OPERA NEWS - The Sound of Music
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In Review > North America

The Sound of Music

Lyric Opera of Chicago

In Review Sound of Music hdl 714
The Sound of Music in Chicago, with Brewer, Gambatese, Isabelle Roberts (Brigitta), Zane, Michael Harp (Kurt), Kylee Hines (Marta), Brady Tutton (Friedrich), Nicole Scimeca (Gretl) and Farrar
© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2014

Lyric Opera of Chicago entered the second round of its ambitious Rodgers and Hammerstein initiative on April 25, unveiling an intelligently cast, visually stunning mounting of The Sound of Music, the legendary team's final Broadway hit (seen Apr. 30). The piece is now primarily known through its blockbuster film adaptation from 1965, which reconfigured the stage play, removed a few songs and added others. Lyric returned to the original book by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse and restored most of the score but retained two numbers created by Rodgers for the movie, "I Have Confidence" and the rather dull duet "Something Good" (which replaced the even duller duet "An Ordinary Couple"). It all worked beautifully. Yes, the work is corny and unapologetically sentimental, but you couldn't take your ears off it. 

Thanks to Michael Yeargan's breathtaking settings and Duane Schuler's lighting, you couldn't take your eyes off it either. Transitions from the hazy blue-greens of the Alps, through the stained glass and sepia-toned frescoes of the abbey, to the stately von Trapp villa were accomplished with fluid ease. The direction, by Broadway's Marc Bruni (Beautiful), didn't tell us anything new, but he spirited matters forward sensitively and with straightforward insight, particularly in his work with the children, who here emerged as the most natural, unaffected von Trapp brood in memory.

Broadway's Jenn Gambatese (Tarzan, All Shook Up) had big shoes to fill as Maria, but she did so splendidly. Her sincerity carried the evening, and her lovely soprano remained round and appealing up to a top C interpolated at the end of "Do-Re-Mi" — thus going a whole-step higher than Julie Andrews, as the song was restored by Lyric to its original key from the film's B-flat adjustment. Film star Billy Zane, a Chicago native, was a trifle short on passion as Captain von Trapp but delivered a subtle portrait of a man forced into a crisis of principle, expressed through an agreeable enough light baritone. Opera's Elizabeth Futral was sehr glamourös as Elsa Schraeder (especially in costumier Alejo Vietti's stunning formal couture) but deftly infused her characterization with just enough snark that we didn't exactly root for her. Edward Hibbert was a delight as the opportunistic Max. Betsy Farrar's Liesl and Zach Sorrow's Rolf made a winsome, winning pair.

Arguments regarding producing this musical in an opera house go out the window when we come to the nuns, who have traditionally been cast with classically-trained vocalists; the original choristers for The Sound of Music included future opera stars Tatiana Troyanos and Patricia Brooks, and Patricia Neway, creator of The Consul's Magda Sorel, was Broadway's first Mother Abbess. Lyric's Mother Abbess was the wonderful Christine Brewer, who skillfully fined down her opulent dramatic soprano for the music of the early scenes before pulling out all the stops for a reading of "Climb Every Mountain" that brought the house down. The reprise in the finale, with Michael Black's excellent chorus, was overpowering. Musical-theater veterans Erin Elizabeth Smith (Sister Berthe), Cory Goodrich (Sister Margaretta) and Susan Moniz (Sister Sophia) rounded out the circle of principal sisters. 

Conductor Rob Fisher's garden-fresh leadership of the thirty-seven-piece orchestra often left us feeling we were hearing this music for the first time; indeed, given the considerable amount of incidental music in the stage score, many probably were. Amplification remains challenging, but Mark Grey's sound design showed a marked improvement over that heard for Oklahoma! last season. This was a charming evening, and a very stylishly executed production. spacer


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