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Long Leaf Opera's Festival continued with a double bill. The Sunday matinee performance filled UNC's Memorial Hall with some marvelous singing, provocative pleasure, delightful humor, and a fervent wish for more of the same in the future. Sadly, the seats in the auditorium were less than half filled. This is a new venture, however, and if the quality of production we have seen thus far continues and the reputation spreads, as it must, the future will bring excitement, anticipation — and ticket sales for the Long Leaf Opera Festival.
"Acts of Love" — 1: Zachary Wadsworth's Venus and Adonis is a one-act opera based on William Shakespeare's long lyric poem. Venus falls for Adonis and wants him. He, however, is more into sports (wild boar hunting) and is not interested in romance in spite of her ardent advances. Alas, Adonis is killed by a surly boar. Venus, overcome with grief on finding him dead, falls down beside his body, which then evaporates. In its place a purple flower (an anemone? a poppy?) has grown. She plucks the flower and laments the fragility and impermanence of youth and beauty. Then dropping the flower, she returns to the heavens.
Wadsworth, a 23-year-old native of Richmond, Virginia is already a graduate of Eastman School of Music and is working on a Master's in Music Composition at Yale. This is his first opera, and I must say this young man has flair, especially composing for the soprano voice. Andrea Edith Moore provided the realization of his rapturous and reflective Venus. Timothy Sparks was the romantically reluctant and tragic Adonis. Dancers Carmen Borders as Venus and Eric Uphoff as Adonis gave life to the Shakespearean libretto with Borders especially putting on a virtuoso display. It really didn't matter that the vocalized archaic English was almost impossible to understand. The dancers made everything explicit, which is not to say that the singers were anything less than superb. Melinda Whittington, Jodi Karem, John Williams, and Scott MacLeod were the chorus, filling in the tale and commenting as it unfolded. They were well blended when singing together and strong when singing short solo passages. Accompaniment was by string quartet, piano, and alto saxophone, which worked very nicely. The opera moved along well with few props against a Carolina Blue (no doubt) sky. Geoff Zeger was the director. The music was contemporary, easily accessible, and a pleasure to hear throughout.
"Acts of Love" — 2: Sir William Walton's The Bear (based on a Chekov short story) is a love affair of a completely different nature. After the death her husband, the widow Popova's neighbor, Smirnov, demands repayment of a debt her husband left. They argue over the debt and he challenges her to a duel. When she gets out her husband's dueling pistols she becomes aware that she has absolutely no idea of how to fire them. Smirnov tries to show her how to use them and in this process, they both discover a growing attraction and the opera ends with them in a passionate embrace.
Direction was by Dan Rierson who used every opportunity in the farcical story — props, costumes, set, music, and libretto — to play up the humor and fun. Marcia Ragonetti was outstanding as the Widow Popova, melodramatic, coquettish, threatening and enticing and with a gorgeous voice to boot. Jason Sarten was elegant as Smirnov, a real bear who turns into a Teddy Bear with an amazing vocal range always in control of his warm baritone sound. Stefanos Koroneos, as the widow's sly and impudent servant, Luka, was a charming comic caricature, and he sang the role with panache.
Alfred Sturgis conducted the chamber orchestra for The Bear and the small ensemble for Venus and Adonis, and with his magic wand kept all in order and measured out the passion or the comedy with a sure hand.
Choreographer Bolyn Willis deserves high praise, especially for Venus and Adonis. Sets were by Randolph Umberger, lighting by Chenault Spence, and costumes by David Serxner. All involved in the realization of this double bill warrant high praise for the realization of this delightful afternoon of amorous romance, tragedy, and high comedy.
The weekend of June 29 - July 1, the Long Leaf Opera Festival will climax with "A Grand Night for Singing," an evening of the gorgeous music of Richard Rodgers with the incomparable lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II. And there is more throughout the weel: just click here [inactive] for details.