Garsington Opera

It’s true, you know… playing a diva is dangerously fun! La Corilla was my first real foray into the world of coloratura with runs up into the high Cs and Ds. What a strange, wacky piece Vert-Vert is – echoes of Monty Python but with a distinctly French humor, music that was simply enthralling and a fairly nonsensical plot. I loved listening to David Parry whip the overture into a frenzy over the loudspeakers every night while getting dolled up to the nines in the fabulous Mel van Tongeren’s make-up chair. From crew to cast to administration, there was a great team working on this show.


CREATIVE
Conductor: David Parry
Director: Martin Duncan
Design: Francis O’Connor
Lighting Designer: Howard Hudson
Choreographer: Ewan Jones

CAST
Valentin/Vert-Vert: Robert Murray
Baladon: Geoffrey Dolton
Binet: Mark Wilde
Bellecour: Alessandro Fisher
Le Comte d’Arlange: Quirijn de Lang
Le Chevalier de Bergerac: Andrew Glover
Friquet: Henry Neill
Maniquet: Jack Gogarty
La Corilla: Naomi O’Connell
Mademoiselle Paturelle: Yvonne Howard
Mimi: Fflur Wyn
Bathilde: Raphaela Papadakis
Emma: Katie Bray

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Murray's proxy-parrot Vert-Vert apart, there is a palpable star of this show. Irish soprano Naomi O'Connell - now hugely in demand in America - is the feisty popular singer La Corilla, whose coloratura tours-de-force at the Lion d'Or - the grenadiers' tankard-clinking taven - simply blew the lid off this performance. My, did O'Connell raise the temperature...
- Roderic Dunnett, Music & Vision
Naomi O'Connell's turn as the man-eating La Corilla had everyone eating out of her hand.
- Guy Damman, The Times
...When Irish mezzo Naomi O’Connell opens her mouth as the popular chanteuse La Corilla, the whole musical experience zooms onto a whole new level. Coloratura to the gills, O’Connell is, inescapably, the big hit of this production.
- Roderic Dunnett, The Arts Desk
Naomi O’Connell radiates seductive glamour as a diva of the music halls.
- Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph
Naomi O’Connell as the singer La Corilla takes the stage by storm with a beautifully rich yet silvery voice.
- Sam Smith, Music OMH

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McCarter Theatre

The New York Times hailed Stephen Wadsworth’s new adaptation of the Beaumarchais plays as “simultaneously elevated and natural, in a sparkling new American English.”  What a delight to get to know Figaro, Lindoro, Rosine, Bartolo, Suzanne, Chérubin… all of these characters I had first met in the Mozart and Rossini operas, through the groundbreaking plays they originated in.  The production was listed in the April 2014 issue of Opera News.

 

CREATIVE

Director: Stephen Wadsworth
Author: Pierre Beaumarchais
Translator/Adapter: Stephen Wadsworth
Set Design: Charles Corcoran
Costume Design: Camille Assaf
Lighting Design: Joan Arhelger
Wig Design: Tom Watson
Music Director: Gerald Steichen
Choreographer: Daniel Pelzig
Vocal Coach: Kate Wilson
Fight Director: Shad Ramsey

Dramaturg: Janice Paran
Associate Artistic Director: Adam Immerwahr
Production Stage Manager: Cheryl Mintz
Director of Production: David York
Artistic Director: Emily Mann
Managing Director: Timothy J. Shields

 

CAST (Barber of Seville)

Count Almaviva: Neal Bledsoe
Constable: Cody Buege
Le Bébé/Alcade: Frank Corrado
Engarde/Notary: Burton Curtis
Bazile: Cameron Folmar
Figaro: Adam Green
Constable: David Andrew Laws
Rosine: Naomi O’Connell
Marceline: Jeanne Paulsen
Bartolo: Derek Smith

 

CAST (Marriage of Figaro)

Count Almaviva: Neal Bledsoe
Gripe-Soleil/Usher: Cody Buege
Brid’oison: Frank Corrado
Antonio: Burton Curtis
Bazile: Cameron Folmar
Figaro: Adam Green
Fanchette: Betsy Hogg
Suzanne: Maggie Lacey
Pedrillo: David Andrew Laws
Rosine, the Countess Almaviva: Naomi O’Connell
Marceline: Jeanne Paulsen
Doublehands: Larry Paulsen
Bartolo: Derek Smith
Chérubin: Magan Wiles
Ensemble

