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In Review > North America

Falstaff (7/1/16), Orphée et Eurydice (7/2/16), Manon (7/3/16)

DES MOINES, IA
Des Moines Metro Opera

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Tigges as Verdi’s Falstaff at DMMO
© Michael Rolands

DES MOINES METRO OPERA celebrated its forty-fourth season with a trio of productions that offered impressive depth and detail as well as genuine theatrical thrills.

Verdi’s Falstaff initiated the proceedings on July 1. Baritone Wayne Tigges distinguished himself with a delightful interpretation that traced the fat knight’s journey from pompous fool to humiliated penitent with insight and polished musicality. Kelly Kaduce scored a winning house debut with her intelligent, womanly Alice. Handsome Edward Parks made the most of his beautiful russet-brown baritone in Ford’s Act II aria. Maria Zifchak was a comic livewire as Quickly. There was an endearing pair of young lovers in Deanna Breiwick’s sweetly pealing Nanetta and Jack Swanson’s honeyed Fenton. Megan Marino was a charming Meg. Chris Carr, Ryan Connelly, and Matthew Scollin completed the responsive cast as Caius, Bardolfo and Pistola. Director Tomer Zvulun kept things bubbling along, while set designer Erhard Rom and costumier Vita Tzykun fielded an intriguing amalgam of Elizabethan and Victorian imagery. Verdi’s score is famously treacherous with its precisely calibrated entrances and quicksilver melodic interchanges; conductor David Neely’s exceptional musicianship kept matters on point within DMMO’s unique multiarea playing space.

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Biller and Carrico in Gluck’s Orphée
© Duane Tinkey

DMMO’s 466-seat theater seems tailor-made for Baroque opera, but until 2016 the oldest work in the company’s repertory was Mozart’s Entführung. This changed with a first-rate mounting of Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on July 2 (which also happened to be the composer’s 302nd birthday). The 1859 Berlioz edition was used; thus we had a mezzo protagonist who was granted the bravura of “L’espoir renaît dans mon âme.” Chas Rader-Shieber’s illuminative production, with its graceful white-on-white designs by Jacob A. Climer, represented this creative team at its best. Orphée was discovered mourning before a classically rendered cemetery wall. The dance of the Furies came dangerously close to gang rape (it was definitely not for the faint-hearted) while Eurydice was resurrected through an ethereal wash of rose petals. Jennifer Johnson Cano was a fine Orphée. Her mezzo-soprano gleamed like a laser, and she made some seemingly effortless plunges into a booming chest resister that were quite exciting. “J’ai perdu mon Eurydice” was movingly rendered. Susannah Biller’s lovely lyric soprano made for a comely, sympathetic Eurydice. Soprano Cree Carrico was a roguishly spirited Amour. Conductor Gary Thor Wedow led an idiomatic account of the score; a brisker reading would have been welcome, particularly in Act I.

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Mancasola and Dennis in Manon in Des Moines
© Michael Rolands

On July 3, Kristine McIntyre’s meticulous production of Massenet’s Manon was graced by a brace of principals who displayed extraordinary dramatic commitment. Sydney Mancasola was an enchanting Manon, her soprano radiant and glittering in the display writing, offering a surprising dose of lyric weight in midrange. The des Grieux of Joseph Dennis was so ardent that the opera might have been named after him. His tenor is gaining an appealing baritonal overlay as he matures, yet he ably finessed a delicately floated head voice for “En fermant les yeux.” His “Ah! fuyez, douce image” was excellent. With these two, the Saint-Sulpice interlude was as sexy as it gets. 

Baritone Michael Adams was a terrific Lescaut. Brian Frutiger was a nastily foppish Guillot, Troy Cook a randy, opportunistic Brétigny. It was a treat to see veteran bass-baritone Julien Robbins as the elder des Grieux; he’s a world-class presence, and he sounds better than most singers half his age. R. Keith Brumley’s setting was grounded by a series of panels in gilded frames that revolved to suggest a Fragonard-inspired landscape or the mirrored walls of a gambling house, washed in lurid red by lighting designer Barry Steele. Neely elegantly propelled the orchestra through a discreetly edited version of the score. This Manon was the most cogent regional mounting of Massenet’s opera in memory and would have made an ideal introduction to the art form for anyone.

The apprentice artists formed a mellifluous chorus under director Lisa Hasson, with some notably beautiful work in the Gluck. This was a most satisfying season, with something of appeal for any operatic connoisseur. Philip Glass’s Galileo Galilei was also subsequently offered in DMMO’s “Second Stages” series.  —Mark Thomas Ketterson 



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