A Little Night Music

Director Ken Cazan writes in the playbill that during the rehearsal process he emphasized intelligibility of the lyrics to his opera singers—a wise choice considering Sondheim's complexity—unfortunately, there are other obstacles to performing musical theatre within an operatic paradigm: the lyrics and music are not written to take advantage of the operatic voice, so all that incredible projection never gets a chance to open up, leaving us overpowered by the orchestra. This is particularly true with Sondheim who, much of the time, composes his score to fit his lyrics, rather than the other way around, as it is generally done in opera. So, despite the excellent acoustics of the Central City Opera House, A Little Night Music disappoints in the same way West Side Story did last year—we can't hear much of dialogue and singing.

Sylvia McNair as Desiree Armfeldt
Sylvia McNair as Desiree Armfeldt
Photo Credit: Mark Kiryluk
To be sure, the production is rife with sublime moments, including, thankfully, the downstage rendering of "Send in the Clowns," which Desiree (Sylvia McNair) imbues with all the irony and pathos that her relationship with Frederik Egerman (Roberth Orth) encompasses. The resprise, with McNair and Orth, is transcendent as well. How wonderful to experience this timeless song in its original context!

(Left to right): Myrna Paris as Madame Armfeldt and Alisa Jordheim as Frederika Armfeldt
(L to R): Myrna Paris as Madame Armfeldt
and Alisa Jordheim as Frederika Armfeldt
Photo Credit: Mark Kiryluk
In fact, the only problem with the production is that it is not amplified, as musical theatre needs to be, even in a relatively small house. In one scene between Desiree's mother, Madame Armfeldt (Myrna Paris), and her granddaughter, Fredericka (Alisa Jordheim), the subtlety of Paris' marvelous performance is lost to our ears because her naturalistic musings, designed to be amplified, disperse before they reach our seats. This complaint was heard a number of times at intermission.

Opera has made great strides in recent years at improving its dramatic dynamics, which, in turn, enhances its competitive position in the entertainment marketplace. Now it needs to address its own hubris in assuming that operatically trained voices need no amplification when singing and speaking lyrics that interupt or ignore classical breathing and voice techniques.

Sarah Jane McMahon as Anne Egerman and Roberth Orth as Frederik Egerman
Sarah Jane McMahon as Anne Egerman
and Roberth Orth as Frederik Egerman
Photo Credit: Mark Kiryluk
The script, with its complications of three intersecting relationships and three intersecting generations, engenders a wealth of thoughtful and mirthful moments. Sarah Jane McMahon as Anne Egerman, Frederick's bride, who's young enough to be his daughter, is delightfully daffy—a fitting match for Henrik, her stepson, an amusingly cerebral Matthew Giebel: they're both virgins.

For wanton pleasure, Stephanie Nelson, as Petra, the fetching maid, and Frid, Madame Armfeldt's handsome manservant, serve it up in heaping proportions, while the randy, chauvanistic Count Carl-Magnus and Countess Charlotte, play out a curious dysfunctional "understanding" that fuels the plot.

Cameron Anderson's tasteful scenic design complimented by David Martin Jacques' moody lighting and Alice Bristow's elegant costumes provide a perfect visual palette for this musical and vocal gem. Conductor Christopher Zemliauskas and the festival orchestra work wonders with Sondheim's atmospheric score.

A Little Night Music runs in repertory with Handel's Rinaldo and Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor through July 31st. 303-292-6700; 800-851-8175; or

Bob Bows


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