Review: THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

By: Oct. 13, 2019

Review: THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion

On Saturday Evening, October 12, 2019, Los Angeles Opera presented Adam Guettel's THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA. A musical theater work rather than an opera, PIAZZA provided the audience with a nostalgic excursion to Florence and Rome in the 1950s. Robert Jones's single set included not only a wall with doors and a large flight of steps but also the rear view of a huge unclothed male statue and a niche inhabited by an ancient saint. It certainly was reminiscent of Florence in the 50s or in 1960 when I arrived there for the first time. Jones even gave us a Vespa, but it was silent and electric, unlike the noisy bike I shipped home.

Daniel Evans's realistic direction and occasional comic timing used all the available space to good effect and helped the artists create compelling charters. Brigitte Reiffenstuel's gorgeous multiplicity of costumes defined the time period. White gloves, smart fabrics and crinoline underpinnings gave Clara's skirts a perky, starched look. Brimmed hats and slim skirts to mid calf made Margaret a most proper matron, while Giuseppe's rust brown double breasted suit paid homage to the family's haberdashery business.

Guettel's music is 21st century, however. Developed in the west during 2003 and 2004, PIAZZA opened at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center on April 18, 2005, where it ran for more than 500 performances. At last night's performance, Kimberly Grigsby conducted Guettel's well orchestrated romantic score with energy and verve as she delved into its varied musical styles, melodic structures, and harmonic shifts.

In Act I, Margaret was an over-protective mother traveling with her daughter, Clara, whose emotional development was somewhat delayed. When Clara fell in love with Fabrizio, Margaret tried to keep them apart. Eventually she realized that her daughter had a right to a husband who loved her.

As Margaret, Renée Fleming took the audience with her as she grew out of her protective mother stage and began to realize that Clara's best option in life would be the love of a man from the younger generation. In the end she offers the Naccarelli family a large dowry to insure the wedding would take place. For Fleming it was a tour de force as she not only showed onlookers various stages of her character's complete change of heart, but also gave us the glorious high notes and legato singing of opera along with the snappy repartee of musical theater.

As Clara, Dove Cameron had a huge part which she handled with seeming ease. Her singing was less operatic than Fleming's, but it fit her part as the ingenue. She sang her high notes perfectly but with no vibrato until their very end and that worked well for her character. As Fabrizio, tenor Rob Houchen sang with a sweet lyric tone and made a fine beau for Clara. Malcolm Sinclair was sadly unsympathetic as Clara's father, while Brian Stokes Mitchell was thoroughly Italianate as the progenitor of the Naccarelli family. As Franca, Celinde Schoenmaker evoked both laughter and tears. Marie McLaughlin sang like the beloved opera diva she is and spoke understandably.

Members of the ensemble: Rhona McGregor, Tom Partridge, Molly Lynch, Nicholas Duncan, Jordan Castle, Chlöe Hart, Danny Becker, Monica Swain, and Simbi Akande, made well-fleshed-out cameo appearances as the priests, nuns, servers, tourists, sex workers, and other piazza denizens that completed the production. I did wish that the show had offered Italian titles as well as the English text we enjoyed reading above the stage. It's easier to read a second language than it is to grasp it orally.

THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA is not only a nostalgic trip to Europe, it is fine entertainment for anyone over the age of 12. You can catch A LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA on October 13, 17, 18, 19 matinee and evening, and on the 20th. It's a wonderful show. Enjoy!

Photo: Craig T. Matthew