Monday, August 6, 2018


Local professional opera companies like Boston Midsummer Opera, Opera Hub, MetroWest Opera (and others) are on to something: They’ve performed recently in theater venues at Boston Center for the Arts and at Mosesian Center for the Arts in Watertown, where New Repertory Theatre makes its home. And they’ve hired theater directors with new ideas and a fresh perspective on the art. The result is that their productions are hip and innovative without destroying the charm or integrity of a “traditional” opera.

What’s more, they’ve attracted (younger) theater audiences who are used to theater venues. Several women in line for the ladies room (yes, we become fast friends in those interminable lines) revealed this was their first opera! They came because of a poster up at a familiar theater company. Theater reviewers, too, are crossing over to cover these productions. Maybe opera isn’t doomed after all.

Boston Midsummer Opera just sold out their Watertown run with a crackerjack production of Rossini’s THE BARBER OF SEVILLE. Their delightful take on the classic amped up the comedy, sending the singers flying into the aisles, in director Antonio Ocampo Guzman’s freestyle romp. Music director Susan Davenny Wyner won the day in two ways: Her orchestra never overpowered the singers (something that happens A LOT) and her singers were encouraged to go to town with the ornamented rouladeswhich were breathtaking, hilarious and most importantly, executed without microphones!

Robert Balonek as Figaro stood out in high relief: Duets with Balonek made all the other singers shine even brighter. As the lovers, Theo Lebow and Alisa Jordheim shared sweet harmonies and treacherous high notes but the secondary comic roles made the evening. Jason Budd fumed and blustered as the foolish old doctor who planned to wed the heroine (not a chance) and David Cushing ran away with the evening in his showstopper about the thunderous power of slander.

Opera, even more than theater, can elevate a supporting role so that it lingers on in the memory. Case in point is local soprano, Abigail Whitney Smith, who appeared in two separate productions I saw, one at Metro West (THE BEAUTIFUL BRIDEGROOM) and one at Opera Hub (DIVAS). She was surrounded by extraordinary voices in both operas but it’s her performances that I remember in vivid detail: one wildly comic and one, truly heartbreaking. Opera, for me, is theater on a high wire. All your senses, your emotions, and your intellect are enthralled.