Before I embark in this review of Capitol City Opera’s presentation of Mozart’s Die Entfuhrung aud dem Serail, a story. This is not my first brush with Atlanta’s most notorious fringe opera company. For that we must go back to 1992, a time when I, a self-prescribed boy dramatic soprano, found one of the company’s audition flyers in suburban Dunwoody. I was fifteen, all too aware of my brilliance, and you could not tell me differently. Armed with the unstoppable daring made possible by extraordinary ignorance, I dialed the printed number, only to find myself speaking with Capitol City Opera’s founder herself, Ms. Donna Angel. She listened as I explained my plight as the undiscovered second coming of Salomea Krushelniski (plus the e-flat), and before Ms. Angel had a chance to intervene, I proceeded to back up my statement by letting out a howl that would have silenced the Misippipi Mass Choir. A grave silence was followed by: “I think we could use you. Swing by and audition for us.” Alas, my path to lyric glory would eventually be thwarted by my mother’s inability to locate Wieuca Road on a map (#suburbanissues), yet the story illustrates (as the following review also will), that one never knows what to expect with such fringe companies, and Capitol City Opera is no exception.
Throughout this review, I have struggled to find the right balance between keeping the company’s limited reality as a consideration while fulfilling my duties in assessing the show. It has not been easy, and the juicy material scattered throughout the editing floor would shock some legendary children. At the end of the day, Wolfie is sacred, but we do not want strike too harshly against a company clearly attempting to better itself. So first, the nice stuff: Die Entfuhrung, or as presented here in its English translation “The abduction from the seraglio,” is quite an ambitious undertaking. The opera offers five starry roles, and at least three require a full mastery in florid singing to inflict their desired effects. The subject matter also allows for exuberant sets, a fact which the company has smartly reduced to a series of bare but stately semicircular arches. The make up and costumes were a flashier matter, and a true read of what was seen would best be described by the late and great Crystal Labeija. The stage direction of Michael Nutter was stoic and shed little light on these characters, the pantomime during the long introduction of the famous “Tortures unrelenting” a missed opportunity. But he did not attempt to inject foreign elements of kinky irrelevance as many are wont to do into his work, and for that we were grateful. As for the pit, or rather side-stage for these performances, Maestro Michael Giel deserved much praise for holding together the sparse chamber ensemble that carried the weight of a full orchestra for the duration of the opera.
To this we add the singers, and they ranged the full gamut.
The role of Osmin is often sited as Mozart’s first truly comic part. It also ranks amongst one of the most vocally complex parts for a bass, requiring a rare mastery of scales, dips to the cavernous basement low Ds, and even trills, all used to express the absurdity of this uncommonly complex character. For those capable of fulfilling its demands, the role offers an irresistible opportunity for exuberant display, a fact that bass Marcus Hopkins-Turner was unable to cash in on, mostly because there was little to show for in his vocalism. Throughout the evening, his singing was consistent only in its unevenness and mal-nourished projection. His passagework was dumpy and his diction often unintelligible. During his duet with Blonde, “I’m going, but mark what I say”, he even allowed the leggiero soprano’s chest voice to eclipse his efforts. Patience ran dry after that. Worst of all, things did not improve during the long stretches of dialogue that provided him the chance to save himself and be funny. He was not. We hope to hear him again in less demanding music, as against most accepted criteria his Osmin missed the mark in a big way.
A minor improvement came with the Belmont of tenor Matthew Talley. This voice was certainly better projected and his declamation significantly less awkward, but we were still dealing with a very limited athlete attempting Olympic feats. Averting the role’s high tessitura by a constant reliance on a disjointed and insecure falsetto. The results were often lack luster and pedantic, making ardous listening of Belmont’s wistful “Constanza, Constanza, to see thee again” and a crack prone rendition of the act three opener “love, only love, can direct me”. The tenor brood was better represented through the efforts of William Green, whose lisping Pedrillo impressively carried the full comic weight of the entire evening. Indeed, things would have been rather miserable had he been stuck in the 85 North traffic jam which allegedly forced the late curtain. His is a baby heroic tenor with a solid wall of sound that may eventually give way towards a Peter Grimes or Siegmund. As Pedrillo, however, he was oddly miscast, and his attractive voice sadly came to grief at the top of the tessitura during the battle cry “Now Pedrillo, now for battle”, a case of too hefty a delivery which did not survive the ascent to the high A. An excellent reading of his ballad “In Moorish lands a maiden fair” helped set this shortcoming aside, and confirmed his as a voice of promise. Perhaps Mozart’s earlier work, Idomeneo, may one day settle some of our pesky inquiries about it.
On the side of the ladies, things proved more consistent. As Blonde, soprano Caitlin Andrews exhibited the coquettish and piquant qualities necessary to carry this part, but her introductory aria “With smiles and kind caresses” was hampered by a labored delivery which cut short the top of her range (an optional high F was mercifully left out). Thankfully, as the evening progressed, her voice attained greater charm. In the part of her mistress Constanza, soprano Megan Brunning simply owned the night. The owner of a well-balanced and flexible lyric soprano, Ms. Brunning is currently engaged to cover this very role for Chattanooga’s Scenic City Opera. These performances of Constanza for Capitol City Opera thus provided a trial balloon for this young artist, and perhaps a preview of what may come to pass if the principal artist were to accidentally take a gentle tumble down a flight of stairs. Like Osmin, the role of Constanza requires a true mastery of vocal pyrotechnics over a wide vocal range, and when sung to its full value, the role will yield handsome rewards. That Ms. Brunning would take full advantage of the opportunity was evident at the hilt during her introduction aria, the spectacular “How I loved him”. If this voice is not necessarily large, its registers are certainly concise enough to establish themselves in the mind’s ear, impressing further by the singer’s accuracy in the extraneous passagework and at times dazzling in the abandon of her delivery. Her famous solo, “Tortures unrelenting”, further confirmed this impression of athletic spontaneity in her singing. Sadly, her earlier act II aria (“Traurigkeit ward mir zum Loose”) was omitted, which robbed us from sampling her proclivities in a sustained melody. Her presence in the cast was the most musically valuable of the evening.
As a reward for such fine warbling, Ms. Brunning got to play-reject against the adorable Pasha Selim of Joseph Durrett-Smith, whose charms were so beguiling, they were hardly diminished by the ridiculous CHICO’s jacket bestowed upon him by the costume department. It was criminal. So much so that we may just have to return to Capitol City Opera to check out the rest of their season, which includes performances of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado and Humperdinck’s masterpiece, Hansel and Gretel. Anything could happen. For more information about these and other presentations, please visit the company’s website at http://www.ccityopera.org/