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Friday, July 10, 2015

Opera in the Hinterlands 

Big Kitty says, "Don't forget my morning tuna before you leave!"

Over this past Fourth of July weekend my wife and I loaded up the Prius with a picnic lunch, barricaded our two cats inside the house -- they're allowed outdoors only during daylight hours, but not while we're out of town -- and headed off to I-76 and points east at the ungodly start time of 5:30 a.m.  Our destination: Des Moines, Iowa.

A dozen hours later we were comfortably ensconced in our hotel room at the Airport Doubletree, and the following morning we made our way a dozen or so miles south to Indianola, home of Simpson College -- sadly, no connection whatsoever to the iconic cartoon series that shares its name.

Our objective involved seeing a matinee performance of Giacomo Puccini's La fanciulla del West, a production of the Des Moines Metro Opera.  Celebrating its 43rd season, the DMMO typically offers three full-scale operas on a rotating basis over the course of three weeks in early summer.  We elected to make the trip because (a) the timing of the matinee dead in the center of the three-day weekend seemed ideal, (b) it's a composition we both like A LOT, and (c) it seemed unlikely to experience "Fanciulla" anywhere outside New York, Chicago or San Francisco, all of which are time-consuming and/or expensive to visit.

I've posted a lengthy review on the Colorado Music Buzz blog, so feel free to click through and take a peek.  I'll try not to repeat here much of what's posted there, although I'd like to expand on one particular aspect of this performance.

The Metropolitan Opera revived "Fanciulla" for its 2010-11 season, and that opera was one of the "Live in HD" selections that year.  The three principal roles included Deborah Voigt as "Minnie," Marcello Giordani as "Dick Johnson" (a.k.a. "Ramerrez"), and Lucio Gallo as "Jack Rance."  They were, in a word. horrible -- and in two words, "disappointingly horrible."  It's bad enough to suspend disbelief sufficiently to ignore the fact the average age of the characters is probably 25, while the average age of the singers is closer to double that.  One can put up with the incongruity of this differential -- even with high-def closeups every few minutes -- if the singing is exceptional.  It was everything but that.  Voigt was the the best of the bunch but, as they used to say during Gold Rush days (one supposes), "That ain't sayin' much."  At least three of the male secondary characters had far superior voices than those of Giordani (lackluster and underpowered) and Gallo (characterless and painfully out of tune).  Colorado native and one of my favorite singers these days, Keith Miller, was "Ashby," the Wells Fargo agent.  Richard Bernstein was "Handsome," and Dwayne Croft was (as usual) wasted in the role of "Sonora."  Five years later, I can still recall how poorly the main trio performed, both vocally and theatrically.

All that angst was a prime motivator in seeing how a troupe of young professionals would handle the Puccini challenge.  Again, I won't repeat here what's already published in my "official" review, but we couldn't have been more pleased with the three hours we spent (including intermissions) in the cozy confines of Blank Hall.  Back on the road after some delicious homemade post-opera ice cream from Indianola's The OutsideScoop -- we split the return trip to Denver in two, staying overnight in Kearney, Nebraska, amid what seemed like a hundred separate fireworks displays -- my wife and I discussed the state of opera outside of the five or six major companies.  We were heartened by the large number of young people in attendance in Indianola, where I'm guessing fewer than a dozen seats were empty out of the 488 the auditorium holds.  And if this is the sort of experience one has "in the hinterlands" for a $66 ticket a mere seven rows from the stage -- well, we all need to get out of our comfort zones more often.

Oh, yeah --- you may have noticed this is my first blog post in something like five years.  I'll try to be more timely.
Alexandra Lobianco as "Minnie" for the DMMO production of La fanciulla del West.

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