Memories of OTP’s “SummerFest” 2016

By: George B. Parous
Header(1)It’s all over now, and truth be told, I miss it already. The season was extended this year, but somehow seemed shorter than previous ones. This is easily explained by the fact that each summer’s offerings have managed to top those of the previous one’s, without taking anything away from the worth of the prior productions. This ambitious company is to be commended for the work they have accomplished, because much of it was quite good, and the city is lucky to have a group with such pluck and artistic direction. Jonathan Eaton, who has served as the Artistic and General Director of the company since 1999, made some very valid points which might explain in part why this year’s “SummerFest” seemed to fly by in the blink of an eye (although the large production team that has been working pretty much 24/7 for many weeks is probably heaving a huge and collective sigh of relief). The venue change made a tremendous difference. “After five successful seasons, we have outgrown our boots,” Mr. Eaton remarked earlier this month. “We are thrilled to be moving to larger facilities and Winchester Thurston’s Falk Auditorium, beautifully renovated by Pittsburgh’s premiere theater architect, Al Filoni. This is now perhaps the most attractive medium-sized theater in the city.” He might very well be right. “We think our audiences will love the theater’s great acoustics, comfortable seating, easy private parking and proximity to one of Pittsburgh’s liveliest neighborhoods,” he said, and while the new quarters were a decided bonus, the worth of the work done there, and the exceptional talent that accomplished the work, combined to make this “SummerFest” the most enjoyable one of my experience. It seemed that the audiences were more enthusiastic this year, and they had every reason to be so. [caption id="attachment_3283" align="aligncenter" width="512"]Christina Overton and Isaiah Feken in Kiss Me Kate Christina Overton and Isaiah Feken in Kiss Me Kate[/caption] Each summer I plan on attending features of the festival other than the staged works, for my own personal enjoyment, but time never seems to allow me to do so. This year I missed such treats as the concerts featuring well-known singers Marianne Cornetti, Daphne Alderson and others, as well as the company’s Young Artist Program. Next year, perhaps. I’m also going to make an effort to catch the short “kiddie” opera, if there is one, because this year’s Little Red Riding Hood featured Valerie Hosler, always such a comic treat, and I’m indeed sorry I missed it, just for the opportunity of enjoying another chance of seeing this gifted young artist do something in addition to the impression she made in Kiss Me, Kate. The latter was the first fully staged production, as Carmen the Gypsy had preceded it “on tour” in some curious venues. I was glad I saw it at the Sphinx Café in Oakland, because the energy level was high there, the performance was excellent, and I learned what a “hookah bar” was. Yes, I had to “Google” the term, and I was relieved that no “vaping” was allowed during the performance. The atmosphere was perfect, and I felt like one of the “gypsies” in Carmen’s claque, so close did the quarters bring me into the action. Indeed, at one point, had Don José taken one more backwards step, he would possibly have landed on my lap. But the singers were quite impressive, and the reworking of Bizet’s classic by Mr. Eaton and Robert Frankenberry managed to more than entertain the opera “purist” I freely admit to being. [caption id="attachment_3284" align="aligncenter" width="584"]Carmen the Gypsy Cast Carmen the Gypsy Cast[/caption] The season was largely advertised as a “Diva Riot” of “powerful women,” and rightly so when not only Carmen but Cleopatra herself and others were impersonated, with casts including Christina Overton, Kara Cornell, Lara Lynn McGill, Sara Beth Shelton, Katherine Beck, Kelly Lynch and so many others; but while there was certainly a great deal of exceptionally fine singing done by the female contingent of the company, the male element included Christopher Scott, Andrey Nemzer, Isaiah Feken and Matthew Maisano, to name but a few, and was very much in evidence and frequently matched the women; once or twice to the point of nearly eclipsing them. But whichever vocal range audience members preferred, they had many chances of hearing the best of all – whether soprano, tenor, countertenor, mezzo-soprano, baritone or bass, all voice classifications received for the most part many opportunities. [caption id="attachment_3285" align="aligncenter" width="571"]Lara Lynn McGill and Andrey Nemzer in Julius Caesar Lara Lynn McGill and Andrey Nemzer in Julius Caesar[/caption] Händel’s Julius Caesar provided some of the most astonishing singing, and Chatham Baroque played a large part in making the production as impressive as it was, and hopefully this wonderful group of instrumentalists will participate in any future productions of works that date to the eighteenth century. I am by no means an expert on “musical theater” (and probably not one on opera, for that matter), but Kiss Me, Kate, while featuring some great singing and comical acting, lost a little in its transformation from the very large stage that such Broadway extravaganzas require – or so I was told by members of the audience. Night Caps provided a great opportunity for the Young Artist Program. But the highlight of the evening on which I saw this curious conglomeration was the chance to be re-introduced to the company’s founder, Mrs. Posvar, who as Mildred Miller enjoyed a distinguished career as a mezzo-soprano herself. At the Metropolitan Opera alone she sang nearly 400 performances of twenty-one roles in twenty operas over the course of twenty-four seasons – important roles, too, such as Carmen, Cherubino in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, Octavian in Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, and others by a wide variety of composers that included not only Bizet and the German masters mentioned, but Puccini, Verdi, Massenet, and even Richard Wagner, alongside a vast array of truly legendary compatriots. I had not seen her since the early 1980s, when I occasionally met her through a few of her students and other voice coaches in the area, such as the late Lorenzo Malfatti, a personal friend for many years and still sorely missed. I didn’t for a moment expect her to remember me, and she politely suggested that possibly the reason was that we had each aged a couple of years since we last met. But what a wealth of memories seeing this dignified and lovely nonagenarian brought back! She is quite elegant looking, and time has treated her very gently, indeed. [caption id="attachment_3286" align="aligncenter" width="549"]Dimitrie Lazich, Julia Fox, and Jeremy Galyon in The Silent Woman Dimitrie Lazich, Julia Fox, and Jeremy Galyon in The Silent Woman[/caption] True to the tradition of great feasts, the finest wine was saved for last, with the revival of Richard Strauss’ rarely heard The Silent Woman. The production featured a true “power-house” cast of exceptionally gifted singers, among them Jeremy Galyon, Julia Fox and Dimitrie Lazich, and included brilliant conducting on the part of Brent McMunn. A number of men did excellent conducting throughout the season, and I hope that I documented their work to the degree they all deserved. To everyone involved in Opera Theater of Pittsburgh’s “SummerFest” 2016, thanks for the memories, and congratulations in advance on all you will achieve in 2017!

