For both of the past two weekends, mom and I have gone to Wolf Trap for some classical music. The first weekend, we went to the Barnes to watch the obscure 18th century comic opera L’Opera Seria, which was about a company trying to put on a serious opera that parodied much of the conventions of the genre. Then this last Saturday night, we went to the Filene Center to see the National Symphony Orchestra play a concert, which followed a symphony from Sergei Prokofiev and a suite by Maurice Ravel with the main event: Stravinsky’s The Firebird, accompanied by a show by the South African Handspring Puppet Company telling through puppetry and dance the history of their country over the last twenty years.
Wolf Trap Opera continued its annual summer showcase of young singers Friday night with a semi-staged performance of Sweeney Todd at Wolf Trap’s main stage, on an evening where the heat was bad enough and humidity worse, and rain threatened, but didn’t actually fall. But perhaps they should have held it in the Barns; it turns out the mental intimacy of the musical doesn’t carry well towards the back, and the sound problems at the beginning didn’t help. In fact, hearing and understanding the choruses for must of the show was a problem, though the singers being showcased in the main roles mostly had voices that carried well enough. But not everything could carry. Even from a distance, Anthony Micheal McGee’s Todd invoked the most pathos I’ve seen out of the three Sweeney Todds I’ve seen and remembered so far(which of course includes Johnny Depp), but the intensity of his acting couldn’t help but be diluted by the set-up. Margaret Gawrysiak also stood out as Mrs. Lovett; she had presence enough to reach the rafters.
I’ve since read the heat was so bad in fact they were worried about the sound system and the microphones malfunctioning because of the singers sweating so much, and that everyone was supplied with Gatorade(though the bottles were visible under the red chairs that were set up for the scene changes) and wore cold gel packs. But I have to give them credit; they made it absorbing enough that eventually I stopped noticing the heat(the sun going down helped too though). In fact, the audience gave the show a huge standing ovation.
There are many theater companies in the world that pride themselves in doing productions of little known works. Washington Shakespeare is one of them; this year’s season for them ends with two shows running in tandem, Night and Day, one of Tom Stoppard’s earlier and lesser known plays, with two obscure Tennessee Williams one-acts which my family decided to skip. Wolf Trap’s opera company occasionally likes to do it too, and they managed to fish out from early last century one chamber opera with the title of Le Donne Curiose by Italian composer Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, and in the lecture before the show the opera was raved about, talked up as a real find, and two scenes from it were presented where the powerful voices of the company’s young artists were on full display; the music went over better in the lecture room than it did on the stage; even Wolf Trap Barns’ small theater was just a little too big for it.
The basic problem with doing this is that there are truly a limited amount of diamonds in the rough, and too many plays and operas that get forgotten simply because they weren’t very good.