In Review > North America

The Inspector

BOSTON
Boston Lyric Opera
4/20/12

Boston Lyric Opera brought another successful season to a close with a 100-percent delightful production of John Musto's The Inspector (seen Apr. 20), a clever and freewheeling adaptation of Nikolai Gogol's political satire The Government Inspector. The work revolves around a group of corrupt village officials driven to a frenzy of cover-up and damage control by the news that an inspector, traveling incognito, will soon be arriving to investigate their town. Mistaking a hotel guest who can't pay his bills for the inspector in question, the officials lavish their attention (as well as their not-inconsequential bribes — for example, a tailor-made suit lined with cash) upon the amazed young man. The swindlers wind up being the swindled, and the good escape with the goods.

It's difficult to know where to begin with the praise for The Inspector, billed as "a BLO adaptation of the Wolf Trap premiere production." (The piece had its world premiere at Wolf Trap in 2011.) A comic opera that's actually funny, with a cast possessing solid vocal skills and dead-center comic timing, is a rare animal indeed. Musto and librettist Mark Campbell transplanted the work from Imperial Russia to fascist Italy in the '30s, which was rather a risky move —after all, what hasn't been transplanted to fascist Italy in the '30s at some point or another? — but supported by Leon Major's excellent direction, they made it work. Their approach was cartoonish enough to avoid any too-ominous associations, which allowed for making the point that no one nation or epoch has cornered the market on stupidity, greed or corruption — in fact, in true Gogolian fashion, the real satire is aimed at the present day, with our misguided and sometimes even misanthropic social programs (one of the best examples was the Directress of Education's "Buy Your Own Damn Books" program) and clueless politicians who feel "misunderestimated."

The orchestra, under the leadership of David Angus, remains impressive, displaying a real flair for Musto's musical idiom, which practically ignores genre and dances brilliantly between musical theater and opera. As the Mayor of Santa Schifezza (which can be translated roughly as "Blessed Refuse"), bass-baritone Jake Gardner was top notch, a blend of elegance, petulance and greed. The double-dealing directors and directresses in charge of city services were sharply drawn by a fine quartet of performers — Julius Ahn, as the lecherous spiritual leader; David Cushing, the thug in charge of maintaining order; Michelle Trainor, a charming, always-aflutter education administrator who couldn't care less about children; and Dorothy Byrne, in charge of Health and Cemetery Services, who was never without a dirty hospital coat or a cigarette. Moving performances were given by Neal Ferreira and David Kravitz, as the counterfeit inspector and his traveling companion, happily accepting bribes and gobbling caviar, and Meredith Hansen, as the Mayor's daughter: the three individuals in the village who long for a better place here gave beautiful accounts of the evening's most beautiful music. Special mention must be made, however, of mezzo-soprano Victoria Livengood, who nearly stole the show as the Mayor's Wife, the power-hungry matron whose notion of absolute power seemed to consist primarily of acquiring lots of hats and shoes. spacer

KALEN RATZLAFF

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