The Hound of the Baskervilles

By: Isaac Crow
13510792_534822413395493_8031095847387694555_nOh, how does one describe Mr. Holmes? It’s seems like such a simple thing to do, but it’s so terribly complicated. To capture the man’s essence in a review would take too long and ultimately wouldn’t do him any justice. Similarly one could not capture the story of The Hound of the Baskervilles properly, so I’m reluctant to try. Normally one doesn’t want to ruin the plot of the play, but in The Hound’s case I don’t wish to ruin the punchlines. So your best effort would be to go the Pittsburgh Playwright’s Theater downtown and see Kinetic Theatre Company’s latest production. The play is a follow-up to Kinetic’s production of Sherlock’s Last Case, although the only continuity is David Whalen returning as Sherlock Holmes, greatest detective in the world. This production brings a different stage, a different Watson, and a different feel altogether. While Last Case was humorous but also surprisingly dark, Hound is more of a high-energy farce. Three actors play a wide range of characters with the absurdity of a Monty Python movie. The stage is small, featuring only a few trunks stacked against a brick wall to serve as a backdrop.IMG_0493 I could go on and on about the cast and all they have to do and how well they do it. Whalen’s Sherlock gets to have more fun here, and is still appropriately arrogant. James FitzGerald is excellent as the world’s greatest sidekick Watson, who alternates being the straightman to being a bizarre creature himself, with a few violent tendencies to boot. Connor McCanlus is also terrific, bringing an adorable “well shucks” attitude to Sir Henry Baskerville while playing a slew of other characters. One would be foolish to ignore the fantastic tech work in this production, because it seems like they have an awful lot to do for such a physically small space. There are so many lights, sounds, scenery flying in and out, and all of it has to time out perfectly to keep things flowing. It’s overwhelming trying to keep track of it all. Luckily one doesn’t have to, because one’s just in the audience. The crew has to keep track of it all, and they do a damn good job of it.IMG_0494 Jokes fly at a furious fast pace, and there seem to be enough of every joke to go around. There are a few cornball jokes, a few overly sexual ones, farce work, costume changes, red herrings, fourth wall breaking, dark humor. It’s a smorgasbord really. You may not laugh at all of them, but you’re guaranteed to laugh at something. Maybe even you’ll find yourself laughing loud while the rest of the audience is going “aww”…maybe….if you’re certain people….like me. Have I said enough? Have I said nothing at all? Perhaps I’m being vague to create a sort of…”mystery”…about it all. Or really, why spend the time describing one of Sherlock’s more popular tales when I could just tell you to go see the production? And you should do just that. If you don’t like the BBC television series starring Benedict Cumberbatch, good news: it’s nothing like that! By which I mean it’s not boring! (I’m teasing, don’t come at me about your precious Cumberbatch). Do yourself a favor and go see The Hound of the Baskervilles. Special thanks to Kinetic Theatre for complimentary press tickets. The Hound of the Baskervilles runs at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre through August 7. For tickets and more information click here. Would you like to see more reviews and articles like this from Pittsburgh in the Round? Then help us out and donate to our indiegogo!

