Arizona Opera presents a captivating production of Sondheim’s A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC

Last fall, as local companies announced their different seasons, one show in particular made my eyes widen and I thought, “WHO DOES WHAT? I’m talking about the Arizona Opera bringing to Phoenix and Tucson a fully orchestrated presentation of the seldom-produced work of jaw-dropping brilliance Stephen Sondheim musical, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. Elegant, poetic, heady, romantic, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC is an exciting choice for a large-scale staging leaning on traditional opera. The Arizona Opera makes the most of the moment with an enchanting and delightful show.

The 1973 Tony Winner for Best Musical is sometimes described as an operetta, but I think Concept Musical hits a little closer. The score is a sophisticated love letter to the waltz with ¾ time dominating the score. It’s gentle on the ears, smile-inducing, memorable. Then, of course, there are the words of Mr. Sondheim. From soul to spirit, I enjoyed their projection above the proscenium. This encouraged a deeper dive into the text of the masterpiece. (When they weren’t spilling the punchlines!)

Hugh WheelerThe book is inspired by Ingmar Bergman “Smiles of a Midsummer Night” movie. After an opening sung by an omnipresent quintet, we are at the turn of the century in Sweden where we find a very wealthy lawyer named Fredrik married 30 years under him. Fredrik and his young wife, Anne, have not yet consummated their eleven-month marriage. Anne’s hyper-adorable anxiety contrasts with that of her brooding stepson, Henrik.

Frustrated with his single marriage, Fredrik visits a touring actress named Desiree Armfeldt. The two lovers together a decade and a half earlier. The pair are discovered in a compromising position by Désirée’s last lover, the married Count Carl-Magnus who comically and unreasonably demands fidelity from his wife and Désirée.

The Countess Charlotte, upset by the meeting, approaches Anne and informs her of Fredrik and Désirée’s meeting. Désirée’s mother is persuaded to organize a weekend at her estate in the countryside where the various actors begin to play out their love triangles. And that’s just act 1.

Director Keturah Stickann introduced the fantasy and lightened the tone. She downplayed the more austere elements of the plot and characters. It is achieved primarily by softening the Greek chorus of singers, stilted in other productions, into A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM-style fairies and pixies. Her choreography blushes with the pride of a director who has had her concept in mind for some time. It’s a triumph of creativity and execution by each designer bringing their vision to life.

Keith Lighthouses how charming and comical Fredrik is. He quickly captures our attention and empathy as he unpacks his marital dilemma. We continue to support him despite his infidelity, a nod to the charm of Phares. Terrence Chin-Loy as Henrik sings extraordinarily. Henrik’s melancholy is missing. We meet Henrik practicing his cello, a metaphor for his Eeyore vibe. But as interpreted here, Henrik is outraged and forceful. This means that the eventual romantic couple of Henrik and Anne does not solve their individual puzzles. Anne is terribly anxious. A melancholic Henrik is Anne’s perfect partner. I look for her to cheer him up and him to calm his anxiety. I don’t feel the same satisfaction when their couple is rather a duel of neuroses.

Beth Clayton as Charlotte similarly abandons some of the funnier aspects of her character in favor of more upbeat desperation. It works for significant laughs but undermines his second-act jokes that depend on his status as a particularly pessimistic person. Nevertheless, Clayton is a talented and remarkable comic and her duet “Every Day a Little Death” with the charming and pleasant Katrina Galka as Anne is a climax of Act 1.

Melanie Long as the maid, Petra, is kept in the background until she gets “The Miller’s Son” show at the end of Act 2. It’s quite unusual for a peripheral character to ‘get the 11 o’clock number. It works in this case as an allegory for the greater plot as Petra contemplates an imaginary future with three potential husbands. Long delivers the diverse melody with emotional and vocal range.

A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC is Desiree’s show, and Patricia Racette is world class. It’s truly a rare treat to get 90 minutes of context before dropping us off at the front door of “Send in the Clowns”, the classic song we’ve all heard dozens of times or more without any setup for ear, mind, and heart. During Racette’s performance, I found myself moved by rotating elements. His voice, his delightful underplay, pivoting on how lucky I was to be alive while Sondheim was creating theatre, the pride that a show like this was part of Phoenix’s artistic landscape.

The production, in general, feels like Arizona is participating in a next-level creative exercise. Costumes by Isaac Mizrahi (!) were, of course, breathtaking. Its design reflects both the opulence of dinner parties and theatrical performances within a show, as well as the whimsical attire of the forest. lighting designer, Gregory Allen Hirschskillfully set the mood without attracting attention.

Arizona Opera and indeed Arizona have a point of pride with this production. While its run in Phoenix was limited to one weekend, the show continues in Tucson on March 12 and 13. Tucsonians don’t miss it. The Phoenicians plan to make the trip by car.

A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC performs March 12-13 in Tucson. Find tickets on azopera.org

About Madeline J. Carter

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