Review: Boston Lyric Opera's THE ANONYMOUS LOVER is a Joyous Delight

Comic opera continues through February 18 at the Huntington Theatre.

By: Feb. 18, 2024
Review: Boston Lyric Opera's THE ANONYMOUS LOVER is a Joyous Delight
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As a quite perfect closer to Valentine’s Week, Boston Lyric Opera is sending audiences a musical love letter in the form of a funny, romantic, and splendidly sung new production of “The Anonymous Lover,” the 18th-century comic chamber opera by composer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, being performed at the Huntington Theatre through February 18.

Written in 1780, “The Anonymous Lover” is one of the first known operas composed by a Black artist. Bologne and his music gained renewed attention with the 2022 release of the feature film “Chevalier,” which chronicled the life of the French-Caribbean prodigy. Its libretto, by Desfontaines-Lavallée, is based on a play by the French writer Madame de Genlis.

The joyous new BLO adaptation of Bologne’s opera, a co-production with Opera Philadelphia, features an adapted book by Obie Award-winning Boston playwright Kirsten Greenidge (“Milk Like Sugar”) whose plays – including “The Luck of the Irish, “Baltimore,” and “Our Daughters, Like Pillars” – have been developed and produced at the Huntington, American Repertory Theater, La Jolla Playhouse, Yale Repertory Theatre, and The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Expert at writing appealing characters of all manners and types, Greenidge’s English-language adaptation is a copacetic companion to the original French singing – winningly blending the story’s tale of heartfelt love with abundant charm and relatability.

The two acts are presented in an intermissionless 90 minutes, with the story centered on Léontine (magnificently played and sung by soprano Brianna J. Robinson), a wealthy young widow not drawn to the idea of falling in love again until she begins receiving love letters from a secret admirer, later revealed to be her friend, the young courtier Valcour (endearingly played by tenor Omar Najmi).

Before she realizes that Valcour is her secret suitor, Léontine turns to him and another friend, Dorothée (the versatile mezzo soprano Sandra Piques Eddy in a laugh-inducing turn), for help deciding whether she should keep accepting the unsolicited expressions of love, or discourage them. Once both women realize that Valcour is very likely the lovelorn writer, Léontine isn’t sure how that makes her feel. With Valcour spun around by her spurning, his friend Ophémon (bass-baritone Evan Hughes in a sly and very funny portrayal) encourages him to stand up and let it be known that he is indeed the ardent admirer.

Soprano Ashley Emerson, as the sprightly Jeannette, and tenor Zhengyi Bai, as the upbeat Colin, also add fine support and rich vocals to the proceedings, which flow smoothly under the direction of Dennis Whitehead Darling. The evocative score is majestically performed by a 37-piece orchestra conducted by BLO Music Director David Angus, while a 12-member chorus, directed by Brett Hodgdon, further enhances the opera’s rich sound.

The first-rate tech credits include Leslie Travers’ period-perfect costumes and April Gerbode’s excellent wig and make-up design. Indeed, the pair’s work has Omar Najmi evoking an 18th-century version of Timothée Chalamet who, were he to get a look at it, just might want to wear Travers’ brocaded finery on a red carpet. There’s also terrific work on display by lighting designer Driscoll Otto and scenic coordinator Baron E. Pugh, who together give the production its seductive and warm tone.

 

Photo caption: Valcour (Omar Najmi) advises Léontine (Brianna J. Robinson) on how to deal with a secret admirer in a scene from Boston Lyric Opera’s “The Anonymous Lover.” Photo by Nile Scott Studios.




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