Opera Popolare does twice the magic
By Lily Olason
The mission of Opera Popolare is “to give opera to the people.” I like this idea.
Last night, the selection was Opera Latte, all focused on—to the great excitement of this Northwesterner—coffee. Split between two works, “La Serva Padrona (Mistress Maid)” and “Coffee Cantata,” the performance showcases some fierce talent, glassine vocals, and the import of a certain caffeinated beverage.
In Pergolesi’s “La Serva Padrona,” a once-orphaned maid raised by a benevolent doctor orchestrates a plan to marry him. Wendy Donaghy plays the scheming and lackadaisical employee, Zerbina, with humor and charm. Oh, and she sings like a bird. Her vibrato is clear as glass, trills fall in splendidly even measure, and she leaps into the highest high notes with ease and accuracy.
|Photo credit - Celie Thomas|
Her potential husband and boss, Dr. Pandolfo, is played by John Poppke. Poppke has an operatic command of character and voice—his well done, guy-in-charge-of-stuff air is complimented by a baritone that oscillates from soft and sweet to strong.
Meanwhile, Christopher Key plays mute, drink-loving servant Scapin with a fierce kick of old-Hollywood humor. He crashes, dances, dashes in and out of the audience, on the stage, into tables. He’s survived collisions with all the furniture on stage and still manages to stay upright for the rest of it. Also note his A+ Bulgarian soldier.
In “Coffee Cantata,” Lizzie (Caitlin Hill) and dad Schlendrian (Tristan Wine) work out their parent vs. teen troubles to the sonorous setting of J.S. Bach. Teen Lizzie suffers from both a consuming caffeine and Amazon.com habit: box after box of coffee accouterment arrives at the front door (thanks to narrator Lesley Rigg), and an infinite stream of coffee fills her rotating collection of mugs. Dad commands, begs, bribes her to stop. The deal? A husband. It’s all very baroque.
|Photo credit - Christopher Key|
Except, Lizzie writes into her marriage contract that her groom-to-be has to let her brew the stuff as she pleases.
Hill has the kind of voice that shines silver and her scaling, stratospheric range rings the room round. It’s crystalline and gorgeous and full; a treat. Dad Wine anchors with a booming and beautiful baritone, balancing with Hill in song, even-keeled, as each climb dizzying, vibrant heights.
Wearing several other hats including stage and musical direction, Rob Viens leads the orchestra on keyboards and conducting. The music, supplied by Laura Barnes and John Tilley on violin, Jane Perkins on viola, and Adrienne Syverston on cello, is incredibly well executed and lays an unshakeable foundation for the work.
Of course, this kind of show can’t be done without a magnificent behind-the-scenes team. Ann Balfour, resident props and stage management hero, was seen adjusting the set at intermission with speed, skill, and precision. Celie Thomas is the producer, and the production was excellent.
Opera Popolare tells us something important about opera: anyone, everyone, can love it. This is one of many lovely things about living here—the arts are for all. You just have to come to a show.
Opera Latte runs Friday the ninth through Sunday the eleventh in the Walton Theatre at the Mount Baker Theatre. There are evening performances at 7:30 on Friday and Saturday, and matinees at 3 on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $15, and you can buy them on the Mount Baker Theatre website. You can also find more info on the Opera Popolare site.
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