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, October 27, 2018


JoAnna Geffert, Jonathan Fox Powers, Sarah Caldwell Smith, David Seatter, Joanie Brittingham, Bray Wilkins, Alexa Devlin, and Drew Bolander

Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live! is focusing its fifth season on (hold your breath)...LOVE! And we just loved its production of Victor Herbert's 1922 "play with music" Orange Blossoms. Artistic Director Alyce Mott has called upon her usual literary magic to adapt the libretto written by Fred De Gresac (the gifted female librettist responsible for several of Herbert's best works.

Ms. Mott has called the work a "play with music" because it lacks an overture and no grand finale. That's putting a rather fine point on it since the work has all the sparkling melodies we want in an operetta and a typically silly but enchanting plot.

Lawyer Brassac (played by David Seatter, the always splendid veteran performer of operetta) has a lovely but penniless goddaughter named Kitty (played by the charming VHRPL! regular Joanie Brittingham. She won the hearts of the audience with her ballad "A Kiss in the Dark" in which she recalls a man who won her heart and vanished.

He also has a client/friend, the pompous Baron Roger Belmont (played with high humour by company regular Bray Wilkins). Have you guessed who her vanishing lover might be?

Baron Belmont is engaged to the histrionic and affected Helene De Vasquez (performed in high camp by Sarah Caldwell Smith) but cannot marry her because he will lose his inheritance. It is up to Brassac to find a solution and he does. He plots to marry off his goddaughter to the Baron in a mariage blanc. 

The Baron will support Kitty in fine style and then, having secured his inheritance, will divorce her and marry his demanding Helene. Pretty racy for 1922! The plot twists and turns are enhanced by clever lyrics set to memorable melodies.

The principals sang beautifully and were convincing in their portrayal of stereotypes, enhancing their portrayals with individualizing quirks.

As if that weren't enough, the plot is rounded out with some delightful characters who were also perfectly portrayed. Alexa Devlin, using an hilarious Brooklyn accent, enacted the secretary Tillie. Her inamorata Jimmy Flynn was performed by company regular Drew Bolander who works for the jealous Helene as a detective, pretending to be a gardener who talks about thorns on the carnations!

The always wonderful Jonathan Fox Powers made a fine and funny butler Auguste, flirting with Ninetta, the maid, played by JoAnna Geffert. A duel between Auguste and Jimmy had us in stitches.

Not only does Ms. Mott do an excellent job of modernizing the spoken dialogue, but she also directs with a firm hand. The company choreographer Emily Cornelius staged some lovely numbers for the chorus, comprising Jenny Lindsey, Alexa Clint, Elisabeth Slaten and Susan Case (various clients of Brassac) and their suitors (Colm Fitzmaurice, Quintin Harris, and Keith Broughton).

Maestro Michael Thomas kept the music flowing whilst William Hicks provided the piano accompaniment. We started out placing stars next to our favorite musical numbers but wound up starring everything!

We loved the funny duet between Tillie and Jimmy--"New York is the Same Old Place" in Act I--almost as much as we enjoyed their Act II duet "Way Out West in Jersey". Mr. Bolander had a frisky and funny solo as well, entitled "J.J. Flynn".

The ensemble had a great number as well--"Let's Not Get Married" with the line "That's where happiness ends".  Oh, those Roaring Twenties!  We have a feeling that Herbert got them off to a roaring start!

We don't ever want to miss any of VHRPL!'s productions so we have already entered them in our calendar.  And so should you! "Falling in Love" will be scheduled for February 26 and 27. "Sweethearts", which also has a libretto by Fred De Gresac, will be scheduled for April 30 and May 1.  All performances are at Christ and St. Stephen's Church and tend to sell out. Don't miss your chance for these highly entertaining evenings.

(c) meche kroop

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