Review: Glimmerglass Festival’s Rip-Roaring “Oklahoma” – July 14, 2017

The 2017 Glimmerglass Festival has mounted a rousing Molly Smith production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” with a highly entertaining cast.

It represents the seventh consecutive year that the Glimmerglass Festival has celebrated the American musical, fulfilling the vision of the festival’s artistic and general director, Francesca Zambello.

Jarrett Ott’s Curly

In his Glimmerglass Festival debut, Pennsylvania baritone Jarrett Ott was a beguiling Curly, opening the musical with an elegantly phrased Oh What a Beautiful Morning sung from a main floor aisle of the Alice Busch Theater.

[Below: Jarrett Ott as Curly; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]

Tall, handsome and a natural actor, Ott possesses an expansive baritone that he effectively enlisted for such standards as Surrey with a Fringe on Top. Ott’s performance is particularly noteworthy in his visit to the smokehouse of the farmhand Jud, whom Ott’s Curly humiliates in the ironically comic Poor Jud is Daid.

I had favorably reported on Ott’s performance as Masetto in last year’s Santa Fe Opera production of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” [Review: Okulitch, Ketelsen Star in Santa Fe Opera’s New “Don Giovanni”, July 2, 2016]. Earlier last year he performed the lead role of W. P. Inman in the Philadelphia Opera’s production of Higdon’s “Cold Mountain”.

Vanessa Becerra’s Laurey

Curly’s love interest, Laurey, was performed by Texas soprano Vanessa Becerra. As a 2016 Glimmerglass Young Artist, Becerra had sung with distinction the principal role of Musetta in Puccini’s “La Boheme [Review: The Glimmerglass Festival Mounts a Youthful “La Boheme” – August 6, 2016].

[Below: Laurey (center, in gingham skirt) joins her friends (members of the Glimmerglass Young Artists ensemble) in a dance; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]

One of librettist Oscar Hammerstein II’s great successes are the lyrics to what I call “tentative” love duets (such as It’s Only Make Believe in Hart’s and Hammerstein’s “Show Boat” and If I Loved You in Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s “Carousel”.)

In “Oklahoma!” the “tentative” love duet is People Will Say We Are in Love. Becerra’s Laurie and Ott’s Curly charmed the audience when the love duet was first sung. At the duet’s reprise later in the show, the two admit that they are in love.

[Below: Curly (Jarrett Ott, left) and Laurey (Vanessa Becerra, right) decide to let people know they are in love; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]

Michael Roach’s Will Parker

One of Francesca Zambello’s ideas for Glimmerglass was to encourage Young Artists to pursue dancing as well as singing. One such Young Artist is Florida tenor Michael Roach, who pursued a Fine Arts education within Syracuse University’s Drama Department.

Roach was cast as Will Parker, a rodeo rider in love with Ado Annie Carnes (played by Emma Roos).

Possessing an appealing leggiero tenor and comic timing, Roach sang Parker’s showpiece Everything’s Up to Date in Kansas City and led the Glimmerglass male ensemble in the dazzling dance that accompanied it.

The amount of energy expended in Roach’s performance is astonishing.

[Below: Will Parker (Michael Roach, right) joyfully announces he has met the terms of Andrew Carnes (William Burden, facing left) to marry his daughter; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]

Emma Roos’ Ado Annie Carnes 

In the role of Ado Annie Carnes, Emma Roos sang persuasively, proving her command of broad comedy, in her blockbuster I’m Just a Girl who Cain’t Say No.

[Below: Emma Roos as Ado Annie Carnes, a girl who “cain’t say No”; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]

Like her co-star Michael Roach, the California mezzo-soprano Emma Roos, is a Young Artist from Syracuse University’s drama school with extensive training in dance.

One of the evening’s highlights is when Roos’ Ado Annie and Roach’s Will Parker finally come together for the sparkling duet All Er Nothin’.

[Below: Will Parker (Michael Roach, above) holds Ado Annie Carnes (Emma Roos, below); edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]

Dylan Morrongiello’s Ali Hakim and Michael Hewitt’s Jud Fry 

Florida tenor and Rice University graduate Dylan Morrongiello performed the role of the Persian pedlar Ali Hakim, a character who is happy to be Will Parker’s rival for Ado Annie’s loving, as long as Annie’s loving comes without strings.

Morrongiello’s Ali shone as he led the company’s male chorus in the witty It’s a Scandal, It’s an Outrage in which the men decry the practice of their girls’ fathers imposing shotgun marriages on the suitors.

[Below: Ali Hakim (Dylan Morrongiello, left) is interested in pursuing a love affair with Ado Annie Carnes (Emma Roos, right) as long as there is no talk of marriage or commitment; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]

The one truly unsympathetic character in the show is the brooding, smokehouse-dwelling farmhand Jud Fry, played by Colorado baritone Michael Hewitt.

