In Review > North America

La Traviata (7/4/14), Le Comte Ory (7/5/14), Dead Man Walking (7/6/14)

DES MOINES, IA
Des Moines Metro Opera

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Bravura singers: Stayton, Lauricella and Mancasola in Le Comte Ory at DMMO
© Jen Golay 2014
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DMMO’s Traviata, with Lynch and Silva
© Jen Golay 2014
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Moore and Quagliata in Dead Man Walking
© Jen Golay 2014

Des Moines Metro Opera began the celebration of its forty-second season on July 4, with a worthy account of Verdi’s perennial La Traviata. Caitlin Lynch’s lovely Violetta was somewhat monochrome in Act I, perhaps, but it was deeply felt, with accurate coloratura. Her voice glowed luminously over the gambling scene ensemble, and “Addio del passato” was splendid, with interesting handling of the repeated “Tutto finì.” As Alfredo, Diego Silva revealed a fresh, slender tenor complemented by an attractive, quick vibrato. Todd Thomas approached Germont’s music with a bit of a snarl, but he remains a Verdi baritone to reckon with. Ashley Dixon was the raucous Flora, Rebecca Krynski the loyal Annina. Gastone, Duphol, D’Obigny, and Grenvil were essayed by Brenton Ryan, Luis Orozco, Nickoli Strommer and Tony Dillon, respectively. Lillian Groag’s direction, aided by Barry Steele’s projections, fielded wraithlike doubles of Violetta who intermittently manifested themselves, and a disturbing image of the Grim Reaper spied among the carnival revelers. Groag occasionally defied convention excessively; “De’ miei bollenti spiriti” was delivered to Grenvil, who hovered about drinking brandy (which rather neutered the tenor’s solo moment, especially as the cabaletta was cut).

Rossini’s Le Comte Ory sparkled on July 5. Taylor Stayton’s sunny, stratospheric tenor is ideally suited to Rossini, and he made a pyrotechnical feast of the title role. He also proved himself a superlative comedian, and the fact that he’s handsome doesn’t hurt. Rising young soprano Sydney Mancasola matched Stayton roulade for roulade in her enchanting house debut as Countess Adele. Stephanie Lauricella boasted a ringing upper register and immaculate passagework in her own company bow as the cunning page, Isolier. Bass-baritone Wayne Tigges was a roguish delight as the Tutor, and Steven LaBrie revealed a lyric baritone of lovely velvet as Raimbaud. Margaret Lattimore was the amusingly overripe Ragonde, Abigail Paschke the comely Alice. The cozy venue, with its unique downstage playing circle, provided an ideal setting for opera buffa. David Gately’s joyously conceived production offered a plethora of mischievous visual jokes without forcing or veering into aimless slapstick. The extended trio in Adele’s boudoir was an extraordinary stretch of bravura singing and precisely calibrated physical comedy.

The weekend concluded on July 6with a beautifully sung, impeccably staged and conducted mounting of Dead Man Walking that fully revealed the perfect fusion of emotional intensity and aural splendor achieved by this now nearly ubiquitous opera by Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally. The role of Joseph De Rocher ideally calls for an arresting sound that imbues this complicated character with the vulnerability he desperately needs. David Adam Moore had the whole scary physical thing down (the murder in the Prologue was genuinely terrifying), but what ultimately distinguished Moore’s performance was his consistent delivery of beauty within the bluster, including some exquisitely floated tones above the staff. 

But this opera is Sister Helen Prejean’s story, and Elise Quagliata contributed an excellent performance as the compassionate nun. Her interpretation was passionate yet sung with exceptional technical finesse: she maintained rounded vocal quality throughout an impressive dynamic range. Margaret Lattimore was heartbreaking in Mrs. De Rocher’s plea of “Don’t kill my Joe.” Wayne Tigges displayed notable versatility in exchanging his bubbly buffo Ory Tutor with a searing portrait of Owen Hart, capably joined by Kimberly Roberts, Edwin Griffith and Mary Creswell as his fellow grieving parents. Soprano Karen Slack was a sonorous Sister Rose. There was first-rate work from Kyle Albertson as the sympathetic George Benton and Steven Sanders as the categorically less sympathetic Chaplain. The young men of the apprentice program formed a decidedly dewy-looking cadre of death-row inmates, but they sang their hearts out. Kristine McIntyre’s insightful, almost Shakespearean direction made grand capital of DMMO’s intimate space, particularly in the opera’s final, fatal moments. This was one of the most shattering evenings I have ever spent in a theater.

Conductor Dean Williamson led a briskly buoyant account of the Rossini, sandwiched between DMMO musical director David Neely’s firm handling of the Verdi and superb traversal of the Heggie. Lisa Hasson’s chorus did a banner job throughout. Robert Little’s opulent Traviata settings joined R. Keith Brumley’s playful storybook designs for Ory and spare, steel mesh Angola, Louisiana, prison environment in creating a visual array as diverse as the season’s repertory itself. Iowa’s final score — three wins, with two of them blowouts. spacer 

MARK THOMAS KETTERSON

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