As the middle of the summer approaches, a wealth of possibilities beckon in the performing arts. The hottest tickets are for a pair of masterpieces of two different branches of the musical stage.
American musical theater is represented by one of Broadway’s enduring romantic tuners, Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man.” It’s happening through Aug. 1 in Brunswick.
Italian grand opera is represented by one of its tragic masterpieces: Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca.” One performance, on July 30, is slated by Portland’s resident opera company.
One of Maine’s most popular alfresco music festivals is happening this weekend. The Ossipee Valley Music Festival runs July 23-26 in Hiram.
“Trouble in River City” has meant pure delight for audiences since 1957, when Meredith Willson debuted his masterpiece of American musical theater on Broadway. “The Music Man,” recognized with six Tony Awards, has been one of the most frequently produced tuners ever since.
Billed as “America’s most beloved musical,” Willson’s creation (book, music and lyrics) is the third show of the 2015 season at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick.
The story is a romantic comedy that revolves around a mesmerizing salesman who arrives in River City, Iowa, in 1912 and announces that he will form and lead a boys band. It’s a swindle – the flim-flam artist doesn’t know a note of music – and he plans to leave town as soon as the instruments and uniforms arrive and he’s collected the money. But the plan goes awry when he falls in love with the town’s music teacher and librarian.
Curt Dale Clark, MSMT’s second-year artistic director, takes the title role. With his handsome visage and fine voice, Clark excels in this wonderfully charismatic role. But the biggest voice in the theater belongs to his love interest, leading lady Lauren Blackman, who plays the music teacher. Blackman’s big soprano voice, adorned with a powerful vibrato, has plenty of opportunities to fill the hall and inspire rapturous applause.
The primo comedienne of this show is Charis Leos, who plays a self-important busybody and leader of a comic women’s chorus. Long an MSMT favorite, Leos has one of her funniest roles ever in “The Music Man.”
Other excellent performances are given by April Woodall, Andrew Lyndaker, David Girolmo and Jayson Elliott, plus a barbershop quartet that comprises Paul Aguirre, Steve Gagliastro, Peter McClung and John H. Thyen. Kudos to stage director Marc Robin and music director Brian Cimmet for keeping this very large cast of 43 moving smoothly from opening curtain to denouement.
Maine State Music Theatre presents “The Music Man” through Aug. 1 at Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick. Call 725-8768 or visit msmt.org.
Love, jealousy, deceit, betrayal and death are key ingredients of Italian tragic opera. Add three compelling characters, an historically important context plus a gorgeous score, and that’s the quick summary of “Tosca,” Giacomo Puccini’s celebrated masterpiece that debuted in Rome in 1900 and remains one of the most frequently performed operas.
For its 2015 production, PORTopera will offer a single July 30 performance of “Tosca,” featuring outstanding world-class singers in the principal roles and a nationally recognized conductor leading a full orchestra.
In terms of historical setting, “Tosca” takes place during the Napoleonic wars as politically fractured Italy struggles to gain independence from foreign domination and forge a sense of national identity. Theatrically, the story is a heartbreaking melodrama that revolves around two lovers whose dreams of happiness are thwarted by a lecherous protagonist who represents the personification of evil.
Puccini was a leading opera composer of his time, and “Tosca” is considered one of his masterpieces – noted for its lush arias, haunting leitmotifs and sustained power.
The title role will be played by Alexanda LoBianco, an up-and-coming soprano, whose honors include First Prize in the 2013 Altamura International Vocal Competition and First Prize at the William Sullivan Foundation 2013 Awards.
The romantic hero and tenor role will be performed by Adam Diegel, who last sang with PORTopera in 2012 as the dashing Lieutenant Pinkerton in Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly.”
PORTopera’s best-known singer will play the villain. Bass-baritone James Morris has performed in virtually every major international opera house and has appeared with the big orchestras of Europe and the United States. These include the Metropolitan Opera (New York), Vienna State Opera, Bavarian State Opera, (Munich), Deutsche Oper (Berlin), Lyric Opera of Chicago and San Francisco Opera.
Stephen Lord will conduct the orchestra, which mostly comprises members of the Portland Symphony. Lord is one of only four conductors chosen by Opera News for its “25 Most Powerful Names in U.S. Opera” and has led orchestras throughout the U.S.
Stage director and PORTopera artistic director Dona D. Vaughn has been with the company from its beginning in 1994. Vaughn current directs the opera program at the Manhattan School of Music. She is an all-around authority on musical theater, with experience as an actress on Broadway and training by masters of acting and dance.
Southern Maine’s biggest mid-summer alfresco music festival is slated for this weekend. The Ossipee Valley Music Festival, originally started as a bluegrass gathering, has expanded its scope and now embraces traditional – “old-timey” is a word that impresario Bill Johnson likes to use – music of several related genres.
Most of the acts that Johnson hires are acoustic string bands with vocals. As a sub-theme, Johnson likes to book female artists who are often overlooked in a genre that is traditionally dominated by men.
The top national acts in Ossipee’s 2015 lineup are Cindy Cashdollar, Claire Lynch Band, the Travelin’ McCourys and Doyle Lawson Band. Other notables are the Goodbye Girls, Rebecca Frazier and Hit and Run Bluegrass, Davina and the Vagabonds, New England Bluegrass, Lonely Heartstring Band, Albert Lee, Elephant Revival, Bag Boys, Wild Ponies and Tumbling Bones.
There are two performing stages, which run simultaneously on Saturday, plus an arena for instructional workshops and competitions. Ossipee exudes a festival spirit, complete with multiple food vendors, a beer tent and a catered church supper-chicken barbecue.
I’ve been going to this festival for nearly 20 years, and I won’t miss this one.
Ossipee Valley Music Festival takes place July 23-26 at Ossipee Valley Fairground in South Hiram. Most of the national acts are scheduled for July 24-25. Visit ossipeevalley.com.
Curt Dale Clark stars in the title role of “The Music Man,” Meredith Willson’s tuneful fable about a fast-talking salesman, Professor Harold Hill, who comes to River City, Iowa, to form a boys’ band.