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Subject: Wolf Trap Opera finishes the season with a brilliantly conceived and directed double bill:Bastianello/The Juniper Tree(8-19-17)
From: Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Tue, 22 Aug 2017 16:02:55 -0400

text/plain (116 lines)

The 2016-2017 season technically ended for me on Saturday night with the closing performance of the Wolf Trap Opera season as well. I had seen photos of the sets and costumes, but was not sure what to expect and what I got was an in my face, totally out there, but brilliantly conceived double bill.

Bastianello (John Musto/Mark Campbell)

The Wedding
Young Man - Jonas Hacker
Bastianello the Elder, father of the bride - Shea Owens
Ortensia, mother of the groom - Summer Hassan
Luciano, the groom - Richard Ollarsaba
Amadora, the bride - Zoie Reams

A Farmhouse
Frediano - Shea Owens
Ettalina, his wife - Summer Hassan

The Gate of a Village
Eustacia, a bride - Summer Hassan
Stelladora, mother of the bride - Zoie Reams
Lambent, a horse -Jonas Hacker
Ippolito, the horse owner -Shea Owens

A Lake
Lino, a fisherman - Shea Owens

The Juniper Tree (Philip Glass & Robert Moran/Arthur Yorinks based on Grimm)
Father - Ben Edquist
Mother - Summer Hassan
Stepmother - Annie Rosen
Daughter- Madison Leonard
Son - Megan Mikailovna Samarin
Goldsmith - Andrew Gilstrap *
Cobbler - Michael J. Hawk *
Miller - Sam Grosby *
Baby Birds* - Lauren Feider , Ashley Milanese , Onadek Winan, Amanda Bottoms , Gretchen Krupp , Nicole Thomas , Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen
Mama Bird - Maria Brea *

*Studio Artist

CREATIVE TEAM Conductor - Lidiya Yankovskaya
Director - R.B. Schlather
Scenic & Costume Designer - Blake Palmer
Lighting Designer - Robert H. Grimes
Wig & Makeup Designer - Anne Nesmith


Describing these two productions will not be easy and I encourage you to check out for help if you need it!

On arriving in the Barns at Wolf Trap, that superb intimate and acoustically wonderful place, fairy lights were all across the rafters of the barn. The stage was built out a little on the left over the pit, so that several of those rows on the front left were removed. The cast were onstage (save for the Young Man) in front of a silver silk curtained wall not making much space for them to perform. There were some piled concrete blocks at the center and tons of empty chianti (straw wrapped) bottles strewn everywhere. Mr. Owens was "crying" as he wiped off white stacking chairs and piled them up on the left; he was in a tall pointed party hat saying "best day ever", too short black tux pants, a white jacket and a fright wig of sorts. LED colored lights flashed above as Mr. Ollarsaba, also in a 70's-ish tux with open ruffled shirt guzzled the wine. Ms. Hassan was at a microphone at the right in a smart black cocktail dress with "diamond" buttons, sunglasses and white gloves. Ms. Reams sat on the concrete blocks in silky white robe. All I can say is that they were acting wacky for quite some time and we were entertained with their antics in their tacky gone wacky outfits and wigs.

The opera began with the Young Man entering from the side door in a paper gold crown shorts, tank top, bandaids on his knee and forehead carrying a laundry basket (I couldn't tell what it was filled with). "Up here...." starts the opera as he eventually jumps on the stack of white chairs (later to go under them). The in-laws sing "One last toast..." having fun at the mic as the bride is told to get more one.

Ms. Reams starts "This is the happiest day of my life..." with a jazzy but not upbeat tune and then breaks into "Life, life..." where she practically condemns her new married state. This grows to a duet and trio as he groom comes in totally wasted and they all line up the empty wine bottles. He leaves upset at their "foolishness" determined not to return until he finds six more foolish folks.

At the farmhouse he meets Ms. Hassan, now in a black slip and Mr. Owens, in gold lycra underwear and more fright wigs, trying to put his pants on. The Jersey accent Mr. Owens used was precious and totally gave a new meaning to this short one act work. Luciano, the groom, explains how pants are put on so simply and counts his first two fools, moving on to the Gate of a Village.

What is unique about this work is how the opening wedding guests become the other characters in a true commedia dell'arte tradition. Mr. Hacker puts on a rubber horse head (that must be sweaty and incomfortable!) and is now shirtless with suspender-like horse reins. Mr. Owens is covered with tattoos and holds a rubber chicken as the quartet complain that the bride cannot get through the gate on the horse. Ms. Hassan hysterically first gets a water bottle on her head, next an eye patch and finally a neck brace as they argue over whether to cut off the bride's head or the horse's legs. Once again, Mr. Owens is as funny as can be with his hick accent wielding and axe.

Luciano solves their problem by having the bride lean over and counts fools 3,4 and 5, excluding the horse.....

I have seen this opera before and it is always enjoyable and laughable, but this scene has the audience in gut-wrenching hysterics.

We come next to the lake where a man is casting his net with rolled up pants. He sings mournfully "Every month I can find her here" when Luciano asks what he is doing. He puts blotched lipstick on his mouth and is seemingly about to jump to his death when he tells the story of how his wife drowned. Luciano explains that is the moon's reflection he sees and the man goes on to say she died of "bad soup and stupidity" and that "when you love someone you should love all of them all the time." He had lost his wife and now suffers forever.

Luciano returns home and while the fisherman remains at the top of the wooden frame wall, the rest of the cast are reunited. The Young Man explains he is thankful for this as he is the result of Luciano and Amadora's union which was obviously successful....and they sing "A toast to love."

