Ups and downs for Rockford Operetta.
By Sue Langenberg
In its sixth production, Rockford Operetta Party performed “Mirette” Friday evening at the First Presbyterian Church in Winnebago. The performance was of the opera comique genre that combines spoken dialogue with arias. The style of opera is not always light and not always comic, but this one was.
Directed by ROP’s Scott Farrell, this creation was first produced at the Savoy Theatre in London in the late 19th century, though it went through some decades of rewrites, bad reviews and many changes from Romantic to comedic as is currently enjoyed with lyrics by Adrian Ross and composition by Andre Messager.
The story mixes gypsies and royalty with romance and starry eyes about whom may be allowed to court whom, and all the songs and spirits abound. The music in this operetta, for the most part is unmemorable, though pleasantly received as a mood of dreamy love. There are waltzy waltzes and various galloping meters to express much joy.
In a church setting, music finds an historic place for peaceful and pensive purity. After all, the performing arts were born out of religious expression. A presentation of a theatrical production in a church, however, poses some logistical challenges. There is no provision for lighting that has its own role. It can make or break a scene. Moreover, the audience must endure the same generic lighting, thereby weakening the suspension of belief between stage and viewers.
Though the generosity of Winnebago’s First Presbyterian Church gives this upstart organization a performance venue, the stage situation is less than ideal with a separation between the choir loft and an awkward narrow vaudevillian space in front with creaky boards between.
The most glaring weakness of the production, however, was that it was presented in a Reader’s Theatre format, thus weakening the overall arc of cohesiveness necessary for a lyrical and rhythmic progression of the story. The natural tendency in this style is that the characters each develop more of a relationship with the open book before them than with each other, thus losing that delicate element of timing so necessary with a light-hearted comedy. The result often causes awkward pauses and faltering emphasis on the action.
Eleven members of the cast of five men and six women were joyous as a chorus when together, but frequently dropped the first measure or two to sneak in a weak beginning of the song, perhaps a slight misstep between piano accompanier Gregory Gyllsdorff and singers.
There were some outstanding soloists to note. As the Baron Van Den Berg, Gregory Lewis, perhaps underused in this production, was truly remarkable with his solid stage presence and most apparent vocal experience near and far across the country. As “Mirette,” Lorie Parker-Weinrich has a lilting and articulate soprano voice that easily lends itself to a lead role.
Most talented as performer and vocalist was Erica Edquist with her strong voice and acting ability. Elsewhere in the cast, and no less important were Timothy Borden, Jared Slothower, Jordan Becker, Jana Withers, Jenn Polecastro, JeriAnne Hose-Ryan and Sue Lewis, as well as director Farrell himself.
In its infancy, the company can be lauded for perseverance and passion, especially on the part of Farrell whose area of expertise is determined to present the works of light opera. (Next performance, Sunday March 13, 2 p.m.)