-Gary Scott, KDHX
“Two on the Aisle: March 8, 2012”
Bob Wilcox and Gerry Kowarsky, Two on the Aisle
March 8, 2012
I was immediately struck by how festive the atmosphere was when we arrived at the Skip Viragh Center for the Arts to see ‘La Bohème’, this year’s final offering by Winter Opera Saint Louis. The place was packed, and as we made our way to our seats we could see a number of people roaming around in 19th century Parisian costume. They turned out to be the extras who would appear in the Act II street scene.
The atmosphere was festive during the performance, too, as long as that atmosphere was appropriate. The stage director’s approach to the material was exemplified by the episode in Act I where the impoverished young artists played a trick on the landlord to avoid paying the rent. They coaxed him into revealing a peccadillo, pretended to be offended, and hustled him out of the room before he could collect what they owed him. To do this scene realistically you’d put the landlord close to the door so he could be ejected before he had a chance to object; the exact opposite happened in the Winter Opera staging. The landlord had to cover a long distance before he reached the door, and he made quite a show of it. I’m sure that’s what the stage director wanted because the stage director, Mark Freiman, played the landlord. It wasn’t the height of realism, but the audience loved it and why not? The broad comedy was in keeping with the spirit of the music and the spirit of the occasion.
After comedy, the next priority in the direction was getting the characters into a good position to sing, and the singing in this production was consistently impressive. Gina Galati was a sympathetic Mimi, Gary Seydell was an ardent Rodolfo and they sang beautifully together. Trevor Scheunemann’s virile Marcello was well matched by Ashley Yvonne Wheat’s capricious Musetta. John Andrew Fernandez was a musicianly Schaunard and Dan Cole made the most of Colline’s philosophical farewell to his coat. Mark Freiman captured the humor of Musetta’s wealthy admirer as well as the landlord.
Conductor Alfred Savia paced the opera effectively and the orchestra of 17 played with style and assurance. The chorus produced a fine sound under chorus master Nancy Mayo, as did the brass band in Act II led by Michael Oelkers. The appropriate look for the period was established by Jennifer Krajicek’s costumes, Scott Glasscock’s lighting, and the set which was a collaborative effort by Giovanni Galati, propmaster Jennifer Vago and scenic artist Rachel Filbeck, with some help by Scott Loebl. The snow in Act III was a nice effect. The supertitles by Greg Storkan were very readable in their position above the stage but speech prefixes would have been helpful, especially during the ensembles.
There was a tremendous turnout for the Sunday matinee we saw. Winter Opera Saint Louis has found its audience and it’s making it very happy.
Ariadne Aux Nafos Press
“Soprano Meredith Hoffmann-Thomson’s Prima Donna/Ariadne has the goods for this demanding role, with a big, soaring voice that never stinted with the high notes. She has fine acting skills, moving effortlessly from the Prima Donna’s easily affronted hauteur to Ariadne’s heartfelt grief, and she looked beautiful.”
-Sarah Bryan Miller, Post-Dispatch
“Comedy is king in this “Ariadne”. Soprano Mary Thorne wowed the crowd with her coloratura fireworks and was convincingly seductive in her scenes with the terribly serious young Composer, a “pants” role sung with appropriate intensity by mezzo Sarah Heltzel. As Zerbinetta’s four clowns, John-Andrew Fernandez, Charles Martinez, Zach Rabin, and Jon Garrett impressed with their fine quartet singing and physical comedy. Director Marie Allyn King’s decision to make them into the four Marx Brothers, complete with choreography lifted from “Duck Soup”, was an inspired one.”
-Chuck Lavazzi, KDHX