by Simon Wainrib
For the Berkshire Opera’s second event of their current season, nine superbly talented members of the company’s Resident Artist program sing, dance, emote and cavort on the stage of the Mahaiwe through two one act operas – Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Old Maid and the Thief” and Maurice Ravel’s “L’Heure Espagnole” – with a zest and exuberance that is full of promise for these young artists at the threshold of their career.
The Menotti opera was originally written for a radio broadcast (going back to good old days when our home radio sets would provide such artistic gems) so that the staging would require special ingenuity to place the action into its many different locations, from drawing room to kitchen to bedroom and even into the street and to the local liquor store. Dipu Gupta designed a multi-layered set that met admirably all these requirements. But it was the cast of four characters that had to fully convey the complex mood of this “grotesque comedy” (Menotti’s own description of his libretto)...
Gregory Keller, a newcomer to the staff of Berkshire Opera, directed the four characters in and out of their problems with a wit and cleverness that matched the sophistication of the set. Kathleen Kelly directed the music from the piano, assisted by Ho-jeong Jeong on a second piano and Paul Chuey on percussion.
I had seen Maurice Ravel’s “L’Heure Espagnole” many years ago at the Paris Opera in what I thought was a great production, which in no way prepared me for the extravagant spectacle created by Berkshire Opera on the stage of the Mahaiwe. The modernistic, abstract set of the clockmaker’s shop in a small Spanish town where the facetious romp takes place, is dominated by two large grandfather clocks who will play an essential part in the imbroglio created by the clockmaker’s wife as, in the one night of the week where her husband is absent to regulate the “municipal” clocks, she expects to see her weekly lover for a fiery encounter...
Here again, Keller’s direction was exquisite and the singing, acting and dancing superb by a cast headed by Claire Molloy as the lively wife, the dumb but rugged muleteer enacted by Marc P. Callahan, the two ineffectual lovers impersonated by Jason Lester and Karim Sulayman, and finally the deceived but happy husband played by Lee A. Steward.
Strong kudos were deserved by the three instrumentalists, and primarily Kathleen Kelly their leader who executed the complex and lush Ravel score in this highly reduced form with appropriate finesse and wit.