A Journey Through Madison's Classical Music Scene
Apr 14, 2014
05:20 PM
Classically Speaking

Farlow’s UW Opera Farewell an Afternoon of Smiles

PHOTO COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OPERA

Daniel Lopez-Matthews, Lindsay Metzger and Anna Whiteway

There were a few more empty seats in the Music Hall Sunday afternoon than observed in other University Opera productions of the last few seasons, and there is more than one reason to bemoan that fact: It was the second of three performances of the final production of director William Farlow’s sixteen-year career, and a splendid performance of Berlioz's lyrically lilting comedy, Beatrice et Benedict, unfolded.

To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect; when it comes to the operas of Berlioz, I’d reviewed Les Troyens over twenty years ago at Los Angeles Opera, and learned again that, while it is worth seeing once, in the long run, less would have been more. But as for Beatrice, I, as have so many, have only heard the overture.

And having heard it, I knew that the orchestra was in for a very challenging afternoon. Indeed, the first couple of minutes seemed to confirm those fears, and then it was if conductor James Smith flipped a switch. It wasn’t just that the ensemble attacked the score gamely, all the players acquitted themselves proudly, and the first “bravo” must go to the strings for what they achieved.

But of course if it’s opera we’re talking about, there had better be some fine singing and plenty of it—and there was. The work is based on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, but all of Farlow’s charges made a great deal out of comic and lyrical material of substance.

The titular characters apparently have spent their whole lives openly bickering with one another, and the secondary characters, Claudio and Hero, manage to trick them into revealing their true affection, and end the work with a swift double wedding. Lindsay Metzger brings a big voice and a great presence to the role of Beatrice, and if anything, her acting skills surpass her vocalism. In her tete-a-tetes with the Benedict of Daniel Lopez-Matthews, Metzger shows deft timing and facial expression. The latter skill was put to even more effective use in an extended—and silent—reaction as she later listens to an offstage chorus singing of marital bliss.

Sometimes however, the star is not the lead, although it is true that Hero has essentially as substantial a vocal role as Beatrice. This was one of those occasions when a developing student of exceptional gifts is perfectly cast, and the afternoon belonged to Anna Whiteway. From her first appearance, Whiteway displayed an instrument not just of power and beauty, but of nuanced control. Act I ends with an extended duet with guest artist Kathleen Otterson (longtime veteran and always welcome presence), that can only be described as a symphonic slow movement with words. It is a stretch of music that alone is worth the price of admission to the final performance Tuesday night.

The men had their moments too, led by Lopez-Matthews who matched Metzger barb for barb, and later with almost as much lyricism. Another, younger guest alumnus was Benjamin Schultz, who took a hilarious turn as the pompous music master, Somarone.

And if in the end the whole performance seemed to exceed the sum of its wonderful parts, the credit must go to Farlow. Not only did he fill the slight action with an array of delightful details, but each person onstage seemed palpably dedicated to give their best to honor what he has done here. But that is exactly what has happened more often than not in the last sixteen years, and musical Madison can only hope that along with the cherished memories Farlow helped create, that someone will come and build upon his legacy.

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About This Blog

Years before I contributed my first classical review to the Los Angeles Times in 1988, I started a class in music appreciation for adults that had one aim: to put a few cracks in the “ivory tower elitism” I found pervasive in the classical music world since my boyhood days. Whether as a critic, program annotator or band director, that goal has never changed. After all, Mozart and Beethoven and the gang wrote their music for people like you—not critics or professors!

After growing up in the suburbs of New York City, and spending twenty years in and around Los Angeles, the last twelve years here leave me more amazed than ever at the musical riches of Madison. I’m a cheerleader at heart, because I always think more people would become classical fans if they’d give it a chance—but I’m also quick to tell you when you’re not getting your money’s worth. Classically Speaking brings you as much news and as many reviews as possible, and I hope you’ll join me for a fabulous musical journey.

–  Greg Hettmansberger
Follow Greg on Twitter @ghettmansberger

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