By Christopher Hyde, Portland Press Herald
There are still seats left at Merrill Auditorium for tonight's performance of "The Impresario" and "The Medium" by Portland Opera Repertory Theater. There are also parking places, in spite of OpSail. This is a double bill that no opera lover can afford to miss - lavishly staged, well acted and beautifully sung, with a full orchestra including many principals of the Portland Symphony.
I generally share Brahms' opinion of opera - "I always wanted to compose one, but I could never summon up the requisite stupidity" - but these two are exertions. The Mozart is a light-hearted jewel, illustrating the impresario's struggle to convince two conceited divas, sung by Lori Ann Fuller and Carolyne Eberhardt, to appear in the same opera, finally winning out in the name of ART.
Mozart was a comic as well as a musical genius, and "The Impresario," as directed by Sue Ellen Kuzma with all kinds of charming stage business, is really funny in a Marx Brothers sort of way. Doug Brandy is marvelous as the impresario, Mr. Scruples, and the sopranos, in addition to singing like angels, achieve some unbelievable screeches.
Opening with "The Impresario" makes listening to Menotti's dark tragedy, "The Medium," like plunging into Maine seawater from a hot beach. Menotti wrote the words as well as the music, based on an actual incident. The result is a unity and seriousness of purpose rarely achieved in opera. Monica's aria, "The Black Swan," makes one proud of 20th-centuly music, and the idea of its counterpoint with muttered prayers is a stroke of genius worthy of Mozart or Verdi.
The role of the medium, Madama Flora, is sung by Margaret Yauger, and that of her daughter, Monica, by Monica Harte. Both are absolutely superb, in voice and character acting. The opera, as they play it, has a tension worthy of Henry James, to be resolved only by gunshots. The audience must decide for itself whether the cold fingers that terrify the false medium during a seance were those of a human, a poltergeist, or the hand of death. If Doug Brandt is funny as Mr. Scruples, he is both charming and pathetic as the mute Toby, torn between his love for Monica and the abuse of Madama Flora.
The English supertitles can be distracting when they don't match the words being sung, but that is a minor quibble about a magnificent production. The singers well reserved their standing ovation, which brought conductor C. Thomas Brooks and director Sharon Daniels on stage as well.
This story ran in the Portland Press Herald on 07/30/00. © 2000 Blethen Maine Newspapers, Inc.