West Side Story isn't an easy show and, particularly in current climates, a controversial one to cast. It is dance heavy and, while the Atlanta Opera Chorus shined during their choreographed number during last season's La fille du régiment, West Side Story requires specialized training, perfect timing, and active feats of physical intensity. After spending election night in the audience of the same production I was so nervous about, I can genuinely say that it is a production not to miss.
It's a crass move to co-opt sexual assault as a means to artificially raise an opera's stakes. It also causes serious dramaturgical issues. By screwing around with the plot, the director has given herself the irreconcilable task of manufacturing staging that respects the repercussions of Iolanta's assault, while spinning an idyllic, fairytale love story, with a libretto that only supports the latter.
It's funny how similar the opera-going experience is, be it at an opera house or the movies. Older audience members still kvetch about the venue - "They should have it at TIFF," et cetera - and there's the usual mixture of apologies and harumphing as latecomers squeeze past their neighbours' knees to find their mid-row seats.
The show, a revue of Baroque arias and a world premiere by music director Daniel Schlosberg, incorporated masterful singing, a costumed 6-piece band, gender bending, lip syncing, imaginative costumes and dazzling makeup in the intimate venue of Roulette Theatre in Brooklyn.
Of course no wife would be spurred to murder her husband based on fortune cookie fortunes, but here it happens, and in exactly the kind of over-the-top manner that only opera can pull off. It was a joyous way to end the first half of the program.
Thank goodness for one-act operas. They're like a shot of great espresso, or a single chocolate truffle - the kind of indulgence that's short-lived, but immediate and totally satisfying. Among all the lengthy, luxuriating opera we see - all the da capo arias and all the Wagner - compact one-acts like Actéon and Pygmalion allow even the most hardcore of opera fans to admit that their attention spans don't always like to be stretched so thin.
The night, however, belonged to baritone James Westman and his standout performance of Giorgio Germont, Alfredo's father. Westman has considerable longevity with this role; he will play Germont for the 200th time in the spring of 2019 in a celebrated career that has spanned two decades.
HGO's triumphant return to this venue was replete with sheer authenticity of spirit, dedication, and craftsmanship from all quarters. Throughout this marathon performance, I was pleasantly touched by this production that treated the central narrative of redemption through love as something to be regarded passively, and not inhabited fully, to be believed, yet inviting scrutiny from all angles.
The setup for the Widow's entrance was hilarious, with all the men in the cast fussing over themselves and falling over each other to get to the door. The whole scene is an awkward, funny, madcap buildup to the heroine's entrance.
In the second act, it felt like Burton and Partridge were no longer holding back dramatically, and in their final confrontation during the play within a play, both singers delivered the most heart wrenching vocals of the opera. Their struggle was rife with emotional and physical violence, and predictably, it did not end well for Nedda or her lover, Silvio.