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My two favorite performances of the evening were delivered by Naomi O’Connell as the charming Rosine whose nicely delineated moments of happiness, despair, and confusion were delightful to watch and Derek Smith’s Bartolo.
- The Dress Circle's Blog, The Figaro Plays
Naomi O’Connell develops compelling[ly] from the first play as her feisty, resourceful Rosine becomes the elegant, subdued, self-doubting Countess — and eventually rediscovers her youthful spirit.
- The Star-Ledger, The Figaro Plays
Figaro Serves a New Master, The New York Times
March 26, 2014

‘Barber’ and ‘Figaro’ Stick to the Period at McCarter

Stephen Wadsworth, left, directs Maggie Lacey and Adam Green in a rehearsal of “The Figaro Plays: The Marriage of Figaro” at McCarter Theater Center. Credit: Richard Termine for The New York Times

PRINCETON, N.J. — In a theater world that favors aggressive directorial interventions that place “Othello” on a modern military base and Bellini’s “La Sonnambula” in a SoHo rehearsal room, Stephen Wadsworth has long called a different tune.

“Earlier on, I did a certain amount of out-of-period stuff, just like everyone else,” Mr. Wadsworth said recently, during a rehearsal break at McCarter Theater Center here, looking back at his three-decade career. “But it was during the ‘80s, when everybody was doing it. And then, as time went by, I was like: ‘I don’t need to throw forks anymore. I sort of need to understand the piece more.’ “

Mr. Wadsworth, who has been most prominent in opera and is the director of opera studies at the Juilliard School, has made his impact with productions characterized by their immaculate naturalism and resolutely uncontemporary, proudly unhip feel. His period stagings of his own new translations of Beaumarchais’s plays “The Barber of Seville” and “The Marriage of Figaro” — and not, for a change, the famous operas based on them — will run in repertory at McCarter starting on Tuesday, and they are of a piece with his post-forks style.

Naomi O’Connell and Neal Bledsoe in a rehearsal of the same production of “The Figaro Plays: The Marriage of Figaro.” Credit: Richard Termine for The New York Times

His version of Wagner’s “Ring” cycle, which has been a fixture at the Seattle Opera since 2001, takes place in the rugged landscape specified by the original libretto. His celebrated translations of three Marivaux plays, which became unexpected hits when he directed them at McCarter in the 1990s, were set in 18th-century France, as their author intended.

“He’s a very quiet radical,” said Emily Mann, the artistic director of McCarter, who commissioned the Marivaux and Beaumarchais translations and has been a friend of Mr. Wadsworth’s since they were undergraduates at Harvard University in the 1970s. “He is passionately an advocate for staying within the period and making that present tense. There’s no one like him who can do that.”

Most people, especially Americans, know the plots of the two Beaumarchais plays from their respective operatic adaptations: Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” and Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” are classics. Both pieces follow the same gleefully warring cast of boorish aristocrats and quick-thinking servants — “Marriage” is the sequel — but the farce has a dark side that’s savagely vivid in the originals.

“Who knows if the world as we know it is going to last even three weeks more?” the wily servant Figaro exclaims in “Barber.” “Marriage,” which had its premiere in 1784, seethes even more harshly with the class resentments that boiled over in the French Revolution just a few years later.

Mr. Wadsworth’s productions, complete with footlights and retreating-perspective border pieces, won’t look so very different from the plays produced back then. But he has been careful to call his version an adaptation rather than merely a translation. His text deliberately heightens certain moments to clarify social and political points that would have been obvious to audiences in the 18th century but could easily be lost on theatergoers today.

“We have to understand the play from the point of view of an audience then,” he said. “So there are places when I’ll take those implications and make them explicit.”

In the second act of “The Barber of Seville,” Figaro has a scene with the young noblewoman Rosine, who addresses him, with unusual formality, as “monsieur.” A French audience would have instantly understood the moment’s strangeness, but Mr. Wadsworth has underlined and explicated it by adding a brief exchange. Figaro observes, “It’s unusual to call a servant ‘Monsieur,’ “ and Rosine replies, “It’s unusual to respect a servant.”

Mr. Wadsworth said of tweaks like this, “The challenge is to make it melt into the original,” and it seemed to do so at a series of rehearsals recently that careened from sections of “Barber” to “Marriage” and back again. The dialogue sounded simultaneously elevated and natural, in a sparkling American English that revealed the play’s bittersweetness: antic, but with a core of melancholy sincerity.

Mr. Wadsworth asked the actors to keep the pace of the dialogue a little faster than normal to train their reflexes, like sluggers practicing swings with weighted bats. Often his suggestions showed evidence of his operatic inclinations: He called for “crisp vocal energy” in “Barber” and, running through the third act of “Marriage,” observed that when Adam Green, playing Figaro, spoke in an airy register, it brought the mood to a “less stakes-y place.”

