This weekend was a theater-going weekend for mom & me; yesterday we went to the Folger to see Rosencrantz & Guildernstern are Dead and today we went to the Wolftrap Barns to see Il Nozze di Figaro. So a weekend of classics, both of which can carry themselves so long as the productions don’t mess with them too much. And that was pretty much what happened in both shows. Both productions also run one more weekend, though they may already be sold out.
Looking at the Folger program, the production of Rosencrantz & Guildernstern seemed the more ambitious undertaking. They put the characters in an attic for the first act and changed the lights whenever the actual play of Hamlet was going on, increasing the feeling of surreality and unreality, and made a point of casting a young pair of actors as the two leads, whose ages they saw as being appropriate for the confusion felt by the two main characters(as well as being their likely age). But while I’ve seen the three main characters portrayed excellently by college students in the past, these two might not have been quite yet ready for the heady philosophical stuff of the first act. When the older Ian Merrill Peakes came out as the head player he pretty much stole the show from them. They found things easier, though, when the climax hit, which is always an emotional thing, and was increased in this production by the cutting of final scene of Hamlet; we ended on Guildernstern’s final line.
The Wolf Trap Opera, of course, has long been a place where young performers are featured, so they, similarly, were the stars of Il Nozze di Figaro. All of them were competent singers, though perhaps none of them stood out as particularly dazzling. Also, like the young stars of Rosencrantz & Gildernstern, they often found the comedy a little harder to pull off than the drama; they all seemed to improve in the second half, especially Thomas Richards as the lead. The production was not one intended to steal the show from its stars; they set the opera in 1880s Spain(paying attention, for once, to the fact that Seville is a Spanish town), which allowed for some fun costumes and Spanish dancing in the second half; otherwise the set was mostly built for function(with many useful doors) more than form.
The Folger concludes its season when Rosencrantz & Guildernstern closes next week, although the Wolf Opera is just beginning its summer-based season, with The Ghost of Versailles on next month. That’ll be the real challenge, to pull off something that doesn’t have the genius of Mozart as a safety net.