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In Review > North America

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

DES MOINES
Des Moines Metro Opera

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

Verdi’s Falstaff initiated proceedings on July 1. Baritone Wayne Tigges distinguished himself with a delightful interpretation of the “fat knight” that traced his 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 narrative. Maria Zifchak was a comedic live-wire 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 merrily, 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; kudos are due to conductor David Neely for exceptional musicianship in keeping matters faithfully on point within DMMO’s unique multi-area playing space.

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 was put to right 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 utilized; thus we had Furies and Blessed Spirits, a French text, and 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 their 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 delivered a fine Orphée. Her mezzo-soprano gleamed like a laser, and she fielded 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; no doubt several men in the audience would have braved hell for her. Soprano Cree Carrico was a roguishly spirited Amour. Conductor Gary Thor Wedow led an idiomatic account of the score, though a somewhat brisker reading might ideally have been desired, particularly in Act I.

On July 3, Kristine McIntyre’s meticulously crafted 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, and offering a surprising dose of lyric weight in mid-range. 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. The Saint-Sulpice interlude was as sexy as it gets with these two. 

Baritone Michael Adams was a terrific Lescaut. Brian Frutiger was a nastily foppish Guillot, Troy Cook a randy, opportunistic de 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 thirty-five-year olds. R. Keith Brumley’s setting was grounded by a series of panels in gilded frames that revolved to variously 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 mounting of Massenet’s opera on the regional market 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. Philip Glass’s Galileo Galilei was also subsequently offered in DMMO’s “Second Stages” series. This was a most satisfying season with something of appeal for any operatic connoisseur.  —Mark Thomas Ketterson 



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