The production’s Rosine is Naomi O’Connell, a young Juilliard-trained mezzo-soprano who is pursuing parallel careers in opera and spoken theater. “Too often you see an opera singer, and there’s not a lot more going on than technique,” she said, distinguishing the operatic norm from Mr. Wadsworth’s style. “If you’re actually in the moment and in the situation, that’s what he goes for. He’s a truth teller and seeker.”

From left, Katherine Borowitz, John Michael Higgins, and Brooke Smith in Stephen Wadsworth’s “The Triumph of Love” at McCarter Theater Center. Credit: T. Charles Erickson

These plays are a labor of love for Mr. Wadsworth. An opera lover from an early age, he had a profound attachment to Mozart’s Figaro and Susanna (Suzanne, chez Beaumarchais). “They were very important people to me, as real or realer than some of what was going on around me,” he said. “It was a matter of learning a lesson about resilience and coming back up. Not just coming back up after adversity, but coming back up with appetite for life. They were unkillable.”

He began his career as a music journalist and in the early 1980s collaborated on the opera “A Quiet Place” with Leonard Bernstein, whose daughter Jamie he had known at Harvard. He began to direct opera and gained a reputation for getting strong performances out of singers.

The Marivaux cycle had its origins in economizing. In the early 1990s, Ms. Mann was looking for plays with small casts and was reminded of “The Triumph of Love.” She thought of her friend Mr. Wadsworth, whose work in Baroque opera had been particularly acclaimed. He had not yet directed spoken theater.

Dissatisfied with existing translations of Marivaux’s glittering wordplay, he wrote his own, and the felicity was uncanny. After the second installment, “Changes of Heart” (Marivaux’s “The Double Inconstancy”), Alvin Klein wrote in The New York Times that Mr. Wadsworth “appears to be in communion with the playwright” and added that the success of the trilogy had set off a “Mari-vogue” among American regional theaters.

In occasional forays back into spoken theater, Mr. Wadsworth added more plays that benefited from a cultivated wit, including classics by Wilde, Coward, Goldoni and Molière. Beaumarchais is a natural addition to this company, particularly at what Ms. Mann called “another dicey moment in time with the haves and the have-nots.”

Even aided by part of a $425,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation in 2011, McCarter has bet a lot on the productions. “Can you sell 40 percent of your season on one 18th-century French writer?” Ms. Mann asked, adding, “The board is, like, quaking in their boots.”

To keep audiences engaged, Ms. Mann requested of Mr. Wadsworth that the sprawling “Marriage” run no more than three hours (it may go a few minutes over that), and the project has pulled back from its original ambitions in other ways. The third play in Beaumarchais’s cycle, “The Guilty Mother,” which returns to the characters 20 years after the action of “The Marriage of Figaro,” was supposed to be a part of the season, too, but it eventually became clear that the money wouldn’t be there. While the company will give a reading of the play on April 23, the translation won’t be Mr. Wadsworth’s; he said he needs to hear the words in the course of a rehearsal process.

“I fully intend to do the third,” he said. “But I don’t want to translate it until I have a commission and actors. Not because of the money, but because I can’t complete a translation until we’ve played it.”

Opera lovers may be those most tantalized by the prospect of the plays, but they may also be the ones most surprised by what is actually in them. Beaumarchais’s writing, particularly in “The Marriage of Figaro,” has razor-sharp edges that were smoothed down by Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte, his librettist, into sublime sentimentality.

“Whenever I’ve seen ‘Figaro’ “ the opera, Ms. O’Connell said, “I’ve always thought that the countess was a bit of a victim — a bit of a drip, honestly. And she’s not, in the play.”

Mr. Wadsworth said of the opera’s creators: “They did the right thing, and I have no criticism. But the world opens up in Acts III and IV of ‘Marriage,’ the play. It’s a constant lesson for the servant class. And it happens to also be a sitcom, which is sublime. So you get the highest possible stakes and also the delight factor.”

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  1. Regina Sillitti

    What a great performance!

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MET+Juilliard

Mozart and Da Ponte, infidelity and fake mustaches…some things just work well together.  This beautiful production was a joy to rehearse and I enjoyed getting to know the plain-talking, no-bullshit Despina.  A joint collaboration of the MET Lindemann Young Artist program and The Juilliard School, it was conducted by Alan Gilbert with Ryan McAdams and directed by Stephen Wadsworth.   Great colleagues and a director determined to reveal the truth of these elusive characters made this particular November a very good month.  The production was listed in the Top Ten Classical Performances of 2012 by New York Magazine’s award-winning critic Justin Davidson.

