RICHARDSON – Opera is the most labor-intensive of the performing arts, calling for set designers, carpenters and electricians, costumers and wigmakers as well as singers and orchestra musicians and rehearsal pianists and what have you. So when someone proposes a "community" opera company, on the cheap, beware.
But there's a place for such outfits: to explore smaller-scale repertory and give young singers performance opportunities. On those counts, the Living Opera, a Richardson-based community opera company in its second season, holds promise.
The company's Don Pasquale, which opened Thursday evening at the Eisemann Center's Countrywide Theater, had an impressive lineup of voices. (The same cast sings in a repeat performance Saturday; a different cast sings tonight and Sunday.) Although lacking a real pit, the intimate theater proved acoustically admirable.
The star of the show, hands down, was Abla Hamza's firecracker of a Norina. Hers is a genuinely beautiful soprano, warm, liquescent and nimble, and she played the conniving faux ingénue to the hilt.
Nathan Myers was awfully young for Dr. Malatesta, but he compensated with a feisty stage presence and a bright, well-focused baritone. Dramatically, Rick Novak was a nondescript Ernesto, and his upper notes were sometimes a bit frayed and under pitch. But he sang expressively and turned some lovely phrases.
In the title role, Jeremy Paul Milner supplied a rich baritone. But much of the evening he seemed to exist in a parallel rhythmic universe, lagging as much as a whole measure behind the orchestra. The role includes a brisk patter number, but, well, his doesn't seem to be an allegro voice. And his impersonation of an old man wasn't very convincing.
Accompaniment was supplied by a small salon-orchestra complement: two violins, cello, bass, flute, oboe, clarinet, two bassoons, timpani and guitar. Apart from some early disagreements over Donizetti's dotted rhythms, conductor Keith Chambers got secure playing. But his one-size-fits-all beat wasn't very helpful, and a couple of his tempos were beyond the singers' skills. The small chorus had fine women, OK men.
This is billed as a "Wild, Wild West!" production, but the basic décor of Pasquale's salon looks like middlebrow Highland Park, ca. 1960. There's a quasi-Western sofa, but also (!) a Danish modern dining set. Only in the last act did I figure out that the strange piece of furniture in front of the fireplace was a highboy desk, turned the wrong way. Moving the second scene to a frontier saloon seemed pretty pointless.
The stage director is Michael Chadwick, the company's co-founder and artistic director. He also played a falling-down-drunk Notary, the most misguided characterization in a production that seemed incompletely thought-through.
There's potential here. I'd like to see what the company might do with another stage director.
Repeats at 7:30 tonight and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Countrywide Theater, Eisemann Center, 2351 Performance Drive, Richardson. $15 to $35. 972-744-4650, www.thelivingopera.org.