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Review: Singing a weakness in Rossini farce by Anchorage Opera

Art Snob Blog
Fanny (Rachel Hastings) reacts to reading her father's "Bill of Sale" for her as her boyfriend Edoardo (Emerson Eads) commiserates.
Courtesy Anchorage Opera
Alaskan suitor Slook (Michael Smith, tied up) reconsiders wooing Fanny (Rachel Hastings) as she cozies with her boyfriend Edoardo (Emerson Eads).
Courtesy Anchorage Opera
Fanny (Rachel Hastings) and her boyfriend Edoardo (Emerson Eads) advise Alaskan Slook (Michael Smith, tied up) to reconsider the marriage contract drawn up by Fanny's father.
Courtesy Anchorage Opera

Different opera fans will have valid reasons for attending the production of Rossini’s “La Cambiale di Matrimonio” (“The Marriage Contract”). Singing is not one of the reasons. 

There’s the fine set by Carrie Yanagawa, a handsome drawing room with a functioning secret door in the big bookcase. Large windows and glass doors look out on a presumed patio or garden area where the small orchestra plays.

There’s the very good playing from the orchestra, deftly conducted by Grant Cochran. And nice continuo work by Richard Gordon, who not only supplied a few sly musical ad libs from the onstage harpsichord, but had to do a lot of silent miming in costume as well.

The costumes put the action in the roaring ‘20s. A few jazz era dance steps are thrown in, which fit surprisingly well with the music from 1810.

The one-act farce itself, Rossini’s first opera, has plenty of lively and pleasant passages, but nothing that’s remained in the repertoire aside from a duet recycled for “The Barber of Seville.” The plot involves the 2,000 year old lineup of headstrong daughter, smitten suitor(s) and blustering buffoon father. 

In this case the father is a European businessman anxious to arrange the union of his daughter with a rich American (originally Canadian, transposed to Alaskan in this production) with a contract that reeks of merchant morality; the girl is referred to as “the goods.” The Alaskan arrives to inspect his acquisition but, being told by a servant that she might be “mortgaged,” gets cold feet. Confusion reigns until love overcomes all obstacles.

Stage director Mari Hahn has the cast moving constantly, usually with comic effect, though the duel with tomahawks, which should be the slapstick highlight of the show, could have been more animated and manic. 

The production is mounted in Grant Hall, saving Anchorage Opera a lot of money over the Discovery Theatre, where most previous operas have been produced in recent decades. The small house means great lines of sight and easy-to-see expressions. 

But the show has the sound of a college student production. 

The best voice by far was that of soprano Rachel Hastings who handled the ornamental lines of the daughter, Fanny, professionally, though at least one high note that should have rang came across as a puff of breath on Sunday. Nonetheless, Hastings was the only performer with enough power to have held her own in a lead role in the Discovery. 

The rest we must consider as singers in training, showing promise and ambition, but not yet in solid command of their instruments. Jenna Hensley, as the maid Clarina, a veteran of UAA’s opera program, may be the most secure. 

The best known member of the cast to Anchorage audiences is Kyle Gantz, who sang the role of the father. Michael Smith is the Alaskan, Slook; Timothy Fosket has the part of the servant, Norton, and Emerson Eads was Fanny’s love-struck boyfriend, Edoardo.

Eads has a track record of bigger roles for Opera Fairbanks. I was particularly interested to see that he has a number of compositions to his credit, including an opera, “The Color of Gold,” which will be premiered there in March. 

The next season for Anchorage Opera has been announced. It will include Discovery Theatre stagings of “Madam Butterfly” in November and “The Magic Flute” in April, 2014. In between the company will return to Grant Hall with a double bill of Mozart’s “The Impressario” and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Mozart and Salieri.”

LA CAMBIALE DI MATRIMONIO (“The Marriage Contract”) will be presented by Anchorage Opera at 8 p.m. Friday and 3 and 8 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 2, in Alaska Pacific University’s Grant Hall. Tickets are available at centertix.net.

 


By MIKE DUNHAM
Anchorage Daily News