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Opera Saratoga season begins with a bang

Opera Saratoga season begins with a bang

'Falstaff,' 'Beauty and the Beast' draw capacity crowds
Opera Saratoga season begins with a bang
Puppeteers rehearse with the Beast for Opera Saratoga’s production of "Beauty and the Beast" (Zémire et Azor).
Photographer: Gary David Gold

To open its season, Opera Saratoga gave capacity crowds a sensational weekend. On Saturday night at the Spa Little Theatre, Verdi’s comic masterpiece “Falstaff” began with a bang. It was a rollicking, tightly paced, colorful production.

The last time the company produced the opera was 26 years ago and the crowd embraced the show with enthusiasm.

Leading the large cast was bass baritone Craig Colclough as Falstaff, whose experience in the role gave him a strong grasp of the character’s possibilities that ranged from comic nuance to shades of melancholy and chagrin. His superb singing in Italian matched his comic flair, which got plenty of laughs from the audience.

Everyone in the excellent cast sang well. Soprano Caroline Worra as Alice Ford was outstanding and vibrant as was Vera Savage as Meg Page. Lindsay Ammann seduced delectably with her darkly-hued contralto as Mistress Quickly, and baritone Michael Chioldi as Ford belted out arias in the second act that were memorable for their passionate intensity. Ensemble work among the numerous different groupings, a Verdi trademark and very difficult vocally, were superior.

Director Charles Hudson’s terrific blockings for the often frantically paced action were natural and varied. Martin T. Lopez designed a very pretty, two-level set that hid the orchestra, which was directed by Craig Kier, in an alcove. Costumes had a lovely warm palette of earth colors except for Falstaff’s bright red plaids. Brandon Baker’s lighting was imaginative without being distracting. The fantasy scene at the end was almost exotic. More shows July 6, 10, 15.

The creative wizardry of James Ortiz fueled the magical, delightful production of Andre Gretry’s 1771 opera “Zemire et Azor” or “Beauty and the Beast” on Sunday. Ortiz not only designed and made the three fabulous puppets and designed the fanciful and clever set with its revolving inner segment, he directed the show with adept imagination, gentle humor and skill. The crowd often whooped it up at the singers’ antics and was easily captivated by the famous fairy tale.

All the singers in the small cast were uniformly excellent. Sung in French, the dialogue was in English. Tenor Keith Jameson was the comic aide to baritone Christopher Burchett’s big, rolling baritone. Andrew Bidlack as the beast had a clear ringing tenor and soprano Maureen McKay as Zemire sang her many arias with eloquence.

Four dancers in wonderful masks were like gossamer wraiths who flitted and twirled in and out of scenes to Jill Echo’s choreography. The beast himself was piloted by four dancers who managed to give him plenty of personality even down to his heavy snorting. And Brandon Baker’s marvelous lighting designs evoked atmosphere in every scene. More shows July 8, 14.

Both operas also had well translated supertitles and both got standing ovations.

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