As Jud, Hewitt, utilizing a fine lyric baritone to convey the character’s obsession with Laurey, convincingly sang the dark ballad Lonely Room. 

Earlier this year Hewitt was a finalist in the important Kurt Weill/Lotte Lenya competition. Hewitt is yet another example of the Glimmerglass Festival’s deep pool of talented Young Artists.

[Below: Michael Hewitt as Jud Fry; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]

Judith Skinner’s Aunt Eller and William Burden’s Andrew Carnes

Two major character roles were the assignments of Georgia contralto Judith Skinner and Florida tenor William Burden.

Skinner was a lively Aunt Eller, one of the community’s elders, giving a bravura performance as part of the hit number The Farmer and the Cowman.

Significantly, Skinner divides her time this Glimmerglass Festival season, with two important character roles that includes also Maria in Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” [Review: Glimmerglass Festival “Porgy and Bess”: Ngqungwana, Trevigne Lead Strong Cast for New Zambello Production – July 13, 2017.]

[Below: Aunt Eller (Judith Skinner) relaxes on her porch; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]

In luxury casting, the role of Ado Annie’s father, Andrew Carnes, was assumed by the esteemed lyric tenor William Burden, who is this year’s designated Glimmerglass Festival Artist in Residence.

Burden brought gravitas and superb singing to the role of a father who has his non-negotiable demands and his shotgun ready for anyone who would court his daughter.

I have reviewed Burden’s memorable performances at the San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Santa Fe Opera, New Orleans Opera and Seattle Opera. His recent triumphs include roles as diverse as Edgardo [Review: New Orleans Opera’s Spectacular “Lucia di Lammermoor” with Laura Claycomb, William Burden – March 15, 2015], Laca Klemen [Review: A Beautifully Performed “Jenufa” by Byström, Mattila and Burden, San Francisco Opera, June 19, 2016] and George Bailey [World Premiere Review: Jake Heggie’s Celestial Transformation of “It’s a Wonderful Life” – Houston Grand Opera, December 2, 2016.]

My interview with him details his long association with Francesca Zambello and the Glimmerglass Festival [see American Orpheus: An Interview with William Burden].

[Below: William Burden as Andrew Carnes; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]

Maestro James Lowe and the Musical and Vocal Performances

The Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra and Chorus was conducted with reverence for the classic score by Maestro James Lowe. David Moody was chorus master.

Great works of the American theater have been entrusted to Lowe by the opera companies of Glimmerglass and elsewhere. [See Review: “Sweeney Todd” at Houston Grand Opera: Nathan Gunn, Director Lee Blakeley Make a Compelling Case for Sondheim as Opera, April 24, 2015.]

The Young Artists who were principals in the dream ballet were New Jersey’s Olivia Barbieri as Dream Laurey and Sylvie and Ezekiel Edmonds as Dream Curly.

[Below: in a dream sequence dancers Olivia Barbieri (left) was Laurie and Ezekiel Edmonds (right) was Curly; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]

Michigan’s Harry Greenleaf, who had sung the key role of Anthony Hope in 2016 Glimmerglass Festival production of Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd”, was Cord Elam.

The role of Ike Skidmore was performed by Minnesota’s Conor McDonald. District of Columbia’s Edward Graves was Fred, Mexico’s Andres Moreno Garcia was Slim, and Pennsyvania’s Tucker Reed Breder was Mike.

North Carolina’s Kayleigh Decker was Gertie, Oregon’s Abigail Dock was Dorcas and North Carolina’s Alyssa Martin was Vivian. New York’s Mary Evelyn Hangley was Ellen, Wisconsin’s Katrina Galka was Kate and California’s Mary Beth Nelson was Virginia.

New Jersey’s Jarrett Porter was Sam, Michigan’s Joseph Leppek was Joe, New York’s Shanel Bailey was Aggie, California’s Anju Cloud was Minnie, California’s Aidan Kahl was Wes and New York’s Makato Winkler was Edward.

Director Molly Smith, Set Designer Eugene Lee, and Choreographer/Fight Director Parker Esse

Washington State’s Molly Smith directed the fast-moving, always logical action. The sets by Eugene Lee were minimalist, but serviceable.

The dances, comprised of the talented Young Artist dancers and choreographed by Texas choreographer Parker Esse, were intricate and expressive.

Esse also choreographed the effective fight sequences, notably the lethal knife-fight between Ott’s Curly and Hewitt’s Jud.

[Below: the community celebrates the “Brand New State” – Oklahoma!; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Recommendation

I enthusiastically recommend the Glimmerglass Festival production of “Oklahoma!” for all audiences.