Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mlle. Modiste (Light Opera of New York)

By Harry Forbes

The enterprising Light Opera of New York company hit its stride with the second presentation of its three-part Victor Herbert festival, presented on Thursday, March 18 at the Players.

That “Mlle. Modiste” is less grandly operatic than January’s offering, “Naughty Marietta” had something to do with it, but the returning cast members were in better form, and there was greater assurance in all departments this time around.

As impressive as Kristin Vogel was as Marietta, here -- as an aspiring opera singer marking time as a clerk in a Parisian hat shop, ca. 1905 -- she gave a more subtle and nuanced performance, tempering her strong soprano.

All her numbers, including Herbert’s signature piece, “Kiss Me Again” – warmly sung in Gary Slavin’s spotlight -- and the virtuosic “The Nightingale and the Star” were put across with great charm and poise.

The excellent Richard Holmes as the disapproving uncle of Fifi’s ardent suitor Etienne (John Tiranno) delivered the show’s other big showstopper, “I Want What I Want When I Want It” with customary flair. Tiranno did nicely with the show’s third take-home tune, “The Time and the Place and the Girl.”

Cory Clines made a most positive impression as Fifi’s rich American benefactor Hiram Bent, and appropriated “The Dear Little Girl Who is Good” (originally for the cut character of Rene). Hiram’s wife was, incidentally, another casualty of this streamlined production, which ditched her character’s comic number “The Keokuk Culture Club.”

The performing edition used here was, in fact, compiled by conductor Dino Anagnost for the Little Orchestra Society’s musically sumptuous mounting in 2001. As then, Henry Blossom’s original 1905 book was truncated and skillfully replaced by adapter Alyce Mott with narration (some quite witty) for Mme. Cecile, owner of the hat shop.

And certainly in a semi-staged, reduced-cast format like this, narration is preferable to reams of dialogue. Still, if this resulted in rather too much stage time for a fairly minor character, it was, at least, delivered with flair by Paula Rocheleau. And her second act comic song, “Ze English Language” (originally sung by her son Gaston) was one of the evening’s highlights, firmly sung and delivered with point.

The 2006 Musicals Tonight production, with only piano accompaniment, gave perhaps a more authentic sense of the Herbert and Blossom’s original structure with its innovative integration of music and libretto, and its (for its time) serious-minded attempt to tell a story about class distinction with a feminist underpinning.

But despite characters and songs being cut, reassigned to other characters, and moved about, LOONY’s production was highly satisfying.

Managing director Carol Davis did quite an ingenious job maximizing the company’s modest forces, and there were many deft touches, such as the utterly delightful pantomime by Brian Long (as the dog) and Nathan Brian (as the master) that accompanied Etienne’s “Love Me, Love My Dog.”

At the piano, Stephen Francis Vasta’s conducting of the Ambience Strings was, on this occasion, even more confident, playing very prettily, making it all the more a shame they couldn’t have been allowed a longer overture.

Lydia Gladstone’s costumes were once again a major plus, and made the evening as much a visual as a musical delight.

Next up on May 20 is “The Red Mill.”

(The Players, 16 Gramercy Park South, 212-249-9470 or Print this post


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