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A DELIGHTFUL OPERA, ALTHOUGH DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND

Most of the elements were there for a delightful evening of opera and discovery, something like chancing unexpectedly upon a long lost opera by Mozart.

The music chosen by Paul Griffiths for this Mozartean pasticcio was absolutely charming, and in the case of the final aria, ravishingly beautiful. The six singers were, for the most part, well chosen, with varying timbres among the three sopranos and two tenors preventing any problem with sound-alikes. The Slee Sinfonietta, apart from occasionally edgy strings, played with an infectious vitality.

But I'm afraid my dominant afterthought is that this performance emerged as a perverse, negative documentation of why opera as an art form has enjoyed such a resurgence in popularity over the past couple of decades. High among the reasons for this popularity, of course, has been the use of English supertitles, which make opera intelligible, whatever the language in which it is sung.

And no matter what the language, it is extremely rare that an operatic performer can sing in the tongue of the local audience and still be completely understood. It's a pity that this didn't occur to the producers of "The Jewel Box," because precious little of the English text was understandable from the audience side of the footlights.

Griffiths' rather cryptic scenario in the program gave us only the barest outlines. He was, to be sure, exercising good taste in not letting every cat out of the bag in his plot synopsis. But the singers, for the most part, added only a little enlightenment with their projection of the English texts, and a tiny bit more with body English and innuendo.

This is a case where we would have welcomed the note: "Sung in English with English supertitles."

The broader idea of the opera is that a group of four Commedia dell'arte characters seek out a "Composer" (Mozart) to write them an opera, he can't decide whether he wants to compose a serious or comic opera, or merely pursue Colombina (the heroine). First Dottore (the schemer), then Pantalone (a plain man) try to bend the composer to their wishes, but this backfires as Pedrolino (a sad lover) and Colombina commit suicide. On top of this, there was a happy ending, but don't ask me how the two corpses came alive to make this possible.

But then there was Mozart's music. Each original piece was identified in detail in the program, but there was little cross-referencing to indicate how it was used in the Griffiths adaptation.

The "Singer," who made several walk-ons with demanding coloratura arias, was soprano Anoosh Barclay, whose voice was absolutely gorgeous, despite occasionally suspect intonation, but I could not understand a single word she sang.

The best diction came from baritone Shouvik Mondle as Pantalone and tenor Christopher W. Pfund as Pedrolino. It's no accident that their articulation of the musical line also was superior.

Soprano Timbra King was a winning personality as Colombina, and sang with a lovely lyric voice that also revealed considerable coloratura agility as well. The other Commedia character, Dottore, was sung by tenor Blaine Hendsbee in a rather nasal, throaty and constricted manner.

As the Composer, soprano Julie Nesrallah provided a slightly darker mezzo timbre, which balanced well against the other two clearly lyric/coloratura voices.

REVIEW
The Jewel Box, an opera created from miscellaneous Mozart works by Paul Griffiths, sung in English.

Production by American Opera Musical Theatre Co. with Slee Sinfonietta, conducted by Alegandro Rutty, directed by Paul Griffiths.

Friday evening on the Mainstage, UB Center for the Arts; to be repeated Sunday at 4 p.m. in Roberts Wesleyan College, 2301 Westside Drive., Rochester.

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