Risk pays off in Skylark Opera's 'Candide' and Kurt Weill revue

  • Article by: WILLIAM RANDALL BEARD , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 16, 2014 - 1:39 PM

REVIEW: Skylark Opera is taking risks with the repertoire for this year’s Summer Festival, and they're paying off handsomely. A witty, fast-moving “Candide” is paired with a revue of Kurt Weill music.

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Jennifer Baldwin Peden, Andrew Wannigmann and Jennifer Maren in "Candide," by Skylark Opera.

Photo: Skylark Opera, Matt Bellin

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Skylark Opera is taking risks with the repertoire for this year’s Summer Festival. It’s staging Leonard Bernstein’s almost unstageable operetta, “Candide,” in rep with “Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill,” a revue of the composer’s music, including excerpts from “Lost in the Stars,” the first production under the Skylark Opera name, which was not successful.

In this case, the risks pay off handsomely.

Bernstein’s score for “Candide” is one of the most brilliant in Broadway history, but it has always had a troublesome libretto. There are many different versions out there, with a number of lyricists trying their hands at it.

Director Robert Neu borrows from two versions to create his own fast-moving edition. His witty production plays up Voltaire’s biting satire, while intensifying the touching, heartfelt ending, “Make Your Garden Grow.”

Peter Middlecamp is an ideal Candide. He has a ringing, sweet lyric tenor and he captures the character’s innocent naiveté without becoming cloying.

As Cunegonde, Jennifer Baldwin Peden is at her best in “Glitter and Be Gay,” both a coloratura showpiece and a parody of one. She sings with technical flair, managing to be moving and silly simultaneously.

Gary Briggle, playing a variety of roles, including Voltaire, and Kathleen Humphrey, as an Old Lady (with one buttock), are comic standouts.

Conductor Steven Stucki is to be particularly commended for his handling of the chorus, who sang Bernstein’s difficult music with precision and style.

The one disappointment is the physical production. It looks done up on the cheap, like a bad high school staging.

With “Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill,” the production simplicity is an asset. It’s all about the music. Music director Sonja Thompson captures the wide range of Weill’s style, from the avant-garde of “Three Penny Opera” to the quintessential show tunes in “Lady in the Dark.”

Director Wendy Knox’s staging has some winning creative touches, but she demonstrates her great skill primarily by getting out of the way. The focus is on the exemplary quartet of performers and she gives them every opportunity to shine.

Soprano Vicki Fingalson, mezzo Christina Baldwin, tenor Dieter Bierbrauer and baritone Bradley Greenwald not only give idiomatic musical performances, they form a tight ensemble and create some stunning moments of theater.

 

William Randall Beard writes about music and theater.

 

  • SKYLARK OPERA

    What: “Candide” and “From Berlin to Broadway with Kurt Weill” in repertory.

    When: ‘Candide,” 7:30 p.m. Wed., Fri. and 3 p.m. Sun.; “Berlin,” 7:30 p.m. Thu. & Sat.

    Where: E.M. Pearson Theatre, Concordia University, 312 N. Hamline Av., St. Paul.

    Tickets: $15-$45, 612-343-3390, skylarkopera.org.

    Tickets: $15-45, 612-343-3390, www.skylarkopera.org/

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