As Opera Theater of Pittsburgh’s “SummerFest” performances draw to a close, Night Caps, a series of five mini-operas that – combined – run for but an hour or so, received the first of only two performances last night in the Hilda Willis Room of Winchester Thurston. All with text written by Rob Handel, head of Carnegie Mellon University’s dramatic writing program, the five comic and dramatic “suites” are accompanied by the music of as many composers, and received a good deal of acclaim when the first four debuted in the first “SummerFest” in 2012, and when the fifth was first heard the following year. The setting of the action is a hotel managed by Miss Darlington (Kelly Lynch), with the assistance of Rudy, her bellhop (Elizabeth Bouk), both of whom make appearances in all five of the suites.
Almost neurotically obsessed with the comfort of her guests, Miss Darlington nonetheless frequently ruins it by unannounced appearances at most inopportune times, and the bellhop, when not extending his hand for tips, is either the cause or victim of mischief. Both Ms. Lynch (who has a voice of considerable stamina) and Ms. Bouk added much to the evening’s entertainment. Music Director and Conductor Rob Frankenberry brought out the best from a surprisingly large number of gifted instrumentalists throughout the evening.
The Valkyrie Suite (with music composed by Eric Moe) was first up, and the McDonald Township Valkyries Bowling Team had trashed the joint with pizza boxes and beer cans. The characters are billed with the amusingly difficult names of the eight warrior-maiden daughters of Wotan in Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre – Gerhilde (Laura DellaFera); Helmwige (Emily Baker); Waltraute (Molly Boggess); Schwertleite (Fiona McArdle); Ortlinde (Jennifer Wilson); Siegrune (Katherine Beck); Grimgerde (Lori Carrau), and Rossweisse (Shari Perman). Brünnhilde was not along for the “Ride,” but the cast also includes Betty (Caitlin Finnie) and the “Silent Man” (Jon Erik Schreiber). Those familiar with Wagner’s epic music-drama were probably the most amused by this piece, as occasional, very brief snippets of his unique style popped up in the orchestration, and the “Valkyries” periodically laughed and called to one another much as they do in the beginning of the third act of the German master’s mighty work of musical art. When Betty arrives to announce that she’s late for the festivities because she has met a man and is leaving the league for love, the Valkyries even toss her onto a bed and circle her in a defiant ring (in a reminiscent nod to the “Magic Fire” scene that ends Die Walküre). But just as Wotan scatters the Valkyries in fear, the imposing presence of the “Silent Man” on his entrance has the same effect. The young women sang the exceptionally difficult music with voices that could probably cope with Wagner’s massive orchestration some day.
Next up was the Honeymoon Suite (music by Alberto Demestres), which found Rodolfo (Matthew Cummings) and Fifi (Marisa Karchin), as newlyweds interrupted by a “Young Woman” (Emily Harmon), a “Foreman” (Joshua Smith), and three “Young Men” (J. Patrick McGill, Ethan Sagin and Jon Erik Schreiber). As the young lovers sing of their “anticipation,” their room is crashed by drunken wedding leftovers, a woman who spent her wedding night there a year ago and has returned with hopes of finding a string of pearls she lost that night – just as she has misplaced her husband. A brief strain of Puccini’s La Bohème found its way into the music, as well as amusing birdlike twitters, and the hapless couple buried themselves under the covers, oblivious to the mysteries unraveling around them. Probably the best aspect of this piece was the display of what a large number of talented and young singing actors is available to the company.
The Moonlight Suite (music by Gilda Lyons) concerns Masha (Emily Baker) and Yasha (Isaiah Feken), a couple taking a second honeymoon at the suggestion of their marriage counselor. It was perhaps the briefest of the pieces, and the most vague. It appears that the heat was on only when the couple were Antarctic explorers in the early days, but the warmth of their current circumstances has cooled things considerably. The parts were well sung, which was fortunate, as the piece falls a little flat, an anti-climax with no clear resolution as to whether there is any hope for the pair.
In the George Washington Suite (music by Daron Hagen), the ghost of the first Commander in Chief (Isaiah Feken), visits two spinster-like scholars, Christina (Amelia Love) and Grace (Elizabeth Cohen), on their quest to stay in every room where the first President supposedly slept. The same trio of “Young Men” from the Honeymoon Suite makes an appearance in this segment, this time as ghostly fifers of the Revolutionary War period, unseen and unheard by the excited pair. The two women are awakened by George himself, who lays to rest myths about him and theories as to where he “slept” in a clever twist. Much of the most amusing singing and acting were heard and seen in this segment, especially on the parts of Ms. Love and Ms. Cohen, and Mr. Feken was at his best.
The Penthouse Suite (music by Roger Zahab) wrapped up the evening with the comic tale of a booking mishap causing an opera diva and a pop star to vie for the same luxurious quarters. The diva, Torta Gwentrob (Maria Palombo) sings with prima-donna-like pride to her retinue that she has sung all over the world for years and years – and years – and has finally reached the “big time,” Pittsburgh! AND the mini-bar is stocked with ginger ale! As they retreat to explore the suite, a Pittsburgh-born pop star, Buster Peeves (Matthew Cummings) arrives with his retinue, only to be horrified to discover that his latest whirlwind tour has brought him right back where he started from! A little chaos ensues until Dolores (Oran Wongpandid) bursts in, revealing that the two entertainers have more in common than anyone could have dreamed of in their wildest of “fantasies.” Ms. Palombo stood out in the crowd, but some strong singing and vigorous comic antics were supplied by Shannon Delijani, Shari Perman, Valerie Hosler, Molly Boggess, J. Patrick McGill, Ethan Sagin, Jon Erik Schreibner and Joshua Smith as the various agents and hangers-on.
Night Caps will receive one final performance, this Sunday, July 24, at 6:30. If you missed Carmen the Gypsy you’re out of luck, but there are still last opportunities to catch the rest of this summer’s staged productions, so please visit “SummerFest” for tickets, times, and much more. But hurry – with the passing of this weekend, so passes “SummerFest” 2016.
Special thanks to the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh for the complimentary admission. Would you like to see more articles and reviews like this from Pittsburgh in the Round? Then help us out and donate to our indiegogo!
The Production Team for Night Caps –
Musical Director and Conductor, Rob Frankenberry; Libretti, Robert Handel; Music, Eric Moe, Alberto Demestres, Gilda Lyons, Daron Hagen and Roger Zahab; Directors, Aaron Dunn, Daniel Brylow, Seamus Ricci and Briana Sosenheimer; Pianists, Aida Olarte, Zachary Rohlwing, and Alec Chapman; Stage Manager, Erin Duffy; Assistant Stage Managers, Sophia Marshall and Jessica Feldman.
Photography: Mark Abramowitz.