Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Miss Springtime, by Emmerich Kálmán. Ohio Light Opera, Wooster, Ohio
Opening Performance, Wednesday, July 25, 2012    OLO:  http://www.ohiolightopera.org/ 

The Ohio Light Opera, housed at the Freedlander Theatre on the campus of the College of Wooster, has been performing operettas and musicals for nearly three decades, specializing in the works of Gilbert & Sullivan, but branching out to many other composers over the years. They have had their successes and tragedies, but nearly always put on good shows for their loyal audiences. The opening performance of Miss Springtime, (Die Faschingsfee, or The Carnival Fairy,if you prefer the German title), Kálmán’s 1917 operetta of Carnival season intrigue in Munich was by my standards a rousing success. Everything about the work was done right. The singers were strong, the costuming and staging were excellent and creative, and the acting of the leading characters was appropriately dramatic or amusing, as it’s supposed to be.

I have had my doubts for the last few years about performances at the OLO. The performances were good, but not great. They often lacked a certain spark, and sometimes the lead singers were sometimes a bit weak (except for the perennial Ted Christopher). However, the leads have become stronger with experience and that experience is now paying off excellent dividends.

The plot is, as with most operettas, a series of mistaken identities, mishaps, and misunderstandings strung together into a loose sequence that can sometimes get one quite lost. Miss Springtime holds it together better than most. A Hungarian Princess (played by Tara Sperry) sneaks away to Carnival and falls in love with a painter (played by Grant Knox), despite the fact that she is betrothed to a German Duke in a marriage of diplomacy. The painter has been awarded a monetary prize by another Duke (played by Stephen Faulk), who shows up and lusts after the Princess. The painter loses his award, gets it back secretly by way of the Princess who cannot marry him, and... well it goes on from there with subplots involving other characters, and the eventual happy ending, with the Duke deciding that he can manage without dealing with a much younger wife who is in love with someone else.

Three components hold this together as a splendid performance: the lead singers, the staging, and the music. Steven Byess conducts the OLO Orchestra in Kálmán’s delightful score, with English translation by Steven Daigle, the Director. Even in the years when I thought the singers were less than stellar, I have always enjoyed the orchestra, and this performance was as good as ever. Byess gets lots of applause from the regulars whenever his head pops up from the orchestra pit. The staging has also always been a key creative feature to OLO performances, and their use of simple but colorful sets, with the fascinating double duty of props from one act to the next is always a pleasure to see. I believe I heard an audible gasp from the audience when Act 2 began and the curtain went up. The stage and prop folks are exceedingly clever.

But the singing is the centerpiece of every operetta, and this time out, the lead singers were a wonder to hear. Grant Knox is one of those singers who has been with the OLO for quite a few years, and his casting as Viktor Ronai, the painter, was an excellent choice. His voice is stronger than ever, piercing the theatre right to the back row, a clear, emotive tenor that commanded attention. Tara Sperry, the Princess, was also very fine, and her precise enunciation was a relief from previous soprano leads who tended to swallow their words. The “character” actors were also gems. Jacob Allen, as the hapless babysitter to the Princess, was in fine form as both singer and comedy actor. The real scene stealer was Stephen Faulk, as Count Mereditt, who needed to maintain a balance of lecherousness and humor, and did so with great skill. The rest of the cast also did a fine job, with excellent choral work and some good dancing (always necessary in operetta). The finale was a choral spectacular with the entire cast, and the audience was more than satisfied.

If you haven’t been to the Ohio Light Opera, you really should go. There are still performances through August 11th, but hurry. The house was full for our matinee, and there may not be many tickets left. Try their other shows as well. I also saw Blossom Time, by Sigmund Romberg, and was just as impressed. But that’s another review.

Jeff Wanser

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