Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Romantic Summer Opera - La Rondine at Skylark Opera

 I'm going to say it flat out: I love Skylark Opera.

I love musical theater, I love opera, and like peanut butter and chocolate, if you put them together, you get perfection in the form of operetta. Almost no one in town is performing operetta right now, so I feel especially grateful for Skylark Opera. Even if they decide to forego the operetta this year for flat-out (albeit light) opera and musical theater.

There is just something about Skylark Opera's summer festival that warms my theatergoing heart, which I couldn't help but ponder as I watched La Rondine and Putting It Together.

The runs are amazingly limited, and seem to always take place on the most beautiful warm summer's night, or afternoon. But I never regret the time I spend in the intimate E.M. Pearson Theater. There's something about the simple sets, the gorgeous lighting (often by local genius Michael Wangen), the exquisite orchestra with musical direction and conducting by Artistic Director Steve Stucki, and the marvelously talented casts. As I watched this summer's shows, I was suffused with warm memories of other amazing Skylark shows I've loved in the past like The Desert Song, Wonderful Town and She Loves Me, as well as too many charming operettas to count.

This year's festival kicked off for us with Puccini's La Rondine (The Swallow).  Here's the gist from Skylark:
From the creator of La Bohéme comes the story of Magda, who flees her luxurious life as the mistress of a wealthy banker for the hope of true love. Sung in English, this first-ever Twin Cities production marries operetta’s romance with opera’s deep emotion, and features some of the most sumptuous music Puccini ever wrote.
 A slight personal digression: The first time I ever remembering hearing opera was in the gorgeous 1986 film A Room with a View, which had two arias sung by Kiri Te Kanawa, which led me into loving opera. Thank you, Merchant-Ivory! I had forgotten that one of the arias was La Rondine's "Chi il Bel Sogno di Doretta," which is so beautifully sung, so beautifully timed, that I will forever associate opera with beauty and kissing Julian Sands in a field of poppies while wearing a gorgeous dress. (The other aria? The also gorgeous "O Mio Babbino Caro.") Relive the magic here:

Skylark's production of La Rondine absolutely lives up to the promise of its gorgeous first aria (as heard above.) Directed by Ben Krywosz, simply staged, beautifully lit, wonderfully acted, and with gorgeous orchestration and singing, this is the perfect opera for a summer's night. Cecilia Violetta Lopez as Magda sang exquisitely--seemingly effortlessly--and acted the role with ease and emotion. Her voice was one of the best I've ever heard on a Minnesota stage, and she'll be on my to-watch list from now on. Won Whi Choi as her suitor Ruggero balanced a youthful aspect (in keeping with the story) and a solid and thrilling baritone. They were a lovely and thrilling romantic pairing. One more standout for me was the engaging Norman Shankle as the poet Prunier. In addition to having a gorgeous voice, Shankle was a marvelous comedian and had a wonderful stage presence. Add to this a lovely chorus with gorgeous voices, and a romantic story, well acted and sung, and it's a lovely opera for your summer's night.  Go quick!  It only plays through June 21.

(Power tip: For the fascinating backstory on this rarely performed opera, check out Ben Krywosz's Director's Notes in the program.)