By HOWARD HEALY
David Amram's "Twelfth Night," which premiered at the Lake George Opera Festival last Thursday night and which I saw Saturday night, is a genuine masterpiece.
Not only has Amram preserved, almost intact, the Shakespearean poetry and drama in his libretto, but his operatic score preserves the rare atmosphere of this sad comedy.
"Twelfth Night" is the last of the Shakespearean comedies and it is the most melancholy. It is true that there are characters in this comedy that make one think of the great comic figures of the other comedies. There is Sir Toby Belch, for example, who so resembles the bellowing John Fallstaff. And there is the thorough fool of Sir Andrew Aguecheek who so resembles Slender of "The Merry Wives of Windsor."
But whereas the humor of the latter comedy was broad and the language that of rough prose, "Twelfth Night" is filled with bittersweet humor, a rare kind of wit, and the poetry is that of the mature Shakespeare.
The plot of "Twelfth Night" is a very simple and, for the time, conventional one. It revolves around the mistaken identities of two pairs of lovers who, before they are reconciled, are tossed by Belch and Aguecheek.
Amram's music contains some marvelous orchestral pranks to mirror those taking place on stage, and in the more serious moments there is the gossamer fragileness of "Midsummer Night's Dream." But what makes it totally separate from the latter comedy (and the Mendelssohn incidental music) is the pervading sense of sadness, a seriousness that would soon turn itself to tragedy.
Everyone in the Lake George Opera Festival cast can credit himself with a performance of real achievement. It is doubtful if this opera will ever again receive so fine a staging, so magical an interpretation.
Outside in the coffee room everyone was remarking Saturday night how well the production is staged. Not only is it done imaginatively and tastefully, with soft lights, a single setting and some very economical uses of a curtain and several backdrops, but everyone in the cast seems to realize that this is a bittersweet work and the humor must be treated with delicate hands.
There is no attempt for the broad laugh, although the temptation is there. Instead the singers nudge you into a smile and then another, and you experience a fondness for them all. It is that kind of work.
The lead roles, all handsomely sung, are done by William Brown as the jester Feste; Sean Barker as Orsino; Marcia Baldwin as Viola; Carolyn Heafner as Olivia and Phillip Smith as Sebastian. Sir Toby is sung by Robert Falk, and Sir Aguecheek by Richard Levit.
There is really no point to singling out any one performer. All know exactly how they fit into this work and work together in a finely balanced production.
The orchestra, under the direction of Paul Callaway, did a thoroughly professional job the whole evening long.