Performing Arts: Music
March 24, 2014
With the recent folding of the New York City and San Diego Operas, the art form that invites all others feels like an endangered species. The aptly-named Utopia Opera, in its third season, responds to this atmosphere through a self-imposed low budget, audience-voted programming, suggested donations, and fearlessly sending out music to a time that brands it unnecessary.

Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz, regarded as the first German Romantic opera, is inherently light, telling of a young huntsman turning to devilry to defy chance and win a wife in a contest of marksmanship. The score is lively even when dramatic. Max initially loses to a peasant, sparking percussive laughs on the taunting harmony of a major second. After, he sulks alone in a tavern; the brass “oom-pah-pah” peters out on tip-toes, heightening the embarrassment motivating him to question God’s existence on a trembling diminished seventh chord.

Max is a dopey drama-queen, but tenor Cris Frisco finds integrity in the character. His tone is sandy, posture brooding, and he assumes a childlike demeanor throughout his supernatural quest. Bryce Smith’s Caspar is straight out of a lumberjack commune’s local Judas Priest cover band, in the best way possible. His acting makes the English translation of the dialogue bearable, and his arias’ deep melismas have a gracefully deadly punch.

Erin Carr’s voice overwhelms the soprano’s physicality with its wattage, imbuing Agathe’s innocent piousness with intoxicating richness and impassioned clarity. Saturday night involved an Ännchen switcheroo. Lauren Kelleher made up for her meek volume and dry low register employing keen comedic timing, flirting with flowers as if they were men in her Act II aria. In Act III, Denise Crawfort has a timbre like bubbles encasing glitter, and used it gallantly to cover for Kelleher as Agathe's bridesmaid in Act III. Her sharp movements and vibrant face were indelible.

Amidst all this, director William Remmers held the show hostage. From bookending awkward stand-up bits to his hilariously conspicuous stomp and caw when Max shoots an eagle dead, to asking the audience for a spare French horn after a player fell ill, you knew immediately he attempts no more than what is, guaranteeing a satisfying night for one reason or another.

Pizzazz aside, Remmers is a captivating conductor. Your eye will often be drawn to the nimble cueing of his lanky, towering form. He lip-syncs along; it is clear he is enthralled by what he does. With a modest orchestra we appreciate Weber’s counterpoint at the expense of exposed flaws, but in Lang Recital Hall, Remmers conducts as if before a full symphony, expecting (and often getting) a sound just as enlivened.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

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