* Notes *
The Merola Opera Program recently returned to Cowell Theater with a double-bill of The Medium and Gianni Schicchi. Directed by Peter Kazaras and conducted by Mark Morash, the Saturday afternoon performance was engaging and energetic.
The Medium is a stark, tense work, and Donald Eastman's simple scenery was enhanced by the Kazaras' straightforward direction. The set is two full walls arranged at angles from an upstage platform with a curtained scrim above it. A few solid pieces of furniture and pretty period costumes completed the ambiance, letting the singers shine.
Mezzo-soprano Nicole Woodward was impressively unhinged as Madame Flora (Baba). Her voice is rich. Soprano Madison Leonard made for a devastating Monica, her resonant sound has bite without being harsh. Soprano Kathryn Bowden (Mrs. Gobineau), bass-baritone Austin Siebert (Mr. Gobineau), mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon as Mrs. Nolan sang well together. Alasdair Kent did a fine job as Toby, a mute role. His movements were convincing and he was unrecognizable when he reappeared as Gherardo in Gianni Schicchi.
Gianni Schicchi (pictured above, photograph by Kristen Loken) happens in essentially the same space, but with the full walls pushed further from the center to make room for Buoso Donati's bedroom. The platform is now a terrace with patio furniture and a bird cage. Baritone Kihun Yoon fully embodied the title role. His voice is strong, with some grit to it. His stage presence is superb. His charisma was palpable from the very moment he stepped on stage.
The others did not perfectly match Yoon, but made fine efforts. Soprano Cree Carrico sang Lauretta prettily, and her big aria ("O mio babbino caro") went nicely. Christopher Bozeka (Rinuccio) sounded bright and pleasant. Kathryn Bowden (Nella), Ashley Dixon (Ciesca) and Tara Curtis (Zita) sang beautifully together as they veiled Yoon changing into Donati's clothes.
As the orchestra is on the same level as the audience, and Cowell is small, the music was loud. All the singers have a ton of volume, so by the time the matinée was over, my ears were ringing. Though not the most subtle of performances, it was certainly gripping.
* Tattling *
I gave myself an hour and forty minutes to make it the 17.3 miles to the venue from my abode. Unfortunately it took me two hours, so I missed much of Act I of The Medium. The staff at Merola and Cowell were helpful and kind. Next time I will plan for lunch in the Marina.