We were feeling quite uplifted by the parable, but I don't think much of the audience knew what was coming in the second half!

I had read the summary of the story and knew of its explicit cannibalism, but I must say this production exuded the effect for sure and, while I can't speak for everyone, sure made me uneasy at times, fascinated at others and always loving the music.

The wall had been removed and all that remained was a large black covered platform at the center of the stage, all the rear and side walls were exposed brown. The characters were all pancake-faced with sunken black eyes (a repeat of the previous Glass work in June!) giving them a kind of gruesome doll-like effect. The opera began with seven singers as velour covered "birds" with huge claw feet each wearing what seemed to be a human face mask over a mask as Glass' glorious music began and filled the small hall. What an amazing job Maestra Yankovskaya did with both works in her company (and I am sure DC) debut.  The birds sang a sort of "bop, bop, bop..." to match the music and then the Wife entered barefoot in a large loose white robe/gown with blackened eyes and a huge hairdo teased up and down. At times the characters went up on the table and she sang "Come here to me my happy ones..." to the birds, "you are my pride and joy..." Ms. Hassan was the only one in both operas and while she did an amazing job in the first work, her acting here was particularly notable and impressive; she also was on the stage for the entire work, although she dies very early on, her character remains for almost all of the opera.  Her husband, the superb Mr. Edquist, sings to her, "What are you saying?" and tells her there are no children there, just birds. He is a hunter carrying a gun and the two sing of their wont for a child: "What riches have we and no mouths to feed..." which is achingly heartfelt and truly exuded agony on behalf of both. The wife reenters in a large red robe and is clearly pregnant, while the birds are now in almost mummified hair sprouting up the tops of their velour body outfits. I have to say, I was not real clear on what this meant, if anything. She sings, "When I die, you will bury me beneath the juniper..." but he brushes off her remarks as silly. Of course, she gives birth and dies as she is behind the table and a son(played by a woman) emerges on the table in a white body stocking.  The child "grows" and is in an ugly checkered frock as the Father brings on the Stepmother and her Daughter. The former is in a large red and black dress with dark round glasses, her eyebrows raised high and painted way up her forehead and her hair is white and tied in two buns on either side to the rear. Her waist he tight and one cannot help but notice she bears the house keys and purse. The daughter is in a drab dress and sports long blond curls. There is a duet for the Son & Father, "Papa, papa" and we can now clearly detect the distinct musical styles of two composers. I must take a break to say how fascinating it was to have two composers work on the same opera as this is surely very rare. In the pre-opera talk we were told they composed in cabins next to each other one summer in Nova Scotia!

The Stepmother sings, "He's just a boy..." going on to say "he's dead...she's dead" and ultimately crawling on all fours animal-like. I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Rosen earlier in the Wolf Trap season and there was no way on earth I would have recognized her with this make-up job which totally masked her. The black cloth is pulled off the large table and a white table remains as the Son cowers in the corner while she sings a duet with her daughter, "You are so lonely my child." her daughter is hungry and she gives her a red apple (typical yes?) and then forces one on the boy. There is a trap door in the table that he goes into as the music climaxes and one of the birds raises high a bloody severed head. As the boys falls, there is a huge long pause in the music that seemed to last forever until the trap door was slammed.

The Stepmother now slimes over to the head "What Can I Do?," hauls the headless body around the rear and props it up with the apple as the daughter questions, "Mama, brother is..." the daughter asks the boy for the apple and prods him at her mother's beckoning and he falls (obviously dead still) as the girl screams. The mother says  "No one will know" seemingly placing the blame on the girl and proceeds to put on an apron as the birds haul in two huge stainless steel vats and a large ladle for her to cook the child. The Father returns, tired from hunting as the Stepmother ladles the stew into bowl after bowl which the Daughter places before the Father and he gobbles up. He loves the stew so much he climbs into the vat to lick it and falls motionless.

The dead son reappears in his body stocking from the start (I hadn't noticed the small genitals on them at the beginning) and Ms. Samarin sings a gorgeously melting vocalise. The daughter collects the stew bowls as she sings a magnificent lyrical, if short, aria, "He is here..."

We are back with Glass music as the dead Son(now a bird) sings, "Mama killed me" clearly meaning his Stepmother and I now notice he two has clawed feet like the birds. At this point the various townsworkers come in and sing along with him as the chorus does in a beautifully melodious section. Their faces are all smudged with black soot and they beg the voice singing from the juniper tree to keep on going. The Boy makes each one give up something to continue singing: a golden chain from the Goldsmith, red shoes from the Cobbler and a millstone from the Miller. (which is portrayed as a large red cloth). The Son rises from within the cloth now on the large table as the Father sings "I don't think I will hunt today..." from the left and the Stepmother on the right warns of an impending storm.  She is apparently burning on fire and clearly the two are having different experiences as the Father says it's a gorgeous day. The bird boy sings and the Father received the chain and the Daughter the shoes and as the Bird Boy  is royally enrobed in the red cloth the Stepmother almost screeches "the world is ending!" and is "crushed" by the millstone (this was a bit harder to believe as it was a red cloth). 

The Son, Father and Daughter embrace and sing a trio "It is me/You've come back..." as the music builds and builds to a climax and then goes suddenly soft in the strings as the Stepmother and Mother come forward. 

It was an odd ending to have all the characters kind of alive, but then it is a fable....and kind of has a happy ending, even if we are a bit grossed out. 

This production exuded genius and really brought forward essence of Grimm, even if it is grim. Bravo to the whole creative team for coming up with it, even if some of it isn't so perfectly clear to me. It was a totally enjoyable evening at two operas; but I did need a drink!

ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC

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