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"THE Embarrassed Tutor"
By Bob Bahr
Gaetano Donizetti gives his singers a mouthful in his 1824 opera, "The Embarrassed Tutor." His comedy demands rapid~fire dialogue (or, more accurately, recitative) and the cast of the Kentucky Opera's recent production of the two-act opera handled it capably.
That is, the difficult job was handled capably by some members of the cast, while others fared not so well. An engaging and likable John Stephens enlivened the role of Gregorio the tutor, but the demands of some passages found his voice stopping at the edge of the stage and not carrying over the orchestra pit and into the audience. The same fate befell Donn Everette as Don Guilio. Leonarda, played with considerable enthusiasm and effectiveness by Dana Krueger, also suffered from vocal problems as well as the glaring absence of vocal virtuosity.
The lively, bouncy score and the sawy comic skills of the entire cast saved a difﬁcult opera with a soap-opera plot. What a letdown this was from "The Magic Flute." The cat-fighting between the two leading women characters and the comic plight of the besieged tutor were entertaining, but there were many moments that were tedious.
"The Embarrassed Tutor" told the tale of a Marchese (Everette) with two grown sons receiving the tutoring of a good-hearted man named Gregorio. The father of the sons has had bad luck with women and shuns them from his "house of virtue" and his "innocent angels." Naturally, the sons have found love anyway, the young foolish son Pippetto (Stephen Chambers) in the scheming old servant Leonarda (Krueger) and Enrico (played stifﬂy but with charm by Don Bernardini) with a noble woman named Gilda (Sherry Overholt). The tutor ﬁnds himself embroiled in both love affairs, and the Marchese thinks the tutor has betrayed his trust as a friend. Of course, good prevails (this is a comedy, for cripes sake). Leonarda is banished, Enrico and Gilda are reunited with their son and embraced by the compassionate father and the opera ends with the entire ensemble, servants and all, singing "She made him change." The perceptive Gilda pushed all the right emotional buttons in winning over ﬁrst the tutor and then the master of the house, Don Guilio.
Overholt's Gilda was endearing but not unduly beguiling – a trait the character of Gilda demands – and Everette's Marchese was appropriately stern and pigheaded. Chambers' Pippetto was truly empty-headed and childish, perhaps a bit too empty-headed and childish.
Ah, but how Stephens' Gregorio soared! It was easy to care for the tutor, a kind and generous victim of circumstances. When the tutor found himself in one of his many predicaments, he pointedly tumed to the audience and said, "What we need is a hero." He scanned the crowd, but it was obvious that the opera and especially this particular production, had found one in Stephens' Gregorio the tutor. Facial expressions, voice (minus the volume problems) and an excellent comedic touch elevated Stephens' performance above the rest.
The score's predictable bounce and cotton-candy 3/4 sections were a perfect companion to the clearly drawn and simple characters created by Donizetti and left defenseless by the KOA's cast. Only the tutor and Gilda became more. There were worse ways to spend a night than in cramped seats in Macauley's hot, stuffy auditorium, but there certainly were better ways, too.