Opera News Review - A WEDDING
TRAGEDY IS EASY , comedy is hard. It's an old saw, but one worth remembering, as Aspen Opera Center continued its summer of 2016 in the Wheeler Opera House. The season had opened with La Bohème and all went well, thanks to fine singing, uncluttered direction and, of course, a never-fail tragic storyline. Next came William Bolcom's goofy, chaotic, 2004 comedy of marital manners, A Wedding, based on Robert Altman's 1978 film of the same name.
The movie featured a gigantic cast of forty-eight principals. Bolcom and his librettists, Altman and Arnold Weinstein, boiled the population down to eighteen— still a hefty number. For the young cast—drawn from the talented bunch of sixty-nine singers assembled by AOC director Edward Berkeley—this ensemble piece provided lots of opportunities for individual star moments and a chance to dabble in unrestrained silliness and mugging. Alas, that need to be continually funny became a serious obstacle for A Wedding, seen at the first of two performances (July 28). Apart from a truly hilarious bit near the end, David Schweizer's direction couldn't overcome the opera's painful cuteness, generating only a few chuckles and polite applause from the moderate-size audience (who gave the seventy-eight-year-old composer a standing ovation at his curtain call).
The evening quickly faded into a tiring series of entrances and exits causing some occasional head-scratching as to who in this parade of family members is (or should be) hooked up with whom. To alleviate such concerns, Bolcom had the uptight wedding planner, Rita (Allyson Dezii), repeatedly identify the FOB, FOG, MOB and MOG. Hint: FOB stands for Father of the Bride—you can figure the rest. Through it all, one felt uninterested and uninvolved with all of these lustful, superficial people.
Jason Simms's smartly understated set pieces consisted of a few columns (making handy hiding places, when needed) and a “grotto,” where the men could smoke cigars and escape the goings-on upstairs. Lloyd Sobel lit the proceedings with appropriate brightness and Summer Lee Jack dressed the cast in colorful garb befitting the story's 1970s setting. Space does not permit a listing of every cast member (who all threw themselves into the madness with infectious energy and consistently fine singing), but special praise is due Alexander York and Julia Wolcott (FOB and MOB), Ashley Yvonne Wheat and Jubal Joslyn (MOG and FOG), Jessica Johnson Brock (doubling as Nettie and Aunt Bea), Sydney Baedke and Landon Shaw II (B and G), Jacob Ingbar (William Williamson) and the late arrivals, Nathaniel Hill (Breedley) and Connor McCreary (Donato). McCreary and Joslyn produced the one brilliant show-stopper, as these heavy-accented Italian brothers danced and sang the praises of their homeland's fabulous food in their native tongue, all while merrily playing with a long sausage—you can make of that what you will. Jeanne Slater created the charming choreography.
In the pit, Scott Terrell led a well-rehearsed orchestra in a suitably high-spirited, fast-paced accompaniment. The score proved a mash-up of various styles, most of them neatly matching the onstage moment. Bolcom's well-known love of Americana shone through most effectively in his dance music during the wacky reception. Good intentions aside, this proved to be an evening of over-busy story-telling and slapstick shenanigans, regrettably resulting in an unhappy operatic marriage. —Marc Shulgold