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A Tree On The Plains

At the Congregational Church

By Stephen Addiss

The step from presenting Gilbert and Sullivan to presenting opera is a difficult and admirable one, and the Student Fellowship at the local Congregational Church deserves full credit for a generally successful production of A Tree on the Plains. For the folk opera, librettist Paul Horgan has fashioned a somewhat naive but effective story about farmers in the American Southwest, and the music by Ernst Bacon is simple, combining hymntunes, folk and popular styles into a pleasant conglomeration.

Perhaps the material does not quite carry a full-length opera, however. There are some slow moments, especially in the beginning, when a home-style funeral takes place. Things pick up with the arrival of Alan Rinsler as Buddy, the son returned from college. His two patter songs about hitchhiking and airplanes are high points in the production. The other members of the cast are also capable, especially Anne Rindlaub as Mom and George Brown as Lou, the cowboy. John Bernard is a sincere Pop with a marvelous farmer accent, and T. T. Meyers is fine as a fiery neighbor.

Much of the success of the production is due to Musical Director Landon Young. He plays the piano, conducts the instruments, singers, and chorus, hums through comb-and-tissue-paper, and coordinates the other unlikely effects that intersperse the opera. The stage direction by Margaret Fairbank is usually enlivening, although there are some leaden moments. There is, however, a good deal of tension built up when the rain comes and the ranchers dance for joy.

When the opera is on a light track it is appealing, and although there are only occasional moments when the more serious emotions communicate, the lack of pretention both in the work itself and in the production make A Tree on the Plains a welcome relief from the usual round of Gilbert and Sullivan. Let's hope for equal imagination in the programs of some of the other local music groups.

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