The Central City Opera brands itself a true player among theater patrons
By David Josselyn
The final act for 2014 season the Central City Opera was held once again in the prestigious Ellie Caulkins Opera House of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, performing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music. Ken Cazan, who also directed this summer’s Dead Man Walking, directed the Tony Award winning musical. The Sound of Music is a story set in 1938 Austria just prior, during and immediately following the Anschluss Osterreichs; Hitler’s takeover of Austria. Maria, a problem postulate in an Abbey is sent to be a governess out “in the world” for a time before making her final decision to become a nun. Maria ends up looking after the seven children of Georg von Trapp, a retired captain of the Austrian Navy. The two fall in love, but end up fleeing to Switzerland over the Alps when Captain von Trapp is ordered to come out of retirement to assume a role in Hitler’s naval forces. Although the musical ends there, it is based on a true story and the von Trapp family eventually made new lives for themselves in America.
The role of Maria, made famous by Mary Martin on stage, then later by Julie Andrews on film, is played effortlessly by British soprano Katherine Manley, whose vocals resemble those of Julie Andrews, but without the full four octaves. Manley imbues her voice with the sweetness and uncertainty of the character and performs the role with incredible joy. No stranger to the character, Ms. Manley performed the same role in the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris just a couple years prior. Baritone Troy Cook takes on the male lead role of Captain von Trapp, marching across the stage with charisma and just a little charm. The voice that received thunderous applause after every performance however, belongs to mezzo-soprano Maria Zifchak playing the role of Mother Abbess. Climb Every Mountain is sung with such goose-flesh inducing strength and vigor; she could convince anyone they could climb Mt. Everest regardless of physical condition. The role of “Uncle” Max Detweiler is played mischievously by Robert Orth with much aplomb. Orth just about steals the scene every time he is on stage with perhaps his funniest moment giving the heil salute to German soldiers then allowing his wrist to go limp as they walk away.
You can’t review The Sound of Music without talking about the performance of the children, so here goes. Julie Tabash played the eldest daughter Liesl von Trapp perfectly. Tabash has a strong voice lending itself well to Sixteen Going On Seventeen; however, she played the role a little too perfectly. Tabash was sweet and engaging, but the awkwardness of being sixteen seemed to be missing. Perhaps it’s the fact that Julie is considerably older than the character made it lose some of the believability that we were watching a sixteen year old girl. Tabash; however, was the exception, both in age difference and in believability. Every one of the other six children nailed their roles and gave the characters a reason for being a part of story more than just one of the children. The children were all tapped from the Colorado Children’s Chorale and if this is a sample of what those Chorale kids can do then the Chorale performances are not to be missed. Louisa, performed by Margaret Pilkington, seemed underplayed a bit since she is the reputable prankster of the bunch. Perhaps being on stage, visual pranks become too small to successfully incorporate into the play. Grace Pouliot perhaps had the choicest role with Brigitta, the most precocious 10 year old girl with a penchant for brutal honesty. Cooper Causey hammed it up playing the role of Kurt and Lucy Crile was absolutely incredible as the five year old Gretl.
The Central City Opera (CCO) has a real hit on their hands with their performance of The Sound of Music, but alas, the 2014 season ends here. The CCO is looking to build on what they’ve accomplished; however, and doing something new for the 2015 season, continuing to adapt to modern audiences. Breaking established tradition, the CCO will be performing not four, but five productions for the season. The first two, La Traviata and Man of La Mancha, will be performed in the intimate setting of the Central City Opera House. Patrons will have to be vigilant to catch the final three productions, though. The Prodigal Son is hitting the road and will be performed at church venues in Central City and throughout the state of Colorado. The fourth production, The Blind, is one which was first performed only three years back in Berlin, Germany, and requires the audience be blindfolded so they can “enter the world of its sightless characters.” This one will be performed at non-traditional venues in Central City and across the region. The final production is Don Quixote and the Duchess and again will be performed in venues in Central City and across Colorado.