A contemporary opera based on an American play
By Aaron Storms
Following a Central City Days party entailing a country fair and a mock wedding for opera patrons before opening night on Saturday evening, July 6, the “Our Town” premier was a fitting performance. This opera was performed in English, highlighting the small-town daily life and the drama associated with a boy and girl growing up as neighbors, learning to love each other, culminating in marriage, and the grief associated with the loss of a loved one. The setting was in Grover’s Corner, a small (fictional) New Hampshire town in 1901, but could easily have been from any small town in America.
Thornton Wilder won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play in 1938, and then in 2006 Ned Rorem, an award-winning composer, worked with JD McClatchy to transform the play into an intimate opera with sparse settings, choosing instead to focus on the great orchestra music and wonderful voices of the performers.
Soprano Anna Christy played the title role of Emily Webb, daughter of the local newspaper publisher, and impressed the audience with her voice and stage presence. Playing opposite her in the other title role as the baseball-focused boyfriend, George Gibbs, was tenor William Ferguson.
Acting as the narrator was Colorado native, tenor Vale Rideout, whose running commentary tied the various phases of the performers lives together and set the background.
Emily’s mother, Mrs. Webb, was played by renowned soprano Sally Wolf, and George’s father and town doctor was played by bass Kevin Langan, whose deep voice was a pleasure to listen to. On a personal note, Langan and Wolf will be celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary this month!
Acclaimed baritone John Hancock plays Emily’s father, Mr. Webb, and has great advice for his future son-in-law George in dealing with women. George’s mother, Mrs. Gibbs, is played by mezzo-soprano Phyllis Pancella, who has an expressive voice and was happy to have her husband, Dr. Gibbs, have a talk with their son George about responsibilities of a man and when those take precedence over playing baseball.
The final scene was a fanciful suggestion of what those who have passed on from this life might be thinking about their current situation, and what they might have done differently if they could return.
If you and your date enjoy musical and performing talent in an intimate setting, this is an easy to follow opera performance you will want to catch.