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Operetta Review

Meredith Opera Theatre Workshops Two Charming Scores

April 22, 2010 - Raleigh, NC:

With regional operatic mainstays Ben Keaton and Randolph Umberger (of Long Leaf Opera fame) as on-stage hosts, Meredith's Opera Theater offered many of the big hit tunes from Offenbach's La Périchole (1868, rev. 1877) and a complete albeit slightly modified version of Sullivan's Cox and Box (1866). Both are charming pieces that reflect the mid-Victorian era well. There's some dramatic daring but not too much. There's less musical daring. Périchole turns up from time to time, even in big opera houses; the Met's mid-'50s English version was a big success, running periodically till the early '70s. It's probably that version that most opera lovers of a certain age know, and it was comforting to hear most of those same English words in Meredith's version, which featured two adult singers of considerable merit – Megan Crosson, who's probably better known hereabouts for her theatrical pursuits, and baritone Zachary Kyle Ballard, who's been known to play the tuba on the side. The ensemble consisted of students Sarah Moore, Alden Pridgen, Christiana Conrad, Stephanie Contestable, and Maegan Coble. Three of these – Coble, Contestable, and Conrad – took the three roles in the Sullivan opera, and the other two – Moore and Pridgen – will essay parts therein when Cox and Box is repeated on April 29 as part of the Meredith Sinfonietta's own spring concert. The pianist in the Offenbach (and pianist and accordionist in the Sullivan) was Tricia Strong. The Meredith Sinfonietta was the accompanying ensemble for the Sullivan; Jim Waddelow conducted the group, which was clustered along the south wall of the stage (and from where, from time to time, there was too much instrumental sound, for it's harder to sing alongside a band than over one).

The Offenbach tunes included "The Soldier and the Indian Maid," "The Letter Song," "The 'Tipsy' Waltz," "My Lords and Ladies," "Were I a Rogue," and the "Love Duet." With remarks from Keaton and Umberger, and with just a few props, and dressed in costumes by David Serxner, the Périchole bits, conducted by Opera Theater director Ellen Williams, proved quite enjoyable.

One must bear in mind that these are student undertakings, primarily – "workshop" is the operative word. Cox and Box worked reasonably well, although the words didn't always make it to the audience, thanks to those aforementioned balance issues, and because the singers were all over the place – on stage and in the hall – and thus couldn't always project uniformly, and perhaps most of all because of the quasi-British accents the students adopted. The story of Sullivan's little piece centers on a landlord (called Mrs. Bouncer) who double-rents a room to two ladies (Miss Cox, a newspaper person, and Miss Box, a hat-maker), one of whom works nights while the other works days. The tale works its way out in amusing ways – the gals turn out to be sisters – that Coble, Contestable, and Conrad put over very nicely.

The Périchole excerpts will be reprised on April 29 as sort of pre-concert music before the Sinfonietta's program; that program will include another performance of Cox and Box. See our calendar for details.

PS Cox and Box was entirely by Sullivan. We were reminded that Gilbert was the critic, and he complained about the text. He and Sullivan thereupon got together and the rest, as they say, is G&S history.