in: Reviews

February 7, 2010

Many Debuts in Boston Opera Collaborative’s A Little Night Music

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The Boston Opera Collaborative presented a performance of Stephen Sondheim’s most operatic theater piece, A Little Night Music, over the weekend of Feb. 5 – 7 at Tower Auditorium at Massachusetts College of Art. The program repeats on Feb. 12 – 14, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

A number of key people were making their BOC debuts, including David Gram, the director, and Emily Hindrichs, music director. Before commenting on the main characters, I would commend the efforts of the Quintet, or Liebeslieder Singers, on opening night (Adrian Packel, Christine Teeters, Heather Finch, Nicholas Hebert, and Erica Bates.) They not only commented on many of the songs but also positioned much of the furniture. And their stop-action direction was always effective.

After an uncomfortable waltz, the evening begins with Mme. Armfeldt (mezzo-soprano Rachel Selan) explaining to her dour granddaughter Fredrika (soprano Jennifer Rizzo) that the summer night smiles first on the young, second on fools, and third on the old. Then, the protoganists explain their frustrations in three songs, “Now,” “Later,” and “Soon,” mostly about the postponement of sex. “A Glamourous Life” introduces us to actress Désirée Armfeldt (mezzo-soprano Riegle) who has selfishly pawned her daughter Fredrika to the care of her mother. After she rekindles an awkward love with Fredrik (baritone Samuel Bowen,) his young wife Anne throws a hissy fit.

Act II begins in Mme. Armfeldt’s country estate. The quintet sings two night waltzes, a peon to the fact that at this latitude the sun never sets. Each guest arrives with his or her amorous mission. At the table all is jollity mixed with insult, but then Désirée sings “Send in the Clowns” about the nature of life. A hilarious moment in the proceedings is the Russian Roulette scene. The Count immediately dislikes Fredrik and eventually challenges him to a duel, but it merely results in Fredrik’s ear being grazed.

In the Epilogue, Fredrika questions whether she has seen the three smiles. Mme. Armfelt answers by telling her that the young Henrik and Anne are now together, and so are the fools, Désirée and Fredrik. Then she dies peacefully, the final smile. In the final waltz, everyone is paired appropriately.

Rachel Selan was excellent as the wise old Mme. Armfeldt, singing with a radiant mezzo. Samuel Bowen conveyed the confused Fredrik with admirable emotional wavering. Particularly notable was Brandon Cordiero as the gullible Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm. Only a senior at NEC, he conveyed the vain man superbly with his eyes and a strong baritone voice. Kristina Riegle captured the main character subtly, as befits her experience in opera and musical theater.

Originally produced in 1973 A Little Night Music has such structure largely because it was based on Ingmar Bergman’s movie “Smiles of a Summer Night.” Sondheim made a few changes in revivals over the years. But fortunately he had nothing to do with the disastrous film production of 1977, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Lesley-Anne Down and Diana Rigg and several of the original cast members. This was the first time I ever saw this theater piece, but I like to think that this production, in its minimal way, honored the spirit of the musical. My only complaint was the venue’s terrible acoustics, making it difficult to hear the singers at times.

Larry Phillips studied music at Harvard, the Montreal Conservatory, and at New England Conservatory. In 1974 he was a prizewinner at the International Harpsichord Competition in Bruges, Belgium.

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