Chicago Fringe Opera gets down and funny with a night of Bolcom

Sun May 07, 2017 at 5:50 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Chicago Fringe OPera presented William Bolcom's "Lucrezia" Saturday night at the Chopin THeater.
Chicago Fringe Opera presented William Bolcom’s “Lucrezia” Saturday night at the Chopin Theater

Chicago Fringe Opera has quickly made its mark on the local music scene by presenting edgy, serious works strongly performed and  scrupulously rehearsed, such as Philip Glass’s In the Penal Colony and Missy Mazzoli’s Song from the Uproar.

The feisty, upstart company put the drama aside for a lighter evening on Saturday by serving up William Bolcom’s one-act comedy Lucrezia at the Chopin Theater.

Inspired by Machiavelli’s story “La Mandragola,” Bolcom updates the comic tale to 1970s Argentina in his 2008 echt-zarzuela in which the alluring title character outplays a trio of not-so-bright conspiratorial male suitors to get their money.

With its goofy characters and reversals of fortune, Bolcom’s 50-minute farce is awfully thin puchero.  Still, the composer deftly works a number of Spanish-flavored styles into his antic pastiche. Mark Campbell, the busiest librettist around these days (As One, Dinner at Eight and the upcoming The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs), was in attendance. His relentlessly clever rhyming couplets provided consistent laughs as well as sounding a somewhat serious note about the impossible necessity of romantic relationships or at least sex.

The youthful cast brought breezy energy and full vocal commitment to Saturday’s performance. Ashley Kay Armstrong was aptly cast as Lucrezia, her charismatic presence and light flexible soprano making mincemeat out of the male schemers.

Company regular Matthan Ring Black as Chucho, the central plotter, impressed with his incisive baritone and clear diction, handling the rapid-fire patter with easy assurance and flair. Tobias Wright displayed an attractive tenor as the most successful suitor Lorenzo, and entered fully into the manic action–most amusingly when disguised as a priest.

As Ignacio who dreams of spawning a boy with Lucrezia, Gabriel Di Gennaro handle the comedy and vocal lines with equal panache.  Diana Stoic provided amusing moments as Lucrezia’s grotesque mother, Annunciata.

The black box space in the basement of the Chopin Theater made a worthy intimate setting for Bolcom’s comedic riff, with the intermittent obbligato rumbling of the Blue Line trains. Music director Catherine O’Shaughnessy and Cody Michael Bradley brought vitality to their piano accompaniment.

Brad Caleb Lee’s economical set made a virtue out of necessity. George Cederquist contributed his usual fluid and resourceful direction.

The evening began with the Lucrezia cast offering a generous sampler of Bolcom’s serio-comic Cabaret Songs with the late Arnold Weinstein’s witty lyrics.  Performed in the booklined, salon-like foyer to the basement theater, the overstuffed chairs and open bar set a convivial atmosphere.

Black led off with a characterful rendition of “Black Max” and also served as MC, encouraging audience members “to get very, very drunk” at the bar.

Di Gennaro brought apt innocence  to a young boy’s queries to his father in “Love in the Thirties” and touching expression to the nocturnal ode of “Blue.” Ashley Armstrong delivered “At the Last Lousy Moments of Love” with comic flair and apt disillusionment.

Tobias Wright was heard to better advantage than his manic role in the opera. The young tenor offered a mellifluous “Angels are the Highest Form of Virtue” and proved quite hilarious in the sexual bartering of “May I Feel?”  Bradley provided alert and sensitive keyboard support.

Lucrezia will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at the Chopin Theater.

Posted in Performances

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