The Annapolis Opera's recent decision to focus most of its attention on lighter fare paid dividends last weekend with a sumptuously mounted, well-sung production of Sigmund Romberg's "The Student Prince" at the Annapolis Senior High School auditorium.
This famous tale of the prince who leaves his castle to live and love as a student at the University of Heidelberg, only to have his sweetheart torn from him when he suddenly ascends to the throne, is a classic operetta; hokey as all get-out, but chock full of color, spirit and beautiful music.
Annapolis Opera's Stage Director Braxton Peters and Production Manager Jean Jackson presided over a handsome production. Kurt Gough's stage design -- from castle to tavern and back again -- was evocative as were Lorraine von Saal's beautiful costumes. This was a lovely affair to watch.
It also was a lovely production to hear, especially with the casting of tenor Steve Cramer as Prince Karl Franz. A graduate of Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania who has performed extensively in the Washington, D.C., area, Mr. Cramer is the most gifted singer to have appeared with Annapolis Opera in recent years.
Romberg gives his lead tenor a tough work out in "The Student Prince" and not once did Cramer disappoint. His upper range rings out authoritatively but never loses its luster. His delivery of the serenade, "Overhead the Moon Is Beaming," demonstrated a remarkable ability to move from one register to the next, top to bottom, with nary a bump.
In short, Mr. Cramer is the whole package and a large, mostly appreciative audience knew it.
Kathie, the beautiful barmaid who captures the young monarch's heart, was played by Carla DelVillagio, a gifted soprano also making her Annapolis Opera debut. Her voice is powerful yet delicately attractive and she projects a warm, involved presence.
But her consonants often disappear, and beautifully formed, wholly unintelligible vowels emerge instead of words.
Particularly impressive among the supporting players were Nancy Almquist as Karl Franz's queen-to be, Jonathan Oyler as her jilted suitor and baritone Thomas Zielinski as the Prince's tutor. It's a good thing Mr. Zielinski was in good voice; his song "Golden Days" was reprised 50 times at least.
The show's most famous number, "The Drinking Song" failed to come off. The tempo seemed rushed, and the soloist appeared to have fortified himself with sarsaparilla instead of a Heidelberg brew.