REVIEW: Opera Theatre’s ‘Night Music’ delivers delightful evening
Such was the drama outside the drama Friday night when The Opera Theatre of the Rockies opened a three-show run of Stephen Sondheim “A Little Night Music.” The 1973 Broadway musical, which was based upon filmmaker Ingmar Berman’s 1955 comedy “Smiles on a Summer Night,” humorously explores our species’ need for and obsession with love and relationships.
Although the sound was problematic throughout, the company produced a delightful evening of musical theater highlighted by numerous outstanding performances. And yes, one of the very finest came from Rowland herself.
This was quintessential Opera Theatre. The quality of music-making was superb and it seamlessly blended with the drama and comedy. Conductor James Allbritten, a frequent company collaborator, inspired a high level of musical expression and accuracy from the small orchestra — basically Colorado Springs Philharmonic principals. Up on the stage, the singers also stayed right on track.
Another company stalwart, stage director Steven LaCosse, was spot on with his dramatic choices. The story’s numerous scene changes barely called attention to themselves as he moved his actors about with clear intention and elegance. It’s unlikely that LaCosse’s deft touch left any comedic stone unturned.
The sound in Armstrong Theater, though, was challenging. While the musicians fared well, the singers’ skill as well as Sondheim’s rapid-fire lyrics were sometimes lost in the hall’s sometimes muddy acoustics. Miking the performers improved the clarity of the lyrics, but unfortunately, some of Sondheim’s brilliance was lost and that’s a shame.
Still, there were memorably performances that night.
The show mostly belonged to its female principals. These virtuosic singers were asked to sing in their chest voices, at times in alarmingly low registers. They still projected and engaged. As Madame Armfeldt, the cynically reflective grand dame of the story, Rowland brought to bear decades of experience to her poignant and comic reflections on the human condition. As it has always been, all attention was fixed upon her when she spoke or sang.
The most outstanding theatrical performance of the evening belonged to Marcia Ragonetti as Rowland’s middle-aged daughter Desirée. Hers was a graceful, well-timed reading imbued with genuine depth. As the drama comes to a head near the end of the show, Desirée painfully expresses the price she has paid for her romantic freedom in the classic “Send in the Clowns.” This will only touch hearts if the preceding two hours of the show has been working as intended. It was. Also, its singer must project unaffected beauty and an honest, soulful interpretation. Thanks to Ragonetti, it was a musical moment to cherish.
The role of Charlotte is subordinate in most productions. But Judeth Shay Burns added such intensity and impeccable comic timing to this neglected wife’s complaints that she almost took over the show. Much of the same can be said for the role of the maid Petra. Jennifer DeDominici produced a rich and quirky character and made “The Miller’s Son” one of the evening’s musical highlights.
These were some of the opera people who have done so much to make the company successful over the years. From the world of musical theatre came Sally Hybl, who played Anne, the 18-year-old bride of the middle-aged Fredrik Egerman. Ironically, this was the only female principal role which really called for a classically-trained voice. Although her voice was not ideal for the role, she succeeded through her infectious energy and her very funny expression of naiveté.
As Fredrik, Steven Taylor sang and acted his way toward a believable character who evoked genuine sympathy as his world began to crumble around him.
Daniel Fosha gave a brilliant reading as his son Henrik. He perfectly captured the anxiety and idealism of this laughably serious 20-year-old. His only blemish was his choice not to attack the high C in the song “Later” with full voice. Sondheim knew this moment would rock the house. Although Malcolm Ulbrick’s Count Carl-Magnuswas an effective comic cog in the goings-on, he lacked the vocal bravura and theatrical variety to take his role over the top.
Finally, the overall impact of the production was somewhat undermined by the lack place and time. Without period costumes and no real backdrop or set, the production created a distracting disconnect between this company’s strong work and the early 1900s setting of Sondheim’s story..