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Poor Richard’s ‘Opera a Day’ at the Fringe (1st review)BY: Tom Purdom 09.06.2011
Poor Richard’s stripped-down productions of seven one-act operas present a good opportunity to sample an odd corner of the opera repertoire for $15 a ticket, if you can understand the words.
Poor Richard’s “Opera a Day”: Mozart, The Impresario (Katy Gentry, director); Vaughan Williams, Riders to the Sea (MarLee MacArthur, director). Poor Richard’s Opera Company productions through September 10, 2011 at Trinity Center for Urban Life, 2212 Spruce St. (215) 413-1318 or www.livearts-fringe.org or poorrichardsopera.wordpress.com.
Seven nights, seven operas
If you plan to attend any of the one-act operas Poor Richard’s Opera is presenting this week at the Trinity Center, you are hereby advised that the operas are sung in English and you probably won’t understand three-quarters of the words.
This is a common problem. Most opera companies deal with it nowadays by providing supertitles, as if they were providing a translation of an opera sung in a foreign language.
The Poor Richard’s Opera can’t afford supertitles, so I responded by listening to the company’s first two offerings the same way I listen to foreign-language operas without supertitles: The one-page librettos printed in the program supplied the general drift of the text, and I let the music fill in the gaps and create the emotional impact.
If you’re willing to do that, the operas scheduled through September 10 present a good chance to hear some unusual repertory sung by ambitious young singers with good voices. The one-act opera— like the one-act play— is an ideal form for comedy, and it can deliver a powerful, tightly focused punch when it deals with more serious matters.
Mistresses with limos
The series opened with Mozart’s The Impresario, a good-natured spoof of the opera world. Its main attraction was a duel between two sopranos (Valerie Gay and Sharon Cheng) that included some well-planned comic mugging by both participants. These women stole the show, but David Koh added to the fun with a dead-on portrait of a businessman who’s so successful that he can provide his two mistresses with individual limos.
The opera’s saving grace is Vaughan Williams’s music. One of his strongest strokes is an all-female offstage quartet that offers a wordless commentary on the tragedy endured by the three women at the center of the action. Riders to the Sea is a powerful reminder of the harsh reality hidden beneath romantic fantasies about brawny men contending with the elements.
Still to come
The Tuesday night item on the Poor Richard’s schedule is the most familiar: Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Telephone. It will be followed by Gustav Holst’s Savitri, based on a tale about death and marriage from the Mahabharata; The Old Maid and the Thief, Menotti’s look at a woman’s descent into crime; Dido and Aeneas, Purcell’s 17th-Century classic; and Bernstein’s 1952 suburban fable, Trouble in Tahiti. If any of these interest you (and you can tolerate the language problem), Poor Richard’s stripped-down productions present a good opportunity to sample an odd corner of the opera repertoire for $15 a ticket.♦
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