BWW Review: KING ARTHUR at the Beverly O'Neill Theater in Long Beach
On Sunday afternoon, Long Beach Opera (LBO) presented the world premiere of its adaptation of Henry Purcell's semi-opera King Arthur at the Beverly O'Neill Theater. the term semi-opera refers to a Restoration entertainment that combines a spoken play with musical episodes that involve singing and dancing. Purcell's best known semi-operas are King Arthur and The Fairy-Queen. LBO presented its version of the latter in 2017.
The libretto for LBO's production of Purcell's King Arthur was formed by a collaboration between Stage Director, Conductor and Designer Andreas Mitisek with members of Culture Clash: Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas, and Herbert Siguenza, who are known for sharp social satire. In this production "King" Arthur is a figure head for Donald Trump and the rest of the satire plays off aspects off his personality.
Baroque Orchestra Musica Angelica performed Purcell's music behind a black curtain in an area behind the actors. I wish it had been given more prominence because its members played with great elegance and virtuosity. I loved the trills and runs by trumpeter Melissa Rodgers whom I did not see until the final bows. King Arthur contains much of Purcell's most beautiful music and includes some his most unusual harmonies.
In the semi-opera's plot, King Arthur returns to earth as a superhero and fights a mysterious supernatural shape-shifting force that threatens the good life on this planet. Unfortunately, the once svelte and powerful Arthur finds himself misshapen and in a mental hospital. At one point instead of a doublet or a red t-shirt with his iconic "A" on it, he wears a strait jacket. He and his companion Lance E. Lott, the man with the blue "L" t-shirt, can only sing and wish they were their action figures. Wearing red as well as white, Nurse Gwen E. Vere cares for them even as lab-coat-clad Doc Oswald, representing Arthur's enemy, the Saxon king of Kent, tries to thwart their progress.
Tenor Marc Molomot who sang Arthur, is known for his ability to sing well above the range of ordinary tenors and in this piece he maintained a high lyrical line. Jamie Chamberlin was a cute and sexy Nurse Gwen who sang her dulcet lines with a rather wide vibrato.
Countertenor Darryl Taylor who sang Aknaten at LBO in 2011, long before the Met did it in HD, was amusing as Arthur's sidekick, Lance. Bass-baritone Cedric Berry was a strong-voiced Doc Oswald who represented the forces of evil both vocally and visually. A good actor as well as a superb singer, I hope he will be back at LBO in the near future.
Conductor, designer, and stage director Andreas Mitisek brought the piece to fruition with his immense ability to work with both the musical and physical aspects of the show. Not all the jokes were funny to everyone, but even the groaners, and there were quite a few of them, amused some audience members.
The twenty-twenty season is off to a rollicking start and in March it will offer the Los Angeles premiere of Peter Maxwell Davies' The Lighthouse in the Aquarium's new cutting edge, high definition technology space. In May, LBO will offer the United States premiere of Gavin Bryars' Billy the Kid, an opera that tells of the outlaw's life in late 19th century New Mexico. In June, LBO's twenty-twenty finale will be the return, due to popular demand, of Robert Rodriguez's Frida.