Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Inspiring “Man of La Mancha” sallies forth in Portland Opera production

Photography by Cory Weaver/Courtesy Portland Opera
Reality versus idealism smacked head to head and word to word in Portland Opera’s production of “Man of La Mancha” on opening night (June 9) at the Keller Auditorium. Truth, beauty, and moral purpose won out in the end with the music of Mitch Leigh and his iconic “The Impossible Dream” lifting the spirits of everyone in the house. Crisp directions by Alan Paul, associate artistic director of The Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., fit the cast like a custom made gauntlet, and Welsh baritone Jason Howard embodied the title role with utter conviction even when a wayward mustache got in his way.

Using the original production staged by Albert Marre and produced by Albert W. Selden and Hal James, all of the action took place on a circular stony floor that represented the bowels of a prison in 16th Century Spain. High above it, on the back wall was a huge, ominous gang-plank that became an impressive set of stairs from which soldiers of the Inquisition descended. The lighting of Robert Wierzel enhanced the production, conveying a vivid climax with a thousand points of light against a night sky while Howard sang of striving to “reach the unreachable star.”
Photography by Cory Weaver/Courtesy Portland Opera
Howard’s robust voice embraced role of Cervantes and his alter ego, Don Quixote, with depth and charm. Reggie Lee’s energetic Sancho Panza provided a delightful counterweight to the elderly knight errant. His impeccable comic timing and enthusiasm wonderfully aided and abetted Don Quixote and even charmed the hard-boiled Aldonza, who was terrifically created by Tara Venditti. Her singing of “Aldonza” was one of the many highlights of the show.
Photography by Cory Weaver/Courtesy Portland Opera

Damian Norfleet was totally in the moment as the domineering Governor and understanding Innkeeper. One of the best scenes was the humorous “I’m Only Thinking of Him” in which Kate Farrar’s Antonia and AnDee Compton’s Housekeeper confessions to Aaron Short’s Padre became a competitive squeeze. David Warner in the role of the Barber also brought a dash of levity to the story. Ryan Thorn’s Dr. Carrasco railed at Don Quixote with passion. The swaggering muleteers added a layer of danger to the story.

Photography by Cory Weaver/Courtesy Portland Opera
The choreography by David Marquez worked very well, especially the opening scenes when the prisoners ransacked all of Cervantes belongings. The abduction-rape scene in which Aldonza was tied up and dragged to the back of the stage suggested just enough. The fight scenes, choreographed by John Armour, went well enough but could have been a little tighter.

Despite amplification, some voices didn’t project well, which may have been due to an action sequence and body-mic placement. Music director George Manahan led a tight ensemble of woodwinds, brass, percussion, guitar, and one bass violin in the orchestra pit. The small number of musicians must have allowed extra space for several performers who entered and exited the stage from the orchestra pit.

Final note: the minimal staging of the production meant that scenes involving windmills and such were simply not there, which put the emphasis on the ability of the cast to inspire it all. They did that as well as anyone can imagine.


OperaFan (not Reggie fan) said...

While Reggie Lee's protrayal of Sancho Panchez was as described, there is nothing in this review about his "non-singing". Surprising that for a Portland Opera production, (even of a musical rather than an opera) singing was not a priority in the casting. So disappointing...

Anonymous said...

Loved this performance!!!. Best ever from the Portland opera. Thank you. Body mics a good idea.