The Greensboro Opera Company, founded in October 1981, has made some Triangle opera lovers envious of their solid growth and expansion. Beginning with a very respectable production of Verdi's La traviata featuring June Anderson, then a rising young New York City Opera soprano, they cautiously expanded from a single fall production of a major opera in the years 1981-89 to adding Sunday matinee performances from 1990-99 when, in response to successive sold out productions of Madama Butterfly and Carmen in 1997 and 1998, a second spring opera with two performances was added, beginning in 1999-2000. The pattern has successfully blended outside and local singers with a full orchestra, manned by members of the Greensboro Symphony, in the pit. Verdi's melodies sound much better there than when delivered by our various Triangle companies with small ad-hoc chamber orchestras.
On the heels of their successful fall opera, Verdi's Otello , the GOC presented an appropriately bubbly performance of Johann Strauss's popular operetta Die Fledermaus in Greensboro's War Memorial Auditorium on February 22.
Stage business and blocking of the chorus and extras was expertly directed by GOC Artistic Director Bodo Igesz, who began his international career as an assistant to Franco Zeffirelli and who has directed opera for many of the world's great companies, including the Salzburg Festival, the Edinburgh Festival and the Metropolitan Opera. He is one of the dying breed of directors who try to fit their conceptions to the composer's, rather than forcing the composer's into some weird post-modern psychosexual fantasy! The chorus was well prepared by UNCG's David Holley. The program failed to identify the lighting designer, whose work was excellent. The sets, rented from Tri-Cities Opera Company, Inc., were splendid. Since the retirement of the GOC Founding Conductor Peter Paul Fuchs, a classic, experienced opera conductor, most of the productions have been under the able baton of Valery Alexander Ryvkin, born in St. Petersburg, Russia. On this occasion, he excelled in maintaining the intimate pulsing of the waltz, always ready to burst through. Among many fine orchestral contributions, the solo oboe of Kelly Burke must be mentioned.
In the past, I have always assumed that GOC productions have not been miked. Amplification has been the bane of Triangle opera productions, particularly at those given in Durham's Carolina Theater; sonic halos have also haunted singers of the Opera Company of North Carolina in Raleigh's vast Memorial Auditorium. In Greensboro, toward the end of the scene in Act I where Eisenstein is at the breakfast table in his dressing gown, there was a sudden, inexplicably loud sound--almost as if a set had fallen--followed by the rasping sound of cloth being dragged over an open mike. In Act II, this singer's voice often sounded like he was in a barrel, and others sounded odd when they were toward the back of the stage. Other than this, Acts I and III sounded fine. Still, I regard miking opera as akin to allowing basketball players to use stepladders or funnels on the baskets. Opera is artistic athletics.
The entire cast had very fine diction and projection. The opera was sung in English (except for some Italian opera snippets by the jailed tenor) so the projected titles were a luxury. This was only the second opera-in-English production by the GOC that I have attended. Miking questions aside, baritone Daniel Nerr was an effective, hot-tempered Eisentein. His acting was excellent by any theater standard and his vocalism, good. The Rosalinde of soprano Jane Ohmes was superb, full voiced and most convincingly acted. She readily dominated the stage and had a very full range of character as the tempted and wronged wife and supposed Hungarian Countess--her Czardas and Frischka were delights, and she was quick witted in the Prison scene. This production of The Bat, gave the fullest display of both singing and acting capacities of soprano Polly Butler Cornelius in the role of the ambitious serving maid, Adele. She has been a stalwart of GOC and UNCG opera productions and a guest in many Triangle operas and concerts. Her voice, not naturally large, is very good, and she has secure high notes that were often on display in her big scenes at Count Orlofsky's party. She is also a natural comedian. Tenor Jonathan Sidden was perfect for the role of the self-absorbed and easily gulled former lover of Rosalinda, Alfred, the operatic tenor. He has a good, solid tenor voice that projected well. I was delighted with the bored aristocrat of mezzo-soprano Cheryse McLeod in the pants role of Prince Orlofsky; I had admired her in the role of Calliope in last Spring's UNCG Opera production of Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld. The GOC's biography states that she is now a member of the inaugural class of fellows at the A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute at the NC School of the Arts in nearby Winston-Salem. Her fake accent was good, her use of her lower range made the pants role was more convincing than usual and her body language was in character. Much of the operetta's plot revolves around the manipulations of Dr. Falke, effectively portrayed and sung by baritone Keith Spencer. He is known as "the Bat" because he was the victim of one of Eisenstein's practical jokes - he had been left asleep and had to find his way home in broad daylight still dressed in his Bat costume. Light bass Branch Fields was efficacious as the Warden Frank. Brett Pryor staggered and swaggered over the top as the ever-drunken jailer Frosch. Sonya Brown did well in the small role of Adele's sister Sally.