Annapolis Opera moving from 'Little Women' to 'Arias & Encores'

The Baltimore Sun

In producing Mark Adamo’s acclaimed version of “Little Women” last weekend, Annapolis Opera took on the mission set out by artistic director and conductor Ronald J. Gretz to bring accessible, contemporary opera to Maryland Hall audiences.

The result was a bold and fulfilling production, and one that launched the troupe’s season on a high note.

Those attending “Little Women” last weekend are likely to be anxious for more — and won’t have to wait long.

Next up for Annapolis Opera is “Arias & Encores,” a concert showcasing arias and duets from opera and musical theater. The concert will be held 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 3, at Calvary United Methodist Church, 301 Rowe Blvd., Annapolis.

Featured are sopranos Meroë Khalia Adeeb and Elisabeth Slaten and mezzo-sopranos Nicole Levesque and Chrystal E. Williams, with pianist Eileen Cornett. For information and tickets call 410-280-5640 or go to annapolisopera.org.

Yet before hearing those “Arias & Encores,” the production of “Little Women” warrants note for its innovation and excellence.

Beginning with an “Overture” led by Gretz’s insightful conducting of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and offstage chorus, the show offered a richly rewarding musical experience. Adamo’s retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 classic tale of the March sisters — Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth — captured their growth through a contemporary libretto and blended tonal and non-tonal score.

All elements of the troupe’s 45th season opener worked beautifully, from the enchanting set by April Joy Vester to costume design by Lorraine vom Saal.

As Jo, Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Sarah Mesko was compelling vocally and dramatically, engaging audiences in her energetic portrayal of the strong-willed, passionately devoted big sister. Supremely versatile vocally, Mesko displayed bright mezzo, most notably in her duet with baritone Ethan Greene, portraying Friedrich Bhaer.

The opera’s theme of change is first illustrated in Jo’s difficulty accepting younger sister Meg’s loving relationship with family tutor John Brooke, fully realized vocally and dramatically by baritone Alexander Elliott. Their growing love results in marriage, causing the first serious family crisis and providing a major musical highlight with mezzo soprano Rachel Arky, as Meg, delivering a magnificent “Things Change, Jo.”

As another suitor, Laurie, tenor Jonas Hacker excelled in his passionate arias to Jo and Amy, the latter beautifully portrayed by soprano Ariana Wehr.

Another profound change occurs in the tragic death of youngest sister Beth from scarlet fever. As Beth, soprano Claudia Rosenthal delivers a reflective, compassionate duet with Mesko’s Jo.

A final profound — and welcome — change is reflected in Jo’s exploration of new vistas in her life, introduced by Bhaer, the German teacher — fully captured by baritone Ethan Green in a gorgeous aria reciting Goethe’s “Knowest the land where lemon trees bloom,” first in German and then in English.

Completing the excellent cast were Madeleine Gray as Aunt Cecilia, Kyle Engler as mother Alma March and the March sisters’ father, Gideon, well portrayed by baritone Daniel Scofield. Large bravos are due to Gretz, as well as to stage director Braxton Peters, who in his 27 years with Annapolis Opera has hardly surpassed greater challenges than those presented in this complex masterwork.

As noted, “Little Women” is just the start of Annapolis Opera’s ambitious season. In addition to “Arias & Encores” next month, the company will offer “Take a Chance on Love,” a Valentine’s concert, Sunday, Feb. 11 at Rams Head Center Stage in Live Casino and Hotel.

Then, Annapolis Opera will offer another fully staged production in March when Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata” takes the Maryland Hall stage for two performances, 8 p.m. Friday, March 16 and and 3 p.m. Sunday, March 18.

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