Daniel Pantano, founder of the Concert Operetta Theater, often lists three objectives for his enterprise: to re-acquaint fans with the famous operettas of the past; to introduce new listeners to this genre; and to expose young professional singers to the repertoire, thus broadening their career options.
The company's most recent program, a double bill of The Carp and Die schöne Galathee (The Lovely Galatea), failed in one of these areas but succeeded in another unstated goal.
The failure? Although many old-timers could be found in the audience, few if any were acquainted with either of the two short operettas, so there were no memories to re-awaken. Galatea has received few revivals since its 1865 premiere; its composer, Franz von Suppé, is remembered only for a couple of sprightly overtures— The Poet and Peasant and The Light Cavalry"“ that were used in Disney cartoon films.
Gilbert & Sullivan's conductor
The Carp was an English musical commissioned in 1886 by Richard D'Oyly Carte to serve as a curtain raiser for Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado. The music was the work of a minor composer named Alfred Cellier, who conducted for many of the G & S shows. His score was later lost.
New music was commissioned in 1999 by the Gilbert & Sullivan Archive and written by Quade Winter, an American who is known for restoring old scores. In this case, Winter told me, he didn't research of try to emulate Cellier: "I had a 19th-Century libretto and out came the waltzes."
The piece is a mildly amusing curiosity about romance on the banks of a fishing pond, with pleasant music that was well sung by Mary Punshon, Jay Anstee and Jeff Chapman, accompanied by two flutists and music director José Meléndez at the piano.
In love with his statue
The Lovely Galatea, on the other hand, was a memorable discovery. Von Suppé, a Belgian-Italian who was Francesco Demelli in Austria-Hungary, became one of the early exponents of light, romantic operas that introduced waltz tempos to the theater. (Galatea predated the "waltz king" Johann Strauss's first hit, Die Fledermaus, by nine years.)
The plot will sound familiar to anyone who recalls Kurt Weill's 1941 musical, One Touch of Venus. The sculptor Pygmalion, having fallen in love with his statue of Galatea, prays to Venus, to breathe life into the statue. His wish is granted, but Galatea turns out to be demanding and independent: She rejects Pygmalion and instead makes a play for the sculptor's servant Ganymede.
This production revealed attractive music from von Suppe's heritages: lilting melodies of Italian character, and sentimental Viennese schmaltz. Galatea also includes patter-like ensemble songs— sort of Gilbert & Sullivan in three-quarter time.
The added attraction that Pantano didn't even promise was the presence of three excellent young Academy of Vocal Arts opera singers in lead roles, achieving more visibility than they've enjoyed so far in grand opera. John Viscardi was a fine Pygmalion, and Maria Aleida was an exotic-looking Galatea with an attractive coloratura voice.
The biggest revelation was Chrystal E. Williams as Ganymede. Her mezzo voice is large and vibrant. On top of that, she has a dazzling smile and a dynamic stage presence that should lead to a successful career.
Perhaps the company should add, as another stated goal, the introduction of new talented singers. That certainly was achieved with this production.