LOGAN The spotlight's on, the curtain is up, and there's a lot to love at the Utah Festival Opera this year.
Splitting the offerings between "serious" opera and musical theater, this year's line-up features Puccini's "Madama Butterfly," Verdi's "Nabucco," "The Wizard of Oz" and "Fiddler on the Roof."
Of all the various aspects that surround opera, this year's producers have gone for the (musical) gusto and really gotten some incredible vocalists.
Marie-Adele McArthur, who plays Abigaille in "Nabucco," leads them all with her powerful vocal presence. Her clear, strong, rich voice is by itself worth the price of the ticket.
Wisely, she is surrounded by a cast that can keep up with but not rival her vocally, singers who are extraordinary vocalists in their own right, particularly Michael Corvino, as Nebudcuneser; Nicholar Coppolo, as Ismaele; Kenneth Shaw, as Zaccaria; and Lisa van der Ploeg, as Fenena.
Allison Charney, who sings the title role in "Madama Butterfly," also has a notably beautiful voice. Expressive, lush and clear, Charney is a perfect vocal fit for Puccini, and this opera is likewise worth attending on her merits alone.
As with "Nabucco," the major roles in "Madama Butterfly" are filled with first-rate vocalists Van der Ploeg and Corvino are doing double-duty as Suzuki and Sharpless, while Richard Sanchez sings the role of Pinkerton.
Overall, it's a solid season with a little something for everyone.
Die-hard vocal lovers shouldn't miss "Nabucco," although a less enthusiastic crowd might not enjoy it as much. It's a large production it sometimes seems almost oversized for the Ellen Eccles Theater and boasts impressive sets and costumes.
The movement of the plot, however, tends to be somewhat stilted. The director too often puts the vocalists in stand-and-sing positions, which makes it seem sometimes more like a concert than a drama in which the audience can lose itself.
"Madama Butterfly," on the other hand, has the dramatic pull that it needs. Musically, it has enough juice to make it sound like Puccini, but not so much that they wallow in it.
For those looking for something lighter, "The Wizard of Oz" is a great pick. Again, this production boasts an outstanding cast with some particularly delicious caricatures, such as Vanessa Schukis' wonderfully grumpy Wicked Witch of the West, Tomas Ambt Kofod's Raggedy Andy-like floppy scarecrow, and Edwin Uhey's big, lovable Cowardly Lion. Leslie Ann Hendricks plays an energetic Dorothy.
The orchestra has a tendency to play over the cast especially when it overlaps spoken dialogue, but one presumes that will be fixed as the play runs a little longer.
Last but not least, "Fiddler on the Roof" is always a perennial favorite. The cast for this is solid and well-matched (vocally and otherwise), with William Theisen as Tevye being the only real stand-out.
Although it doesn't have some of the exceptional features of the other operas, "Fiddler" is a good production, and it's fun to hear a full orchestra in the pit. ("Fiddler on the Roof" suffered an unfortunate opening-night event when the fire alarm went off in the second half and the building had to be evacuated.)
Those going to more than one production might want to begin with "Fiddler" and build up to the others.
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