BY STUART DUNCAN
Lest there be any doubt as to the vigor of Opera New Jersey, just lake a look at the group's schedule last weekend. Three different operas in three days, with three different stage directors, three different conductors, three separate casts, in two different theaters.
And all first class productions – beautifully mounted, sung magnificently to roaring audience approval. No tiny accomplishment. No wonder Opera New Jersey has, in six short years, reached the top tier of regional companies.
Friday night (July 10) in The Matthews Theatre at McCarter in Princeton, it was Gaetano Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor." Opera buffs will know that the work is taken from the novel, "The Bride of Lammermoor," and has a plot that operas are made of – a tale of unrequited love, intrigue, betrayal and bloody consequences – all set against a backdrop of 16th century Scotland.
To introduce the blood feud that hangs as a pall over Lammermoor Castle, director John Hoomes has cleverly introduced larger-than-life projected ghosts of the past, which will return throughout the evening as if to whistle warnings to the unwary. In the present, Edgardo, Lord of Ravenswood and a sworn enemy of the Ashton family, is swearing undying love and fidelity to Lucia Ashton, laying the conflicts open for all to see.
And we also can see just how far this company has come in so brief a time: Carey Wong's soaring sets, Patricia Hibbert's elegant costuming, Barry Steele's magnificent lighting design.
And of course, the singers: Eric Dubin as the evil brother, Jonathamn Boyd as Edgardo. But in particular, Lisette Oropesa as Lucia. The role has been cherished for several generations for its exquisite demands and here it has found a young singer (only 25) who will be a huge star in but a few years. The buzz at McCarter is that she is the equal of Sutherland and perhaps more. Certainly her mad scene (which absolutely stopped the show) brought the loudest, longest applause heard in years.
Michael Ching was the conductor and the New Jersey Symphony was in the pit, a happy combination that meant for a smooth performance all night. The opera will be sung again Saturday, July 18 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, July 26 at 2 p.m.
The work comes with the reputation of having a dismal libretto, perhaps just a trifle better than mediocre, and that presents both a challenge and an opportunity for any stage director. Here, Bernard Uzan has solved much of the problem by using English for the spoken segments, turning to German only for the singing.
And he has a company of six singers who can act with the best and find the moments of comedy as well. In fact, in a program note, director Uzan notes that he relied on "commedia dell'arte,'' to introduce parody and it works well.
Scott Ramsey (as Belmonte,) Jennifer Rowley (as Konstanze,) Ray Menard (as The Pasha) and Rachele Gilmore (as Blonde) each have delicious moments that shine. Robert Little has designed a set that is practical, yet finds the mood of Turkey. Patricia Hibbert has once again designed costumes of the period. And this time, the New Jersey Symphony was under the baton of Mark Flint.
The opera will be sung again Thursday July 16 at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday July 19 at 2 p.m. and Friday July 24 at 8 p.m. All performances in The Berlind Theatre at McCarter.
On Sunday, Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikado," played to a packed house in the large Matthews Theatre which roared its delight at the exquisite score, filled with tunes many seemed to have known since birth and others seemed surprised that they knew as well.
The opera came with palettes of every shade, parasols to match every dress and lyrics brought up to date – with references to political friends and foes and even a jab or two at New Jersey Transit, the nearby town of Metuchen and anything else that wasn't nailed down. It was never offensive and brought roars of approval.
And, once again, the proof of a first-rate company, is seamless casting. The lovers, Nasnki-Poo and Yum-Yum (Scott Scully and Anne-Carolyn Bird) voices melded beautifully; Pooh-Bah (Matt Boehler), the Lord High Executioner and any other title that happens to be lying around; Ko-Ko (Curt Olds), in a performance that drove away all memories of the late Martyn Green of England's D'Oyle Carte touring company of a half century back; and Peter Strummer in the title role of The Mikado (with a few original lyrics of his own.)
Michael Scarola conducted the New Jersey Symphony and Steven Masteller was the stage director. For all three operas, subtitles were courtesy of Keith Chambers. "The Mikado" will be presented again Friday July 17 at 8 p.m. and Saturday July 25 at 8 p.m.
The advice here is that you call at once – (609) 258-2787.