The Pennsylvania Opera Theater presented the area premiere of local composer David Amram's "Twelfth Night" at the Trocadero Theater Friday evening. Based on a libretto by Joseph Papp, the work is a charming gem,
Mr. Amram employs a flexible tonality in "Twelfth Night," shifting between elegant recollections of Renaissance modality and his own Lyric. brand of contemporary style. What's most impressive about the score is the smoothness with which he leaves one approach to take up another. Feste's ballades don't stick out as sore thumbs even though they hark back to a bygone musical age. Mr. Amram has somehow managed to make them compatible with the arias and declamation of the other characters in the play.
No less noteworthy is his ability to strike a balance between full-scale arias and straightforward dramatic delivery, between solos, duets, trios, and all other sorts of ensembles. The music shifts from comic to serious to even passionate seamlessly. You never hear the gears changing.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, "Twelfth Night" is beautiful, plain and simple. And that's something a critic can't explain, and perhaps shouldn't even try to.
Mr. Papp's libretto is a masterpiece of simplification. The opera takes less than two and one half hours to perform with intermission and, yet, nothing of vital importance is missing from Shakespeare's original comedy. Orsino's pursuance of Olivia, Viola's disguise, Sir Toby Belch, Malvolio - they're all there in fine shape.
Although Lester Senter cut an inappropriate figure as Viola, her marvelous voice more than made up for it. She used .her strong mezzo artistically in that she molded the sound to fit the meaning of the words as well as the shape of the musical line.
Michael Ballam was splendid as Feste, the "Fool." This Feste is different from those I've seen previously on the theatrical stage. Instead of being crudely obsessed with sexual innuendos, this Feste was charming and lovable, perhaps because Mr. Ballam is a handsome young man and the music Mr. Amram has given him is lovely. I should quickly add that Mr. Ballam sang beautifully.
Vernon Hartman gave a solid performance as Orsino, the count in love with being in love, and Maureen Wimmer did nicely as Olivia, the lady in love with not being in love, at least until she meets Viola disguised as Cesario. Only her high notes seemed strained. Wayne Turnage improved as Malvolio, Olivia's pompous servant, while Leslie Goldman was a riot as Maria, her maid.
Edward Bogusz was too presentable as Sir Toby while Stuart Alan Goldstein, Stephen Colantti, and Carmen Muni revealed pale voices as Sir Andrew, Sebastian, and Antonio. William Lavonis and Donald Collup rounded out the cast efficaciously.
Barbara Silverstein conducted her small orchestra effectively and the set was enchanting. James Goolsby's stage direction was vibrant.
"Twelfth Night" continues tomorrow and Sunday at 7:30 p.m.