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Shakespeare Sings No More

Review by Barry Plaxen for the Catskill Chronicle

NARROWSBURG, NY (August 20, 2012) – It is always a bit sad when a happy series of events comes to a close. On August 19 in the Tusten Theatre in Narrowsburg, Sullivan County bid adieu to “Shakespeare Sings,” the 2012 theme for the Delaware Valley Opera’s (DVO) productions of Verdi’s “Otello” (June), Porter’s “Kiss Me Kate” (July) and Otto Nicolai’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” (August).

“Merry Wives” closed on August 19 after six performances. DVO Artistic Director Carol Castel’s production was, in two words, a delight. The August 19 cast sparkled, and it was obvious that they had great fun performing.

According to D&H CANVAS writer Philip Ehrensaft, “Merry Wives is a masterful marriage of Italian lyricism and the disciplined German musical systems of Bach through Beethoven. Nicolai’s librettist, Salomon Hermann Rosenthal, produced a fine German libretto that captures the structure and spirit of the Bard’s script: a delightful sixteenth century predecessor of sitcom.”

The farcical plot concerns deceit and fidelity with the usual gamut of emotions: rage, jealousy, love and despair – along with disguise and manipulation, all culminating in a very-expected happy ending. The trouble beings when Sir John Falstaff writes two women the same love letter and, when comparing notes, the ladies plan what becomes a series of mishaps with ample opportunity for that other gamut, mild laughs to hearty guffaws.

Almost all of the performers act well, and, happily, all of them sing well. Very well, in fact. Anna Viemeister (photo above) as Mrs. Ford, married to the jealous and suspecting Julian Whitley (photo above right), Meredith Hudak as Mrs. Page, married to Jeremy Griffin (photo left), John Kaneklides (photo bottom left) and Alexandra Haines as the lovers, George Hemcher and Georgios Papadimitriou as unsuccessful suitors and Ed Moran (bottom right) as the deceitful buffoon, Sir John Falstaff.

The music is quite lyrical and extremely pleasant, sometimes a somewhat pre-cursor of Viennese operetta, more-so in the duets, trios and ensembles than in the solos, which tend to be more serious and “operatic”.

The orchestra, scaled down to ten artists, is a gift. Led by Scott Jackson Wiley and co-led by Violetta Zabbi on the keyboard, they added much to the enjoyment imagesand, I suspect, helped to inspire the performers on stage. The fullness of Nicolai’s lush orchestrations was not missed by this listener because of the expertise of Wiley and his colleagues.

Standouts in the afternoon for me were:

John Kaneklides whom I have seen and heard in Otello and Kiss Me Kate, moving me even more with his plaintive singing,

Georgios Papadimitriou, of whom Stainslavksi would be proud, with his carrying through his completely developed character during his non-singing and non-acting moments on stage (not to mention his excellent singing and humorous use of a French accent),

Violinist Rachel Lever with her exquisite love duet accompaniment,

All the singers in general, and Anna Viemeister, Meredith Hudak (photo above right) and Julian Whitley in particular for their exuberance and style,

And, as mentioned, Scott Jackson Wiley, who gave his all to make sure the audience was given a top drawer musical experience.

And, of course, kudos to Carol Castel who, with her staff and volunteers, added to the fun of the afternoon with their down-home welcoming, their warmth and unpretentiousness. Once again, as stage director, her use of the proscenium and steps helped compensate for the spacial limitations of the Tusten stage while making the opera even more immediate.

The DVO will actually present a coda for the season on Saturday, August 25 at 8:00 p.m. Cleverly titled “All’s Well That Ends Well,” DVO singers will gather in the Tusten Theatre for an informal fun-filled entertaining party with lots of singing “and surprises.” A reception will follow in Krause Hall.

For tickets: www.DelawareValleyOpera.org or 845-252-3136.