A Pirate’s Tale

By: Megan Grabowski
13754080_843778182421335_6615489263587421444_nIn the words of Tristan LaMarque, captain of the Anne- Marie, “Tonight we celebrate the birth of our fleet. Tonight we celebrate us”. Fitting words for the premiere performance of A Pirate's Tale. Four years in the making, this show has been successfully performed as a one-act on the Gateway Clipper's Empress for three seasons thus far and is now available to land lovers young and old at Carnegie Stage. The story, typical in many buccaneering myths, A Pirate’s Tale offers the audience an original score with music and lyrics written by composer Paul Shapera, the well renowned creator of "The Dolls Of New Albion: A Steampunk Opera".  The story begins with the band of pirates from the Anne- Marie, and their Captain Tristan LaMarque, played by Ray Cygrymus, and his crew discussing their recent capture of the Raven and how they plan to celebrate the acquisition of their greatest triumph.  The shipmates are in good spirits and Tristan and his pirate queen Cassandra McKaye, played by Tiffany Joy Williams, are making plans for their future and are clearly happily in love, until first mate Sebastian Palk, played by Michael Petyak enters the captain’s quarters. Tristan awards Sebastian with the title Captain of the Raven but an argument quickly ensues over what to do with the Raven's crew they are holding captive. Sebastian wants to put up a ransom, the usual action imposed upon prisoners, but Tristan, demands they be sold into slavery off the Barbary Coast. When Cassandra learns that the Raven was given to Sebastian she becomes angry; Tristan had promised  her a ship of her own and when the rest of the crew learn of Tristan’s orders to sell the prisoners, they all agree, it will be the death of them.  Sebastian organizes a mutiny and the following chain of events lead to trickery, plank walking and sword fights. Although the story itself isn't new to the world of pirating sagas, there are components of A Pirate's Tale which make it unique and entertaining.  Writer Shaun Rolly spins the life of swashbuckling marauders on the high seas as not only adventurous and daring but as sensitive human beings, allowing the cast to portray characteristics of friendship and love and anger with passion and melds this humanness with lyrics that are intelligent and tunes that are catchy. Tristan and Cassandra's relationship is emotionally charged and full of affection and song, Jonathan, played by Tim Tolbert, is the imbecile pirate who gets the most laughs based on his highly irrelevant and off the wall comments.  The relationship between the female cast as they come together forming their own pack is empowering and just the twist you hope for when seeing a performance at Carnegie Stage. The most troubling aspect of the story is witnessing Tristan go soft after ordering that his lover and partner Cassandra be sent to walk the plank.  Personally, I  never want to see a pirate go soft and listening to the rough and cold captain sing, 'Cassie, Losing You' seemed out of character for a pirate, but again, this moment reinforces the idea that the story is not limited to clashing of silver and plundering. The production offered some strong musical scores, specifically 'Hey Diddle- Diddle, Ride the Hemp' and the final, 'A Pirate's Tale'.  There is an energetic and lively dance number, 'Abigail's Jig', which incorporates the entire cast.  Most important, what pirate story would be complete without jousting?  The excitement and movements on stage are intoxicating.  The fight choreography, combined with costumes and the stage direction aid in generating a real sense of life on the high- seas. A strong stage presence is felt from Cygrymus and Williams as well as Andy Hickly who plays shipmate Jonah, Sandi Oshaben cast as Victoria and Hope Anthony, playing Abigail.  Kudos to Leah Klocko, costumer, for creating an authentic look for the players, and the direction of Catherine Gallagher and the choreography of Lisa Moran Elliot, are nothing short of professional, incorporating all of the elements that you would imagine.  For pirating enthusiasts this show will excite your love of the lore. As a musical in its infancy, will A Pirate's Tale sink or swim?  I expect to see the show cultivated and adapted as the cast continues to perform together. Special thanks to A Pirate's Tale for complimentary press tickets. A Pirate's Tale is being performed through July 31, 2016 at Carnegie Stage for tickets and more information, click here. Would you like to see more reviews and articles like this from Pittsburgh in the Round? Then help us out and donate to our indiegogo!

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