 

CREATIVE

Director: Stephen Wadsworth
Conductor: Alan Gilbert
Assistant Conductor: Ryan McAdams
Set & Lighting Design: Charles Corcoran
Costume Design: Camille Assaf
Continuo: Bryan Wagorn


CAST

Fiordiligi: Emalie Savoy
Dorabella: Wallis Giunta
Guglielmo: Luthando Qave
Ferrando: Alexander Lewis
Despina: Naomi O’Connell
Don Alfonso: Evan Hughes

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Naomi O’Connell, a rich mezzo-soprano and a student at Juilliard, makes a sassy Despina, the maid to the sisters. This is a Despina who reads newspapers, knows how the real world works and thinks her bosses a little ridiculous.
- Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times
Bass-baritone Evan Hughes and mezzo Naomi O’Connell could easily take their Alfonso and Despina straight to the stage of the “big house” a block downtown.
- Patrick Dillon, Opera Canada
Naomi O'Connell is a comic dynamo as Despina.
- Mike Silverman, Associated Press
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Garsington Opera

Two broke street singers and a lecherous Viceroy walk into a bar… add two llamas, three giggly cousins, a LOT of booze, and you have the recipe for Act One of Offenbach’s La Périchole.  What a good time this was!  David Parry and Jeremy Sams led this production with a wonderful cast and team, transforming the outdoor theatre at Wormsley into the streets of Peru for a few hours every evening.

 

CREATIVE

Director: Jeremy Sams
Conductor: David Parry
Set & Costume Design: Francis O’Connor
Choreographer: Timothy Jackson
Lighting Design: Bruno Poet
Assistant Director: Alexandra Spencer-Jones
Assistant Conductor: Robin Newton

 CAST

La Périchole: Naomi O’Connell
Piquillo: Robert Murray
Don Andrès de Ribeira: Geoffrey Dolton
Don Miguel de Panatellas: Mark Wilde
Don Pedro de Hinoyosa: Simon Butteriss
Guadalena: Jennifer Rhys-Davies
Berginella: Diana Montague

Mastrilla: Fiona Kimm
Old Prisoner: Walter van Dyk
Lawyer One: Andrew Dickinson

Lawyer Two: Oliver Hunt
Gaoler: Rob Gildon

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In the title role and looking delectable, Naomi O’Connell’s creamy tone and elegant phrasing ravished the ear.
- Robert J Farr, Seen & Heard International
Making her U.K. opera debut as La Périchole was the Irish, Juilliard-trained mezzo Naomi O’Connell, her streetwise manner and gift for vivid dialogue enhancing a performance that was notable for warmth, clarity and cleanness. Tenor Robert Murray matched her in vocal style and grace [and] both seized their vocal and dramatic opportunities fully throughout.
- George Hall, Opera News
Naomi O’Connell and Robert Murray are unbeatable in the principal roles of La Périchole and Piquillo. Their sometimes tempestuous relationship is beautifully observed, and their singing is a joy to listen to. This is O’Connell’s UK operatic debut, and she’s very definitely a name to watch.
- Giles Woodford, The Oxford Times
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FEATURED THIS WEEK
Track Placet futile – Ravel (Trois Poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé) Die Dame von der alten Schule – Rudolf Nelson La dame de Monte Carlo – Poulenc
Video And Her Golden Hair Was Hanging Down Her Back - McGlennon/Rosenfeld
Metropolitan Museum Live Arts Series, 2016
Komm, komm, Held meiner Träume - Oscar Straus (Der tapfere Soldat).
With Keun-A Lee, 2013.
Tipsy Aria - La Périchole (Offenbach). Garsington Opera, 2012.
Photo As La Corilla in Offenbach's Vert-Vert at Garsington Opera, 2014. Photograph by Mike Hoban. Photoshoot for The Figaro Plays at McCarter Theatre. Pictured with Neal Bledsoe as Count Almaviva. Photograph by John Baer. As Sharon Graham in the West End production of Terrence McNally's Master Class. Pictured L-R with Jeremy Cohen as Emmanuel Weinstock & Tyne Daly as Maria Callas. Photograph by Marilyn Kingwell/ArenaPal.

Naomi Louisa O’Connell’s rich voice
beautifully conveyed the sensuality and passion
of these wonderful Ravel songs.

New York Concert Review, 2011