A magical night of Ravel from the Frost Opera Theater

By Lawrence A. Johnson

One of the best-kept secrets on the local music scene is the outstanding work Alan Johnson has brought to the Frost Opera Theater since his arrival at the University of Miami in 2006. 

 Johnson is a dedicated teacher and experienced opera director who has mentored his young student singers in some very challenging works. But he also produced impressive events with students—and often faculty and area professionals—that need make no apology for being presented under university auspices.

Many Frost Opera Theater presentations have proven of such high quality and broad enough interest to attract audiences from off the Coral Gables campus, including semi-staged evenings devoted to Gian Carlo Menotti and Philip Glass, not repertoire we’re likely to encounter on South Florida opera stages anytime soon.

 The magical performance of Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortileges presented Wednesday night, was one of the Frost Opera Theater’s finest evenings yet, and an object lesson that with creativity, youthful energy and imagination, one can not only make do with a small space and limited resources but enjoy great success. I urge all opera aficionados to try to attend the second and final performance tonight (Thursday) at 7 p.m.

 Written to a libretto by Colette, Ravel’s one-act opera tells of a naughty, spoiled boy who destroys furniture, torments animals and make himself generally obnoxious.  In this fanciful story, the creatures and anthropomorphic objects he has abused come to life decrying his cruelty, and his bad behavior ultimately leaves him friendless and alone. The boy has a change of heart, bandaging an injured squirrel, having learned a lesson in unselfishness and being more caring about others.

The microbial Victor E. Clarke Recital Hall proved an ideal venue for this intimate chamber opera, with Dean Southern’s staging making a virtue out of the confined space. Atmospheric  images of Paul Klee prints, contemporary with the opera’s 1920s creation, were projected on the back wall, scrupulously chosen to reflect the stage action. The production was full of wonderful touches from the black-clad chorus manipulating glow-in-the-dark frogs to the inventive and colorful props and costumes by Laura Montes, Jessica Punchatz and Estela Vrancovich.

 The French was not always idiomatic and some voices were wanting in professional seasoning.  But for the most part, the Frost students pulled off this very difficult work in delightful style, making up in energy and unjaded enthusiasm what they sometimes lacked in polish and experience.

Khrista Orantes was perfection as the unnamed child protagonist.  Singing with an impressive mezzo-soprano, she embodied the untrammeled id of the spoiled brat in the opening scenes and touchingly conveyed his fear, loneliness and eventual repentance.

 The large, hard-working cast was terrific with many doing double, triple and even quadruple duty in the case of Laura Montes, who in addition to costume design, sang the Bergere, Fire, and Nightingale. Anna Hersey proved a rich-voiced Princess, and Carol Perry brought the right touch of music hall chinoiserie to the Chinese Cup. Ernesto Trespalacios as the Grandfather Clock with stripped gears, Rishi Rane as the arithmetical Old Man, and Jesus DeHoyos as the Tree Frog were a collective hoot, and Carey Goldenberg and Deborah Pinnock blended quite beautifully as the Shepherd and Shepherdess. Under the direction of Korre Foster, the superb ensemble singing in the final scene was on a professional chorus level.

 Ravel’s luminous scoring with its wry pastiches, and in-jokes suffered surprisingly little by the reduced quartet forces. Alan Johnson directed a well paced and evocative reading—all the more impressive for the musicians having to be placed offstage—with excellent work by pianists Mia Vassilev and Wei-Wei Wang, flutist Cassandra Rondinelli and cellist Aaron Merritt.

 Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortileges will be performed 7 p.m. Thursday at the Victor E. Clarke Recital Hall on the University of Miami campus in Coral Gables. $20, $10 seniors, $5 students and faculty. 305-284-4886.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “A magical night of Ravel from the Frost Opera Theater”

  1. Posted Oct 19, 2008 at 10:38 pm by Omari Hardy

    Why is there no mention of Lisa who sang the part of the squirrel as well as the dragonfly? I thought her singing was superb I thought her singing was superb…

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