In Review > North America

Of Mice and Men

SALT LAKE CITY
Utah Opera 
5/5/12

When Carlisle Floyd obtained permission from author John Steinbeck to adapt his novella Of Mice and Men as an opera, Steinbeck had one caveat: there should be no reference to the 1930s. Though often staged during the Great Depression, Floyd's music and the story's timeless themes remain relevant. 

Utah Opera closed its current season with Floyd's vivid adaptation (seen May 5) in a searing performance that was an artistic triumph for this company. Director Kristine McIntyre's canny ability to meld visual and musical elements seamlessly allowed Floyd's score and libretto full voice and clearly communicated the work's central theme — that personal relationship, however tenuous, is far superior to solitary existence. 

In fact, the music's immediacy elevated the orchestra's role, conveying drama and advancing the plot as effectively as any of the characters. Conductor James Lowe took full advantage, leading members of the Utah Symphony with impeccable pacing and exquisitely shaped phrases. 

Floyd, in Salt Lake City to observe final preparations and attend opening night, made some minor revisions to the score, including the addition of string glissandos when Curley's wife, played with glittering coloratura and astute restraint by soprano Sara Gartland, allowed Lennie to stroke her hair. The compositional tweak gave an added layer of creepiness to the scene, which is capped by the woman's startlingly realistic death. 

Tenor Corey Bix, who made an impression earlier in the season as Florestan, imbued his mentally challenged character with credible innocence and vulnerability. The singer passionately assailed the score's angular leaps with technical precision and attained an amazingly natural sense of lyricism. 

Baritone Matthew Burns was equally effective as itinerant ranch-hand George Milton, defining his character with ample dramatic skills and potent, soaring top notes. He illuminated George's decency in spite of frequent angry outbursts whenever forced to ameliorate one of Lennie's frequent blunders. Bix and Burns sang passionately about their goal of owning their own farm during "An' we'll live off the fat of the land," sounding another of the opera's themes — the importance of a dream, however ephemeral. 

Other cast standouts included tenor Ryan MacPherson in a fiery performance as the misanthropic ranch foreman Curley; bass Ryan Allen, who gave sensitive portrayal of the world-weary Candy; baritone Marcus DeLoach, in burnished form as the voice of reason, Slim; and Utah Opera resident artist Andrew Penning as the Ballad Singer, whose sweet lyric tenor conveyed the workers' conscience. 

Minimalist set pieces, dominated by a tapered boardwalk stretching toward the horizon, were designed by Vicki Davis. Susan Memmott-Allred's Depression-era costumes and Nicholas Cavallaro's lighting contributed to one of most completely satisfying Utah Opera productions in memory. spacer 

ROBERT COLEMAN 

Send feedback to OPERA NEWS.



Follow OPERA NEWS on FacebookTwitter Button