Thursday, June 26, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Opera Transfusion

OPERAHUB is determined to make opera accessible to everyone. To that end, their performances are absolutely free. (They fundraise so that all their artists can be paid something.) They mount rarely produced material and if Heinrich Marschner’s DER VAMPYR is any indication of their modus operandi, they make opera not only palatable but enjoyable. DER VAMPYR plays through June 28th at the BCA.

John J. King’s revamped (!) adaptation of the 1828 opera plays fast and loose with the original libretto. Folks who are familiar with King’s plays won’t be surprised by the cheeky wordplay and naughty rhymes. Says the vampire about his comely victim: “When I saw you in the garden, something inside me hardened”…or “I will do it to her. Take her home and chew her.”

King’s clever allusions to television and film vampires and his abundant topical rhymes made me think of Gilbert & Sullivan: They threw all manner of barbs at politicians and entertainers in their operettas. The sumptuous music, too, is reminiscent of themes Sullivan “borrowed” from his contemporaries.

Yet another curious aspect of Marschner’s score are the now familiar musical phrases which trigger “dread” in the listener. Think of Schubert’s piano warnings in ERLKĂ–NIG (which Marschner probably heard) or Verdi’s terrifying chromatic ascents (inspired by Marschner?). They didn’t have the familiarity back then which renders them universally understood (and sometimes comic) today.

The send-up may horrify opera purists but judging from the SRO audience on Wednesday night, and most stayed past intermission, they were in for a penny, in for a pound of flesh. DER VAMPYR runs three hours (which for us opera fans is nothing: GĂ–TTERDAMMERUNG runs six!) and even I experienced vampire fatigue at two-and a half because the plot is still unwieldy, the heroine doesn’t appear until Act II and the vampire-in-training has only bagged one quarry out of twenty-nine by intermission. (How can he possibly catch up without keeping us there ‘til the cows come home?)

Director Christie Lee Gibson moves the action at a brisk clip and music director Lina Marcela Gonzalez gets lovely singing from the whole cast (although a French horn strayed from time to time). No matter, the singing more than made up for it. These performers can act as well as they sing (and that cannot be said for some opera productions). Happily, you can understand most every word they’re singing (except when a soprano sacrifices enunciation for accuracy on the killer high notes).

Baritone Jacob Cooper is the novice vampire with a heavy quota. He dispatches Megan Welker in a trice but not to worry, she returns as someone else. Heather Gallagher and Jacob Scharfman cut a swath as the mean mom and pop of the vampire coven. Justin Hicks is a formidable chief of police and father to a frenetic Tamara Ryan. Lindsay Conrad is a standout as Muffy, the vampire “nay-sayer” and best of all is Eduardo Ramos as Ryan’s neglected suitor. His hilarious stage business (sniffling, reposing) is equaled by his extraordinary, clear, sweet tenor voice.