BWW Review: In Series Revives Opera OBERON

BWW Review: In Series Revives Opera OBERON

For three decades, the In Series has been presenting intimate, small scale works - what it calls "pocket operas" on a variety of stages in the city.

Its latest, according to founder and artistic director Carla Hubner, may be represent its biggest pocket yet.

A full 16-piece orchestra is assembled to play the music of German romantic composer Carl Maria von Weber's rarely performed "Oberon" in a production at the GALA Hispanic Theatre. Conceived as a kind of sequel to "A Midsummer Night's Dream," using some of its most prominent characters, the production first premiered in London in 1826.

The present production, commissioned by In Series, has new English lines in between the songs by Nick Alcott who also directed. So in between the somewhat twistEd English-language lyrics of James Robinson Plance's original are sometimes slangy lines, as when Puck dismisses fairy tale romances as "chick-lit, by my troth" or they keep quoting Shakespeare titles in response to one another. "As you like it!" she shrugs at one point.

The plot, originally based on a poem by Christoph Martin Wieland, surrounds the efforts of the fairy king of the production's title to write a new play about true love since his wife Titania didn't like that "Midsummer" had to rely on magic.

So Oberon conjures up a story about a knight and his sidekick, saving a pair of damsels from a dragon in this version, all occurring on a stage behind the stage he's already on. He works with Puck, who is something of his sounding board. When that caper goes a little too easily, he conjures up a whole other conflict involving pirates, kidnapping and another rescue mission.

Considered a terrible plot in its time, it's not much better today. But it's all in service of the music, of course -- both from the effective orchestra under the direction of Stanley Thurston, and several of the voices. While the voices of Oberon (tenor Aurelio Dominguez) and knight (Korean-American tenor Sammy Huh) and his sideman (Peruvian baritone Alex Alburqueque) are serviceable, the standouts are the female voices of the damsels, particularly soprano Cara Gonzalez and mezzo-soprano Anamer Castrello.

As Puck, mezzo Katherine Fili, doesn't get as many musical moments, but makes up for it with personality.

There's some fine work done with the ensemble, particularly when soprano Laynee Dell Woodward and mezzo-soprano Luisa Waycott serenade the knight as mermaids, perched on both sides of the balcony. Emily Casey, Teresa Ferrara, Patricia Portillo, Nicholas Carratura, Cornelius David, Elliot Matheny and Simon Charette round out the ensemble (as I said, it's a big pocket).

Donna Breslin gets into the spirit of things with her costumes. There's no choreographer listed, which may explain some of the clunky attempts at dance.

Jonathan Dahm Robertson's inventive set, with the action taking place behind a hoisted curtain in the back of the stage, framed by Oberon and Puck, puts front and center the highlight of the entire production - the music of Weber, which, coming a few months after Virginia Opera brought back his "Der Freischutz (The Marksman)," represents a kind of revival of his very tuneful style of German Romanticism.

Weber must have put his all in "Oberon." Sick when he was finishing it up in London, he died of tuberculosis after 12 sold out performances. He was 39.

Running time: Two hours with one intermission.

Photo credit: Katherine Fili and Aurelio Dominguez in "Oberon." Photo by Angelisa Gillyard.

"Oberon" continues through June 18 at GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW, Washington. Tickets at 202-204-7763 or online.

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From This Author Roger Catlin

Roger Catlin Roger Catlin is a Washington based arts writer whose work appears regularly in The Washington Post and SmithsonianMagazine.com. He has also written for Salon and (read more...)

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