Cigarette, cigarette, who's got the cigarette? This is the question that provides the main interest in Wolf-Ferrari's The Secret of Susanne, which is receiving a 50th anniversary production to the very week at the hands of the Harvard Opera Guild's workshop.
The smell of tobacco emanates from the sofa cushions. Who is responsible--the butler, Susanne herself, or an unknown lover who sneaks in when the master of the house slinks out? Far be it from me to tell; I'll say only that Wolf-Ferrari here did for cigarette-smoking in 1909 what Bach had done for coffee-drinking in 1732 with his comic operetta, the Kaffeekantate.
The Secret is a masterpiece of its genre, which looks back to the charming 18th-century tradition of Goldoni and opera buffa. Although it is Wolf-Ferrari's most famous work, usually only the overture is done; so it is a welcome treat to have the whole work in a generally bright performance.
Owing to the encroachment of the Mikado's set, the available acting area is, to say the least, minuscule. But James Peters has backed it with a delightfully drawn setting, and W. Reginald Parker has deployed his charges as flexibly as a postage stamp will allow.
Margaretha Walk yesterday displayed an attractive and well-trained voice in the title role, and W. Clarke Hudson brought more than enough skill to the part of her would-be-detective spouse. Peter Brown was amusing in the mute role of the butler.
Illness prevented one of the two scheduled pianists from performing, with a resulting insecurity that will hopefully be rectified by this afternoon (along with a somewhat trigger-happy light board technician). Cecelia Hopkins played the flute obbligatos with assurance.
As a curtain-raiser, the Guild offered Menotti's The Telephone (1947), an oft-done two-character farce about a lad on the make for a lass; but, alas, her auricular and ventricular concerns are maddeningly telephonic.
Victoria Spurgeon showed a pleasing but small voice, and the two pianos should have scaled their volume down to a suitable level. Tom Blodgett was commendable as the eventually resourceful suitor, Caroline Cross direct, Daniel Larner conducted, and Lionel Spiro devised a felicitously ridiculous statue.
These productions are guaranteed to foil the most non-risible.