Robert Ward's 'The Crucible' gets vivid staging by Peabody Opera

Peabody Opera Theatre is on a roll. In the same season that saw worthy productions of Igor Stravinsky's "The Rake's Progress" and Dominick Argento's "Postcard from Morocco," the company has successfully tackled another demanding 20th-century work, Robert Ward's "The Crucible."

Based on the Arthur Miller play, "The Crucible" does not always have a distinctive ring to my ears. I find some of it too obvious or heavy-handed; the orchestral thump at the first mention of the word "witchcraft" is but one example.


And I confess to wondering if Ward was thinking of another American opera when he wrote the big scene between John Proctor and the wicked young woman who once had his heart -- it sounds like it could easily turn into a duet called "Abigail, You Is Not My Woman Now."

That said, "The Crucible" reveals a good deal of craftsmanship and, above all, packs quite a theatrical wallop ans it rushes toward the dispiriting conclusion of this story about bewitched, bothered and bewildered folk in colonial Massachusetts.

Roger Brunyate, directing his final Peabody Opera main stage production as head of the company, seizes on that propulsive element and zeroes in tightly on the drama. He also designed the economical set, which is subtly lit by Douglas Nelson.

Brunyate got impressively intense performances from Thursday night's cast (this group also performs Saturday; another was heard Wednesday and will be onstage Friday). The singers did not ...

meet all the needs of the score, which is filled with wide leaps and extended fortissimo passages, and several performers were reduced to shouting. But everyone managed to communicate credibly the essence of the music.

Nathan Wyatt was a standout as John Proctor, the moral core of the story. Although he struggled at times to control the tone at either end of his range, the bulk of his singing emerged solid and warm.

Alexandra Razskazoff did vibrant work, vocally and dramatically, as Abigail. Julianne McCarthy sang with a good deal of expressive flair as Elizabeth Proctor.  Peter Tomaszewski gave a sympathetic, sturdy-voiced performance as Reverend Hale.

Among the others, I was particularly taken with the tender tone and sensitive phrasing of Delaney Rosen as Rebecca Nurse. And James Kil strongly conveyed the noble character of Giles Corey.

The orchestra, conducted effectively by JoAnn Kulesza, poured out an impressive wave of instrumental angst.

PHOTO (of Amedee Moore and Jisoo Kim from the Wed/Fri cast) COURTESY OF PEABODY INSTITUTE