The Light in the Piazza

(Left to right) Margaret Johnson (Rebecca Caine) and her daughter, Clara (Diana Newman)
(L to R) Margaret Johnson (Rebecca Caine) and her daughter, Clara (Diana Newman)
Photo: Amanda Tipton
Just as Giacomo Puccini fell in love with the gold rush days of the mid-nineteenth century American "Wild West" (La fanciulla del West), Americans love to romanticize post-World War II Italy, as we see in this sophisticated Broadway gem—six 2005 Tony Awards, including Best Original Score, music and lyrics by Adam Guettel (grandson of Richard Rogers), with the book by Craig Lucas, based on the 1960 novella by Elizabeth Spencer—now running at Central City Opera.

Clara (Diana Newman) and Fabrizio (Ricardo Garcia)
Clara (Diana Newman)
and Fabrizio (Ricardo Garcia)
Photo: Amanda Tipton
It's the 1950s, and Americans Margaret Johnson (Rebecca Caine) and her daughter Clara (Diana Newman) are taking in the sights and sounds of Florence. On a sunlit morning in the piazza near their hotel, a breeze lifts Clara's hat from her head and carries it across the square where a young Italian man, Fabirzio (Ricardo Garcia), catches it and brings it back to her. And, just as in Romeo and Juliet, one of Shakespeare's Italian tales, it's love at first sight. Fabrizio breaks out singing in Italian, "Il Mondo Era Vuoto" ("The world was empty"). How could any woman not fall in love with Garcia's rich, expressive tenor that gives voice to Fabrizio's joy?

At that moment, Clara's world is transformed to one freed from the limitations with which she has lived since a horseback riding accident at twelve left her with a neurodivergent disorder. Clara's new, light-filled world empowers her to stand up for herself and her future. Newman's beautiful rendition of the title song, is a show stopper!

Yet this unique opera/musical is really Margaret's story, and Caine, who performs in both opera and musical theatre, shines bright, as Margaret considers her own happiness, or lack thereof, in the context of her daughter's new found love. The poignancy that Caine brings to her arias ("Dividing Day," "The Beauty Is [Reprise]," and the finale "Fable") elevate and define the story, and deliver a transcendent catharsis.

(Left to right) Margaret (Rebecca Caine), Clara (Diana Newman), and Fabrizio (Ricardo Garcia)
Margaret (Rebecca Caine),
Clara (Diana Newman),
and Fabrizio (Ricardo Garcia)
Photo: Amanda Tipton
In addition to Margaret's initial reticence to Clara and Fabrizio's romance, the young man's father, Signor Naccarelli (Jonathan Hays), stops the proceedings cold at the initial wedding ceremony. Only through a heart-to-heart walk, talk, and duet (Let's Walk") with Margaret do the parents put the young couple's plans back on track. Hays' rich baritone blends perfectly with Caine's gorgeous soprano.

(Left to right) Clara (Diana Newman) and Franca (Jennifer DeDominici)
(Left to right) Clara (Diana Newman)
and Franca (Jennifer DeDominici)
Photo: Amanda Tipton
Fabrizio's sister-in-law, Franca (Jennifer DeDominici) takes Clara aside and provides some cautionary advice on the transitory nature of love's initial high ("The Joy You Feel"), and how it often goes stale in a marriage. Local favorite DeDominici is a pistol as the bad-girl with a golden heart and a sweet soprano.

Maestro Adam Turner and the Festival Orchestra do wonders with the complex, neo-romantic score, with its unexpected harmonic shifts and extended melodic structures. Kudos to Ken Cazan, for this insightful, and well-directed and conceived classic! Arnulfo Maldonado's sets fluidly and economically capture the essence of each setting, punctuated by David Jacques' resplendent lighting and Edina Hiser's stylish costumes.

Central City Opera's presentation of The Light in the Piazza runs through July 28th in repertory with Die Fledermaus and Two Remain. For tickets: ... the-light-in-the-piazza.

Bob Bows

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