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In Review > North America

Die Entführung aus dem Serail (7/3/15), La Fanciulla del West (7/4/15), Jenůfa (7/5/15)

DES MOINES, IA
Des Moines Metro Opera

In Review Des Moines Escape hdl 1015
Woodbury and Bliss in Entführung
© Michael Rolands
In Review Fanciulla lg 1015
LoBianco and Burton as Minnie and Johnson
© Michael Rolands
In Review Des Moines Jenufa lg 1015
Gartland as Jenůfa at DMMO
© Michael Rolands

DES MOINES METRO OPERA fielded an interesting pastiche of musical styles in its forty-third season, encompassing the classicism of Mozart, some Italian verismo and a notable success with an initial foray into Czech repertory. 

Die Entführung aus dem Serail opened the weekend on July 3, featuring a cast of some of the most promising young singers around today. The big news was tenor Ben Bliss, whose arresting arsenal of lyricism and florid ease was shown to fine effect in all
four of Belmonte’s arias, including the too-often omitted “Ich baue ganz.” Amanda Woodbury offered an impressive Konstanze, adorned with liquid trills and fluidly cascading passagework in some of Mozart’s most technically challenging music for soprano. Jonathan Blalock endowed his impish Pedrillo with a honey-sweet timbre, while Ashley Emerson created an adorable Blonde whose sparkling coloratura remained gleaming and rounded right up to a rock-solid top E. Bass Matt Boehler’s wickedly amusing Osmin boomed his way down the opposite end of the scale to a healthy low D, and his handling of the dialogue was the best of the lot. (Spoken text was in English, which accentuated the various regional influences involved rather unkindly; the opera was billed as The Abduction from the Seraglio.) David Adam Moore’s Pasha, all done up in Arabian prince garb with bare chest and nipple jewels, kept one wondering if the soprano might just ditch the Brit and choose the hot guy instead. Chas Rader-Shieber’s direction employed some clever business involving Konstanze’s cache of love letters to underscore the extended intro to “Martern aller Arten,” a reasonably effective solution to a notoriously difficult staging problem. Dean Williamson conducted a buoyant account of
the score, despite a brief mishap in the “Es lebe die Liebe” ensemble.

July 4 was celebrated with opera’s first “spaghetti western,” Puccini’s Fanciulla del West. Soprano Alexandra LoBianco proved revelatory as Minnie. Her voice sounded huge in this intimate space (the laser-bright top occasionally wandered into Turandot territory), but what truly distinguished the performance was LoBianco’s dramatic intelligence and exceptional level of dynamic control. “Dove eravamo?” was floated delightfully, and there was some exquisite soft singing in “Oh, se sapeste.” This is a wonderful voice that should be heard in major houses. Jonathan Burton delivered a lovely “Ch’ella mi creda” as Johnson, and the fine baritone Kristopher Irmiter was vocally and dramatically responsive as Rance.  There was first-rate work from Joshua Jeremiah as Sonora and Christopher Job as Ashby. Standouts among the large ensemble included Brandon Hendrickson’s mellifluous Jake, Kristen Dininno’s stolid Wowkle and Brent Michael Smith’s Billy Jackrabbit. David Gately’s staging was sensibly straightforward, and conductor David Neely drew lovely textures from the pit.

The festival presentations were crowned by director Kristine McIntyre’s stunning mounting of Janáček’s Jenůfa on July 5, which fielded an exciting breakthrough performance from Sara Gartland in the title role. The soprano has often been pigeonholed into “ina” roles when one suspects she is by nature a Mimì or a Marguerite. As Janáček’s heartrending heroine, Gartland displayed a most individual timbre and a considerable reserve of lyric weight in midrange. Her prayer in Act II was ineffable. Gartland has always been an appealing singer; here she emerged as a complete artist. 

The Kostelnička of Brenda Harris could hardly be bettered dramatically, and she sang the role scrupulously, without the shrieks and excesses so often employed. There was an excellent pair of tenors in Joseph Dennis, who revealed a lyric voice of exceptional beauty as Števa, and Richard Cox, as a poignant Laca who immediately secured audience sympathy through a masculine timbre of appropriate weight for the Slavic repertory. Joyce Castle was ideal as Grandmother Buryjovka. Jeremiah traded in his Sonora for a sturdy Stárek, and Irmiter was back as the Mayor. Mary Creswell contributed some amusing bourgeois bitchery as the Mayor’s wife. Brittany Fouché and Shannon Prickett nicely essayed the shepherd and Karolka. Neely led a superb account of the score.

Jacob A. Climer’s visuals for the Mozart swathed the entire playing space in greenery, with flower-bright costumes whose primary hues extended even to the powdered wigs of the principals, all recalling the legendary gardens of the Ottoman Empire. R. Keith Brumley’s finely detailed, mesquite-wood Wild West settings for the Puccini gave way to his presentational chrome-and-timber concept for the Janáček, complete with formidable mill wheel that began grinding away during the overture. Barry Steele’s lighting complemented each environment deftly. Lisa Hasson’s chorus was fine throughout. DMMO’s quality continues to ratchet up exponentially with each successive season. — Mark Thomas Ketterson

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