You could almost hear a sigh of relief from the crowd Thursday night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center when Opera Saratoga opened its 60th season with the “Man of La Mancha.” Live classical is finally back and what a treat it was. The 1965 Tony Award-winning musical was a fast-paced, innovative production with great singing that kept the enthusiastic crowd rapt and responsive to every song.
Despite the constant rain, which limited the lawn crowd to a stalwart group of six people under the overhead walkway, more than 700 people were inside the amphitheater. Prior to show time, many were sheltering in the new Julia Bonacio Family Pavilion.
“I’m delighted to be here,” said Pat Gremmler of Albany. “After any state of deprivation we can get tickets to a show, we’re thrilled.”
Gremmler and her friend Mary Corrado of Albany are long-time fans of the company but even the rain wasn’t going to deter them from their first live show of the season. Even better it was to enjoy SPAC’s new facilities, which both agreed were beautiful.
Because of protocols, people were spaced apart by row, and the show, which would normally have had an intermission, had no intermission. Running time was two hours. Barry Steele, who designed the fabulous video projected images that were used in lieu of sets, said that most shows he’s worked on in the past few months all had running times of no more than 90 minutes. So he said he thought the people who came to this show were “really into it.”
This was the first time the company had appeared on this stage – their home is the Spa Little Theatre, and protocols had to be considered. The entire breadth of the stage was used. The 16-piece orchestra led adroitly by Laura Bergquist was at the back and everyone, including the singers, was amplified. Small platforms in different sizes were spread out in front of the orchestra for the singers to move on and off of. The video images were projected above the orchestra across the entire back scrim. Few props were used, and everyone was in costumes designed by Glenn Avery Breed. One of the great costumes was near the end with the Knight of the Mirrors. The headpiece glittered with silver sparkles and the mirrored shields caught the light like magic.
The original Broadway score was used. After a brisk overture, the show got off to a quick start. Minor balances were corrected in moments. Lawrence Edelson directed and had the cast moving in fluid, natural action. Set in a prison, the graphic was a bank of 12 barred windows. This changed as the story unfolded. The images were colorful and segued well with the action. Steele also designed the lighting, which was suitably dim with adequate spotlighting. Interestingly, the dialogue didn’t seem dated. Some of the lines were almost current and drew “oohs” from the crowd.
The cast was strong both vocally and in acting abilities. Everyone had great diction. Right off, baritone Zachary James as Cervantes/Don Quixote impressed with his comfortable stance as the center of attention. A graceful performer with a well-regulated baritone, his phrasing was elegant and he nuanced his lines gently, almost like coaxing the words. As his stalwart companion Sancho, tenor Brian Yeakley gave a playful but thoughtful characterization and sang with a focused, ringing tone. Soprano Kelly Glyptis as Aldonza inhabited her role. She sang with a vibrant, intense, edged tone and infused her acting with lots of drama and vitality.
The crowd rolled along with all the action, applauding and often whistling their approval after every song. But James singing “The Impossible Dream” stopped the show. At curtain call, the audience gave a wildly approving standing ovation.
Saturday night at 8 p.m. is the final performance.