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Virtually perfect

Lyric Opera Cleveland's production of 'Little Women',
reviewed by KELLY FERJUTZ


In the attic of an old house, a young woman sings 'we're perfect as we are,' but her companion says, 'things change, Jo.' These two phrases repeat over and over throughout Mark Adamo's Little Women, the opening production of Lyric Opera Cleveland's thirty first season. Things do indeed change, but this production is virtually perfect as it is.

Anyone who has ever read the classic from which Mr Adamo created his opera will readily recognize Little Women by the nineteenth century American writer Louisa May Alcott. Whether she was writing about her own family or not is frequently a subject for discussion, but in any case, her take on families and the dynamics contained within them is right on target. With great care and no little amount of tenderness, Mr Adamo has captured and distilled the essence of the book -- the characters and their lives -- into his libretto, and set it to wonderful sweeping, appropriate music.

The cast for this production could hardly be improved upon; mezzo-soprano Jennifer Rivera is Jo, the passionate center about whom the opera swirls. Oldest of the four March daughters -- the others being Meg, Beth and Amy -- she wants always for things to stay as they were and are. She longs for all of her sisters and her parents to be together without ever disturbing the status quo. That can't be, as she learns, but one may carry the love that holds the family together, forever, regardless of where they may be, and the changes that will inevitably happen.

As in the book, though, practical Meg (soprano Katherine Pracht) marries the rather distant John Brooke (baritone Stephen Hartley) and inquisitive Amy (soprano Ashleigh Rabbitt) goes off to Europe to study art as well as the exuberant boy-next-door, Laurie (tenor Steven Mello). Eventually, these two will marry, while the quieter Beth (soprano Christina Bouras) succumbs to scarlet fever.

Although there is a wonderful supporting cast, it is these six young singers who are the heart of the opera. Whether singing a solo, duo, quartet or other ensemble grouping, the voices blend silkily, and it is also an advantage to have them all look the part they portray. When Jo meets Professor Bhaer in the second act, (bass-baritone Kurt Ollman) he, too, is exquisitely believable in his role as the slightly older man. In fact, when he sang Mr Adamo's lied with words by Goethe, Kennst du das Land, he very nearly stopped the show with his gorgeous interpretation.

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Copyright © 22 June 2004 Kelly Ferjutz, Cleveland USA


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