Lesser-Known Gems Highlight Latter Part of Ohio Light Opera Season

Jerome Kern

Sat 6/15-Sat 8/10

If you’ve never seen The Pirates of Penzance (how could that be?), you’ll have a chance to fix that omission this summer in Wooster, courtesy of Ohio Light Opera. Coming into this season, the three most performed titles at OLO were H. M. S. Pinafore with 16 productions and The Mikado with 14, while Pirates was third with 13. Thus, at the end of this season, Pirates will be tied with the Mikado. Seems reasonable to me!

On the other hand, unless you’re a devoted follower of operetta, that may well be the only familiar show title from the last half of the season. Certainly you’d recognize the composer, Jerome Kern, of Music in the Air, with one of his favorite librettists — Oscar Hammerstein II (who also filled this role for South Pacific, the season opener, but with a different composer, Richard Rodgers.) Still, the last three productions are all Ohio Light Opera premieres, including this one, which dates from 1932. Kern and Hammerstein also collaborated on one of the best-known and loved musicals of all time, Showboat, which premiered in 1927.

Set in Bavaria, the three main characters are Sieglinde, a young girl (Sadie Spivey), her composer father (Ted Christopher), and her writer boyfriend Karl (Adam Wells). Together, the three head off for Munich to visit the publisher (Spencer Reese, who doubles as choreographer). Seems perfectly innocent on the surface, but not really. One thing to be counted on, however, are the sterling tunes by Kern and Hammerstein. Among them: “I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star” and “The Song is You.” Stage director is Steven Daigle, while Wilson Southerland conducts.

OLO’s artistic director Steven Daigle has championed the works of the Austrian composer Emmerich Kálmán for several years, providing English translations for 11 of them, so the works may more easily be performed in the U.S. (The original German libretto for this one is by Rudolph Schanzer and Ernst Welisch.) This year’s treat is The Devil’s Rider (Der Teufelsreiter), which is centered on the famous Spanish Riding School in Vienna, home of the world-famous white Lipizzaner dancing horses. (Sadly, no horses will be present.) This production is also a U.S. Premiere.

Dating to 1932, the work is set in the early 1800s, with many of the characters based on real people, thus creating a sort of inside joke to the audiences of the time. Steven Daigle is stage director, Steven Byess is conductor, and choreography is by Spencer Reese. No easy trick that latter, as the music features waltzes, marches, foxtrots, tangos and a rhumba. Boyd Mackus adds another prince (Metternich) to his repertoire. His daughter Leontine is performed by Tanya Roberts. Benjamin Dutton is the rider of the title, Count Sándor, and he is in love with Leontine.

Once you’ve heard Kálmán’s lilting melodies, you won’t have any trouble believing him to be “the most successful operetta composer in the world,” as declared in a New York newspaper 92 years ago. He is still performed in a world-class assortment of opera houses.

The Welsh-born Ivor Novello had no lack of imagination, although he was sort of an “I’ll-do-it-all-myself” kind of guy, noted for writing the music, the lyrics and the book for most of his musical plays. Perchance to Dream begins in Regency England (1818), and moves to Victorian England (1843) to begin the second act. The final scene, however, is contemporary — or 1930s although it was not seen in London until 1945. The multi-generational romantic musical spread over more than a century was a great success, playing for 1020 performances in London.

Once again, the team of stage director Steven Daigle, conductor Steven Byess and choreographer Spencer Reese is in charge. Act I opens at Huntersmoon, the mansion of Sir Graham Rodney, in 1818, when highwaymen were likely to appear. Of course they do, and a famous necklace is stolen. When Act II opens, it is 1843, and children of those we met in Act I are now the main characters. However, there is a connection between the generations, which will carry over through the next 90 years into the last scene.

And now — The Pirates of Penzance with music composed by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by William Gilbert, which premiered in 1879, with everything one could wish for in a stage work. Stage director for this production is Ted Christopher, with conducting duties shared by J. Lynn Thompson and Wilson Southerland. Spencer Reese does triple duty as choreographer, assistant stage director and alternates the role of Frederic with Alan Smith. Boyd Mackus portrays Major-General Stanley, and the role of his daughter Mabel is shared by Chelsea Miller and Kelly Curtin. Ted Christopher also doubles as the Sergeant of Police.

Opening night 2019 is Sat 6/15 with South Pacific in their usual venue — The College of Wooster’s Freedlander Theatre. The season runs through 8/10.  Call the box office at330-263-2345 or go to ohiolightopera for tickets.

[Written by Kelly Ferjutz]


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