The many faces of “Crime and Punishment”at Maryland Opera Studio
Part of the beauty of performing opera is having the opportunity to make a role one’s own. To make sure the nine second-year students each had that opportunity, the Maryland Opera Studio performed a triple bill this spring. Rooted in classical comedy, Surrealism and American Realism, the three operas couldn’t be more different – although they all explore the consequences of wrongdoing. Their opening night performance of Menotti’s The Old Maid and the Thief and Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges demonstrated the versatility of these young artists.
The Old Maid and the Thief, directed by Kasi Campbell and conducted by James Ross, tells of Miss Todd (Stephanie Polonio), an old maid who is well-respected in her small town, and her maid Laetitia (Teresa Hitchcock), who take in a good-looking beggar, Bob (Gregory Voinier). Longing for a man in their lives, the two are smitten with the witty drifter and invite him to secretly stay with them for a week. But trouble arises when gossipy neighbor Miss Pinkerton (Suzanne Karpov) tells Miss Todd that she knows a man is living in her house – plus, a dangerous thief has escaped from the county jail. Torn between their attraction to Bob and their fear that he is the thief, Miss Todd and Laetitia scheme to placate him and keep him around – with surprising results.
Polonio deftly captured the nuances and subtle movements of an older woman yet came alive with her adoration for Bob. Hitchcock sparkled as the conniving Laetitia and showed vulnerability and desire in “Steal me, sweet thief.” Voinier had superb comedic timing and also shone in his dramatic aria, “When the air sings of summer,” as he contemplated hitting the road again.
Both acts were performed on a versatile rotating set designed by April Joy Tritchler that added interest and functionality. The set served as Miss Todd’s house and the liquor store during the Menotti and the depths of the forest in the second opera, Ravel’s dreamy L’enfant et les sortilèges.
L’enfant et les sortilèges (The Child and the Magical Spells), directed by Nick Olcott and conducted by Craig Kier, tells of a lazy young boy (Loghan Bazan) whose mother (Stephanie Polonio) leaves him alone as punishment for not doing his homework, with only unsweetened tea and dry toast for supper. The boy throws a tantrum, smashing the teacup and pot, tearing the wallpaper, breaking the grandfather clock, ripping his schoolbooks and poking at his cat and a squirrel he has trapped in a cage. But soon, all the objects the child has damaged and animals he has tormented in the garden come to life and taunt him. With a whirl of the set, the boy is transported to the forest, where owls, squirrels, birds, dragonflies and frogs unite in a fight against him.
Jaely Chamberlain was a standout in all three roles she played – le feu, the fire; le rossignol, the nightingale; and especially la princesse, the princess from the boy’s storybook with whom he falls in love. She has an agile coloratura voice, and she was charming and quick on stage. The ensemble’s fluid movements, choreographed by Karin Abromaitis, added a dreamlike sense to the performance.
Kate Fulop’s bright costumes and gleaming headdresses were dazzling, mixing 1920s attire with magical features of the objects and animals. The owl with its lighted eyes, the frogs with their slimy red feet and the insects with their gossamer wings were mesmerizing.
The University of Maryland Opera Studio creates a humorous, enchanting look into “crime” — be it thieving or sloth – and the punishments that ensue.
Running Time: Two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
Crime and Punishment plays through April 26, 2015 at the Kay Theatre at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the intersection of Stadium Drive and Route 193 in College Park, Maryland. The first act alternates between Menotti’s The Old Maid and the Thief and Rossini’s L’occasione fa il ladro. Tickets can be purchased online.