The Harvard Opera Guild has shown good sense in choosing three short operas for its spring presentation. Not only are the works interesting and unusual, but they are within the range of a student group whereas some of the more familiar "Grand Operas" are not.
The oldest opera presented was Livietta and Tracollo by Pergolesi. This work was originally written to be performed between the acts of a grand and tragic opera; now only the light-hearted and melodic spoof survives. The production, staged and adroitly conducted by Arthur Schoep, was acted in a spirit of god fun by all, and well sung by Pauline Gingras and William Nethercut.
What Pergolesi did for one century, Chabrier did for the next. An Incomplete Education is the most professional of the productions--again under Schoep--and completely delightful in music, story, staging and orchestral playing. The plot concerns a young man on his wedding night, whose troubles are due more to ignorance than lack of cooperation by his bride. The cast was excellent: Elaine Freybler was a coy but charming bride, Robert Corbright was a properly backward bridegroom, and Ronald Gerbrands added spice as the tutor. This is a piece that shouldn't be missed.
The representative of the modern era, and the major work on the program, was the world premier of Joel Mandelbaum's The Four Chaplains. Despite the obstacle of its weak and sometimes sentimental libretto which was only spasmodically idiomatic, Mandelbaum has written a frequently powerful score. There is, at times, a Hindemithean austerity to the harmony, but the opera, his second to be presented at Harvard, has a pervasive lyricism and breadth. Despite furiously active conducting by the composer, there were a few more problems with the orchestra, which will no doubt be smoothed out during the run. The staging by Lewis Steel was fine.
The large cast, while not having extraordinary voices as a rule, performed credibly, with tenor Malcolm Ticknor and bass Thomas Beveridge singing especially well. A fine all-around performance by David Black as one of the Chaplains stood out especially. With a better libretto, this could really be an exciting new opera, but even for those who don't find the prospect of seeing a good modern work attractive watching, An Incomplete Education may be better than staying home to study "Ictheology."
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