BWW Review: DER ZWERG at THEATRE AT ACE HOTEL
Numi Opera began its inaugural season with Alexander Zemlinsky's almost forgotten Der Zwerg (The Dwarf), a piece once condemned by the Nazi Third Reich. In Los Angeles, the dark and cavernous ground floor of the Theatre at Ace Hotel was more than half full for the matinee performance on Sunday, June 2, 2019.
Probably, many of the onlookers had seen or heard of the 2006 Los Angeles Opera production of Der Zwerg that included a full orchestra conducted by James Conlon. Unfortunately, Numi's fully staged rendition of the same opera accompanied by a single piano allowed the sumptuous, elaborate orchestration of Zemlinsky's early twentieth century music to remain unheard. Although pianist Luthi played extremely well, there was no way he could encompass many of the orchestral harmonies of Zemlinsky's monumental score.
Numi Opera's Founder and Executive Director Gail Gordon directed this production which included some narrated sections from the piece on which Georg C. Klaren based the libretto for Der Zwerg, Oscar Wilde's short story The Birthday of Infanta. Narrator Carl Roberts spoke eloquently and his material added depth to the tale which asked the audience to question whether or not they see themselves as others see them. Around the time he composed the opera, Zemlinsky's lover, Alma Schindler, left him for the better looking and more internationally successful Gustav Mahler. Those circumstances may have influenced Zemlinsky's choice of subject for the opera.
In the opera, The Dwarf, who has never seen his likeness, does not know that he is badly proportioned and horrendously ugly. Dressed in reds and pinks with neither make up nor prosthetics used to produce an ugly appearance, Rodell Rosel created a sympathetic monster in the minds of the onlookers. Since he amused the Infanta, she played with him for a while. He fell in love, disregarding the social gulf between them, but she tired of him after a short time and moved on to more stirring interests. With his strong, high tenor voice, Rosel sang this difficult part without the orchestral harmonies normally to be expected from this opera.
As the Infanta, clad in shiny light colors topped with a crown, Ariana Falla succeeded in showing merely a mild interest in the gift of the dwarf while singing productively with her moderately sized soprano voice. Clad in a striking dark blue gown, Shana Blake Hill as Ghita sang with lyrical tones as she showed the Infanta her birthday gifts. The three maids in waiting, Elizabeth Queen, Adrien Roberts, and Sarabeth Belon, looked attractive in their well fitted bodices and sang with aplomb while Cuban-born dancer Berta Suarez performed her ballet cameo like the premiere danseuse she is. She was a delight to behold.
Roberto Perlas Gomez, whom we have previously seen on the stages of various California opera companies, was an officious Haushofmeister or majordomo. He was having no shenanigans from the teenaged girls, no matter how high their rank, and his character added a bit of levity to this otherwise tragic tale. Chorus Master Oliver Chan's group sang their notes well but their German diction was somewhat lacking. Der Zwerg was Numi Opera's initial production. The company will present Erich Korngold's Der Ring des Polykrates at the end of this year.
Photo of Gail Gordon: Numi Opera