lindquist at the harp, Janey Choi on violin and Melanie Mason on the cello; Josh Clayton did the orchestration. There is not one melody that falls flat.
Starring as the retired boxer with a secret is Michael Halling; his beautiful and spunky love interest is portrayed by Jenny Powers. Delightful comic relief is provided by matchmaker Samuel Cohen and rich widow Kathy Fitzgerald; Ted Koch portrays the obstacle to romance. Stock situation? Of course, but doesn't every opera have one? The plot revolves around the hero's attempt to deal with the mores of a rather backward part of Ireland which come into conflict with his vow to avoid fighting for the rest of his life. But now he must fight for his woman. Will he or won't he?
The musical numbers can be considered arias and duets and the chorus of lovable townsfolk made their valuable contribution. Director Charlotte Moore kept the action moving. James Noone designed a most workable set, a cottage that opened up to show the interior. Costumes by Linda Fisher and Leon Dobkowski were appropriate to rural Ireland in the 50's.
We couldn't help putting something on our "wish list". What if New York City had a repertory company that produced chamber operas (or chamber musicals, if you prefer that term) on a regular basis, in a small house, unamplified? There is an entire generation of New Yorkers who never got to see some of the great works of the 20th c. All it takes is some good orchestration, a talented cast, and some imaginative staging. The most important feature is the entertainment value. In the 19th c. in opera's heyday, people went to the opera to be entertained. How many contemporary operas have you sat through, gritting your teeth? We'll bet they were never written to be entertaining!
© meche kroop