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In Review > North America

Rusalka, Die Fledermaus, Flight, The Tender Land 

DES MOINES, IA
Des Moines Metro Opera
7/18

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Sara Gartland, Rusalka in Des Moines
© Duane Tinkey

DES MOINES METRO OPERA bookended its forty-sixth season of four operas with a pair of works that had specific Iowa associations. Antonín Dvořák spent the summer of 1893 in the state, where he compiled a notebook of musical themes, some of which made their way into Rusalka several years later. Dvořák’s folk opera was given a stunning production (seen July 6) at DMMO by director Chas Rader-Shieber, with evocative settings from Jacob A. Climer. An edifice of pale ivory was festooned with toile-inspired vignettes. Furniture floated above, giving the impression of a human environment spied through rippling water. 

Sara Gartland delivered an exquisite account of the title role. The soprano’s voice continues to gain body in midrange yet retains a thread of silver that graces her sound with an ethereal shimmer. The song to the moon was entirely satisfying; but it was in her sensitively employed dynamic shading of Act III’s “Necitelná Vodní Moci” that Gartland’s performance reached its zenith. Evan LeRoy Johnson was a manly Prince with ringing, ample tone throughout and a lovely floated pianissimo in his death. Zachary James, a true stage animal, brought a striking bass voice and a tremendously magnetic presence to his sympathetic Vodník. Mezzo Jill Grove was fabulous as a cynical, cigar-smoking Ježibaba who relished her own malevolence. Soprano Laura Wilde gave the potentially thankless Foreign Princess an invigorating shot in the arm. Gregory Warren and Grace Kahl formed an amusing Gamekeeper/Kitchen Boy team. Harry Greenleaf voiced the Hunter quite beautifully.

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Biller and Pershall, the Eisensteins at DMMO
© Duane Tinkey

AN ENGLISH-LANGUAGE performance of Die Fledermaus bubbled in on July 7, in an effervescent mounting by David Gately, framed with Gatsby-era settings and flapper-chic couture from designers R. Keith Brumley and Jonathan Knipscher. Susannah Biller was a sexy Rosalinda, discovered in lounging pajamas and mudpack. David Pershall tussled a bit in the upper reaches of Eisenstein’s music (most baritones do), but he is a charming singer and a delight onstage. His nemesis, Dr. Falke, was roguishly handled by Troy Cook. Taylor Stayton was predictably excellent as Alfred. Sarah Larsen fielded a rich-voiced Orlofsky who was sexually ambiguous in more ways than one. Craig Irvin’s booming Frank and Thomas J. Capobianco’s stuttering Blind complemented matters expertly. One sometimes wishes that Fledermaus would end after Act II, but that would have deprived us of Brian Frutiger’s droll Frosch and a buoyant Act III “audition” aria from Anna Christy, whose delicious Adele threatened to walk away with the evening. There was no gala in Orlofsky’s party, but we got Strauss’s rarely performed ballet music in a hysterical interlude featuring Abigail Paschke as “Sally at the Ballet.”

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John Holiday in Flight at DMMO
© Duane Tinkey

JONATHAN DOVE'S Flight followed on July 8. Director Kristine McIntyre got things off the ground uproariously by sending the flight crew out after the orchestral tune-up to remind us to extinguish our cell phones—and to point out the exits and warn that in case of water landing, our seat cushions could not be used for flotation. A superb ensemble then accompanied us on Dove’s amusing, often poignant journey through the human condition. John Holiday brought an unusually ample countertenor voice to his moving Refugee. Audrey’s Luna’s upper extension suited the Controller’s freaky vocal line perfectly. There was particularly impressive work from Andrew Bidlack as Bill and Theo Hoffman as the randy Steward. Elise Quagliata was her remarkably versatile self as the Minskwoman who struggles to assess her relationship with her preening peacock of a husband, solidly voiced by Norman Garrett. Zulimar López-Hernández made a spirited Tina, while mezzos Deanne Meek and Sofia Selowsky shone as the Older Woman and Stewardess. Zachary James was the intimidating Immigration Officer. Designer Brumley outdid himself with a terrific realization of the airport terminal, complete with operational plane fuselage.

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DMMO’s Tender Land at Maytag Farms
© Duane Tinkey

THE WEEKEND CONCLUDED with an ingenious display of Iowa’s own rural beauty when Aaron Copland’s Tender Land was mounted outdoors on the grounds of the state’s famed Maytag Farms. Designer Adam Crinson’s spare setting was placed amid the surrounding cornfields. The production was timed so the actual sunset coincided with its mention in the libretto, just as the company launched into “The Promise of Living.” It all looked like a Grant Wood painting. DMMO’s apprentice artists voiced the score movingly. Grace Kahl and Harry Greenleaf traded their Rusalka personas for Laurie and Top. Lindsay Brown was an affecting Ma Moss, Rhys Lloyd Talbot a noble Grandpa. Remy Martin revealed a fresh, responsive young tenor as Martin.

The extraordinary refinement of DMMO’s orchestral performances under music director David Neely has been one of the great pleasures of recent seasons. Neely’s evocation of the disparate sound worlds in the Dvorˇák and Dove was nothing short of spectacular. Conductor Robert Moody ensured that the music kept its fizz in the Strauss, while Joshua Horsch deftly highlighted the aural Americana in the Copland.  —Mark Thomas Ketterson 



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