Review: PORTopera vocalists succeed in difficult roles

By Christopher Hyde, Portland Press Herald

PORTopera's Young Artists Program, which opened its six-performance series Friday night at USM's Hannaford Auditorium, is a double-bill of vocal virtuosity by Mozart and Donizetti, well costumed and professionally sung by some already accomplished young artists.

"The Impresario" by Mozart nor Donizetti's "The Night Bell"-- both one-act comic operas -- are not masterpieces of plot, but more than make up for it in musical richness and parody, made easily understandable by good English translations.

"The Night Bell" (1836) is the more problematic of the two, revolving around the efforts of the bride's boyfriend to prevent consummation of the marriage by interrupting the bridegroom, a pharmacist, for trumped-up medical emergencies.

Donizetti's dramatic problem is the age-old one of making boredom, or the mere passage of time, interesting. He does it with broad humor and some rapid fire patter songs that would have made Gilbert and Sullivan proud. Unfortunately, he also has to establish a love interest between the bride and her lover, Enrico, which should be a given, and overcome the audience's sympathy with the elderly druggist, Don Annibale Pistacchio.

Both baritone Joshua Miller, as Enrico, and bass-baritone Daniel Cyr, as the druggist, were excellent in very difficult parts. Enrico's presto recitation of his imaginary wife's imaginary ailments was worth the price of admission. Cyr, on the other hand, was so earnest and vulnerable that the plot to rob him of his young wife's affections seemed more dastardly than funny.

Soprano Sara Ann Mitchell, as the young wife, Serafina, was appropriately coy with Enrico and lovingly duplicitous with her new husband, who is about to embark on a long voyage after his wedding night.

Mitchell had more opportunity to show off her coloratura in "The Impresario," as Madame Heartmelt, one of the two divas auditioning for a part in a new opera being staged by the impressario, Mr. Cash. Her equal and arch-rival, with whom she is reconciled by Mr. Cash, tenor Alexander Nishibun, is Mademoiselle Warblewell, sung by soprano Emily Murdock.

The humor of the opera is in the verbal cat fights between the two sopranos, and the heroic, fast-thinking and flattering efforts of Mr. Cash to keep them from each other's throats. The arias given to each, and their vocal duel, are among Mozart's finest creations and full of mischief.

Nishibun, as Mr. Cash, is a delight for his stage presence alone. Even in a minor role, as Don Annnibale's valet, Spiridone, in "The Night Bell," he is capable of stealing the show with a gesture.

As usual, the direction by Ellen Chickering and piano accompaniment by Kathleen Scott made one forget the absence of an orchestra.

Upcoming performances will be at Jewett Hall, University of Maine, Augusta, June 27 at 2 p.m.; Deertrees Theater, Harrison, July 2 at 7:30 p.m.; The Lincoln Theater, Damariscotta, July 8, at 7:30 p.m.; Salyard's Center for the Arts, Conway, N.H., July 10 at 7:30 p.m. and The Temple, Ocean Park, July 11 at 7:30 p.m.

Christopher Hyde's Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at: classbeat@netscape.net

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