I finally got a chance to sample some of festival Friday night -- a production of "Miss Havisham's Fire," Argento's fascinating 1979 opera (subsequently revised) that looks behind the veil of the unforgettable jilted bride from Dickens' "Great Expectations." If you can get to the Clarice Smith Center for the final performance Sunday, by all means do.
I have reservations about ...
The score, with one foot comfortably in the past, another firmly planted in the 20th century, is rich in thematic ideas and imaginative orchestration. The vocal writing is assured and natural. And, let's face it, the subject matter is very cool.
Argento has so many deft touches in the opera. Among my favorites are the long, sustained note that accompanies the scene where Miss Havisham, all dressed and anxious for her wedding, receives the kiss-off letter from her fiance; and the ballroom scene in Act 2, which recalls "Eugene Onegin" in its ability to fuse dance and drama to compelling effect.
Maryland Opera Studio, under the direction of Leon Major, has long been one of the university's finest assets. The company shines very brightly in this venture.
Major's stage direction is fluid and arresting, aided by the visual atmosphere beautifully summoned by James Kronzer (scenic design), David O. Roberts (costumes) and Brian MacDevitt (lighting).
The cast animates the telling stage pictures with performances that ring true. The veteran soprano Linda Mabbs, as Miss Havisham, gives a triumphant lesson in the art of operatic singing and acting. Her voice retains much of the innate sweetness I recall from hearing her perform in the D.C. area during my early freelance days. Her phrasing is unfailingly eloquent and involving.
Alex DeSocio makes a most sympathetic Pip, and his singing has substance and warmth. Strong contributions, vocally and dramatically, come from Andrew Adelsberger (Coroner), Jarrod Lee (Jaggers), Deborah Thurlow (Nanny), Monica Soto-Gil (Sarah Pockett), Emily Kate Naydeck (Young Aurelia), Ilene Pabon (Estrella), and Patrick Cook (Drummle), among others. It is an admirably cohesive ensemble.
The chorus, too, impresses. And the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra, eloquently conducted by Timothy Long, handles the opera's challenges with confidence and expressive shading.
Like I said, catch it if you can. No telling when there will be another chance to experience this haunting opera around here.
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