David Ronis and University Opera on a Winning Streak

Season-opener A Midsummer Night’s Dream is provocative and full of merit

 

In his last few seasons at the helm of University Opera, director David Ronis has succeeded in making the remarkable more or less the norm—and last Friday night at the opening performance of Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Ronis had the evidence to back it up.

In his informal remarks from the stage, Ronis made mention of the first circumstance that was obvious to everyone in the Music Hall: the venue was sold out. But wait—there’s more: just the previous evening, Ronis had learned that the National Opera Association had given first place to UO’s production a year ago of Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea, and the following production, Sondheim’s Into the Woods in partnership with the UW Theater department, had won first place in another category.

Then the evening proceeded to cause us, in no particular order, to be bemused, scratch our heads, be occasionally dazzled and in the end very glad we came.

The conceit was a bold one: taking Britten’s marvelous and traditional adaptation of Shakespeare’s play and set it in Andy Warhol’s famous The Factory. Indeed, Thomas Aláan, in the role of Oberon, was a very convincing Warhol in look and gesture.

More importantly, the young man who owned the part of Nero in last season’s “Poppea” displayed an even wider range of vocal gifts than heard a year ago. There was more opportunity for Aláan to display his lower range, and the idea of being Warhol offered perhaps a bit more latitude in expression than if it had been a strictly traditional staging.

Amanda Lauricella was a Tytania of penetrating upper range and bold confidence in her vocalism. James Harrington as Bottom, the hapless tradesman who spends most of the opera with the head of a donkey, hit all the right notes, literally and figuratively. Michael Kelley as Puck, really has a speaking role, but succeeded in dipping in and out of broad comedy while never disrupting the overall rhythmic flow of the work.

Perhaps the biggest surprise however came from the orchestra pit. After two years of noticeable growth and maturation under the interim baton of Chad Hutchinson, they are now in the hands of Oriol Sans. Based on this performance, they are very good hands indeed; the score is challenging by any standard, and every player and section met the demands handsomely. One must give particular notice to trumpeter Gilson DaSilva, who mastered a treacherous soloistic role that is active whenever Puck is. Also a bravo to clarinetist Brian Gnojek, especially for his lovely lines late in Part I.

Bottom’s laboring companions, so passionate in their desire to put on a play for a royal wedding, deserve hearty accolades for their broad humor late in the opera. In addition to Harrington, the kudos go out to Jacob Eliot Elfner, Thore Dosdall, Jeffrey Larson, Jack Innes and Benjamin Galvin. They really did have many in the audience ready to roll in the aisles with unsuppressed laughter.

Four of the roles were double cast for yesterday’s (Sunday’s) matinee, but the cast reviewed above can be enjoyed again Tuesday night at 7:30. The production is more evidence that one needn’t wait for one day a year to be thankful…

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