|Baritone Lee Gregory and soprano Joanna Mongiardo in Boston Midsummer Opera's "Tales of Offenbach." (ALBERT B. L'ÉTOILE JR.)|
A revue of Offenbach's greatest hits
Boston Midsummer Opera has its singers, its chorus, its orchestra, its sets; all it needs now is an opera. For now, it's presenting "Tales of Offenbach," a miscellany of scenes including most of that French composer's greatest hits, in a melange of French and English. The group was founded to showcase New England winners of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions; the revue format is, perhaps, the best way to ensure a turn in the spotlight for everyone.
A compressed version of the opening act of "La Périchole" was first. As Don Andrès de Ribeira, the slumming viceroy of Peru, baritone Lee Gregory was a manic combination of Jim Carrey and Errol Flynn, sustaining his hammy invention with indefatigable conviction. Tenor Yeghishe Manucharyan took the opposite tack as the sad-sack Piquillo, anchoring even his athletically stumbling inebriation with a silent-movie comedian's stoic gravity.
Throughout the evening, artistic director Drew Minter's staging was capable if predictable. Stephanie Chigas, as the street singer Périchole, played her own intoxicated number, the well-known "Tipsy Waltz," as a falling-down drunk rather than the more fertile concept of a woman vainly struggling to maintain her composure. Chigas produced a compelling, aristocratic sound, without quite integrating singing and acting into a convincing whole.
A scene from "Les Brigands" was even fluffier. A band of thieves embarks on a scheme even they don't quite understand, which somehow involves them impersonating chefs and singing a trio: Chigas, fellow mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Batton, and soprano Joanna Mongiardo, all in male drag, gamely navigated choreography recalling a Gilbert and Sullivan production.
The post-intermission offerings touched on all three "Tales of Hoffmann," Offenbach's final work, his only venture into serious opera. Paradoxically, his musical style required little alteration; Offenbach knew the potency of threading plaintive melodic turns into even the most impertinent tune.
Manucharyan sang with sensational ardor and freedom as the title writer, heroic and poignant in turn. In the first scene, Hoffmann pines for Olympia, the seeming daughter of Spanzalani (Gregory again, this time channeling Paul Lynde). She is, in fact, a mechanical invention, and Mongiardo's performance, aided by Troy Siegfried's ingenious half-dress, half-puppet costume, was a singularly charming evocation of the character's funny-sad clockwork existence.
Gregory also sang the other two baritone roles, each sinister frustrations of Hoffmann's romantic hopes. His suave Dapertutto was constrained by a tightness that stifled climaxes, but he was terrific as the Svengali-like Dr. Miracle, vocally steady and menacing. As the consumptive Antonia, tempted by Dr. Miracle to commit the fatal act of singing, soprano Barbara Quintiliani poured out a spectacular voice, luxuriant and ringing throughout the entire range.
Conductor Susan Davenny Wyner, familiar to Bostonians from her many seasons leading the New England String Ensemble, coaxed crisp, vibrant sound from the compact pit orchestra, but was disinclined to allow space for the singers to linger over phrases -- Quintiliani was particularly ill-served in this regard, although chorus and soloists were also left scrambling to catch up with Wyner's unusually sprightly tempo for the famed "Hoffmann" Barcarolle. But dances bubbled, including the inevitable "Can-Can" from "Orpheus in the Underworld," the finale. Mongiardo fully unleashed her beguilingly limpid voice as Diana, an updated Eurydice, who remains happily in hell in this topsy-turvy version of the legend. Offenbach could always find gaiety in the dark -- and vice versa.