in: Reviews

June 23, 2015

BOC Redux: A Return to Grover’s Corners

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Boston Opera Collaborative concluded its 2014-2015 season with Ned Rorem’s Our Town, based on the play by Thornton Wilder at Suffolk University’s Modern Theater. Basil Considine’s excellent review of BOC’s taut performance is here (having sat in the front balcony, I can attest to Considine’s recommendation that these seats offer a lovely view of the theater); I offer a few thoughts on the June 14/19 cast and BOC’s 2014-15 season here.

Our Town caps a richly varied season of operas for BOC, starting with Massenet’s Lettres de Werther and continuing with Handel’s Rinaldo. The company’s productions favor the miniature, offering slender, streamlined versions of the operas performed with minimal staging and backdrops. Primacy is placed on adorned costumes that highlight stellar performances from the young professional artists it employs.

In contrast to its light editing of the other operas this season, BOC presented Our Town in full with more complete staging and costumes (although notably, the reduction of the orchestral accompaniment to solo piano worked in the intimate Modern Theater). In some sense, Rorem’s setting of Our Town (with libretto by JD McClatchy), which illustrates the sleepy Grover’s Corners in a Barber-esque malaise of Americana underpinned by an innocuous tonal palette, misses Wilder’s subtle jibes at the turn-of-the 20th-century small town. Wilder’s play shockingly turns this critique on its head in the third act, but Rorem’s vision seems to ignore this shift, and pushes on in the same vein to the end. BOC favored the composer’s earnest read of the opera: although surely the impact is not the one Wilder envisioned; it manages to move.

The ensemble.

The ensemble.

Consistently strong performances graced BOC’s concluding production on June 19th. Traditionally, the stage manager is a male role and Rorem even writes the part for a tenor. BOC’s casting of soprano Hailey Fuqua for the part was daring and paid off in droves: Fuqua’s commanding coloratura negotiated Rorem’s labyrinthine line with ease and even offered a casual colloquiality that lent the role a sense of gentility. Soprano Sarah Shechtman (Emily) paired nicely with tenor Gary McLinn (George), the former espousing a brighter, innocent color that playfully yet effectively imparted perpetual curiosity to Emily. McLinn’s generous and heroic tenor, in contrast, endowed George’s character with a lightheartedness that played well against his father’s commanding and resonant baritone (Tevin Vincent) or his mother’s weary and reserved soprano (Stephanie Mann), and appeared gallant and charming when paired with Allison Provaire’s lovingly inflected Mrs. Webb. Britt Brown’s Mrs. Soames was an unexpected highlight of the evening; her cajoling widow’s nosy interrogations offered much-welcome comic relief. In addition to the substantial voices, the opera was sincerely felt and imbued with deep meaning: I can only echo Considine’s sentiments of being deeply moved by Friday evening’s performance. BOC’s 2014-15 season ended on a memorable note.

Among his professional singing experiences, Sudeep Agarwala has performed with many local choruses.

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