Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Memorial Hall is a beautiful concert space. Over the past few years, I have seen countless performances in the hall. Everything from world class String Quartets in the popular Oneppo Series, student recitals from the Yale Music Department, Savion Glover (who played to a packed house) and the Yale Opera’s scenes which they present in early fall, to highlight some of the operas they will be working on during the school year.
It is a beautiful space, but it is generally little more than serviceable when used as a theatre setting. This is why the Schubert Theatre is used for the company’s big productions, like this year’s delightful Cosi Fan Tutte. But this weekend, when Yale Opera performed a double bill of William Walton’s The Bear, and Darius Mulhaud’s Le pauvre matelot, the concert hall was transformed into a THEATRE, where these two short operas were as stunning visually as they were aurally, and that is no small feat.
Dustin Wills, a New York based director and graduate of the Yale School of Drama, and Projection Designer, Johnny Moreno, who is a second-year Master of Fine Arts degree candidate, also at Yale, gave this concert hall a brilliant injection of real drama, depth, and movement, and the hall never looked better.
Is there anything better than really liking someone, only to find out that they also possess real talent? Mezzo-Soprano, Alexandra Uruquiola, with whom I have had the privilege of getting to know this past year, was hilariously neurotic as Madame Yeliena Ivanova Popova, who has locked herself away from the world for the past year to mourn her philandering husband, whose gigantic portrait hangs in the dining room. over an absurdly long dining table. The table appears to be perpetually set formally, although the only person to eat at the table is the Madame herself, who wishes to see no one…ever.
Her manservant, Luka, played deliciously by Stephen Clark, informs the Madame that she has a visitor, and although she refuses to see him, Grigory Stephanovitch Smirnov barges in anyway, as he intends to retrieve a debt the deceased husband owed him.
Bryan Murray was dashing as the intruder, Smirnov, and his lyric Baritone was, as usual, stunning. I have heard Mr. Murray in several concerts, and, as I sing with the Yale Camerata, I have had the pleasure of rehearsing and performing with him in Carmina Burana and Robert Kyr’s Transfiguration this past year. His voice is gorgeous, and his high notes are seemingly effortless.
Alexandra Urquiola was utterly brilliant as the Madame. There is a very good actress in that tiny little woman, and she looked like a million bucks in her glamorous, mourning black. She pouted, she scolded, she had a few tantrums, and she shot off a gun, but she fell in love with Smirnov anyway, and frankly, who wouldn’t? Although a short one-act opera, her part is full on singing from start to finish, and she sang as beautifully as she looked.
Bryan Murray and Alexandra Urquiola
Alexandra Urquiola and Bryan Murray
Le pauvre matelot (The Poor Sailor)
Projections offer a designer and a director such great options, especially when the theatre does not naturally lend itself to dramatic productions. and when it is short of wing space. Johnny Moreno’s projections in Le pauvre matelot were so well done, and so dramatically filled out the space on the Sprague stage, that I almost forgot where I was. That little Sprague box was given depth, and life in a way that I never would have thought possible. I was gobsmacked.
The lighting, brilliantly designed by Doug Harry, brought the audience to a strange and dismal place. Mr. Harry hails from the United Kingdom, and is also the Production Manager of this year’s Festival of Arts and Ideas. That alone makes me even more excited about the festival than usual.
The beautiful Natalia Rubis and Dean Murphy, who have never sounded better, were fearless in their portrayals of The Wife and The Friend. Natalia has a wonderful, expressive face, which was, from time to time, projected quite enormously on the back wall of the stage. Dustin Wills cleverly staged much of the action in both operas on table tops. Once again, the Sprague stage, which is so very suitable for concerts, does not make it easy for the audience to see any action that takes place on the stage itself, so the use of the table’s height was very smart and quite effective.
Lucas Van Lierop was terrific as the Sailor who returns from the sea, only to play a trick on his wife, sadly, to his own demise. Mr. Van Lierop is another excellent singer with whom I am familiar through his concert work. His murder, carried out by the clueless and tragic Wife, was brilliantly told through both projections and the live Ms. Rubis, who carries out the murder, as if she is in a trance. Here is another excellent singer with credible acting chops.
Sadly, this wraps up the Yale Opera season for this school year, but I so look forward to seeing many of these fine artists return next year, and anxiously await what is in store for the 2017-2018 season.
Natalia Rubis in La pauvre matelot (The Poor Sailor)