clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:


Henry James' novel "Washington Square" makes a good operatic subject, and around the tale of an heiress jilted by a cad, who finally discovers her own strength, Thomas Pasatieri has woven an engrossing musical fabric. If you want a palatable introduction to modern opera, this may be the one for you.

It's that sort of story about Victorian repression that has little dramatic action but which weaves powerful moods. And the student cast at BYU is putting a fine dramatic spin on it, clearly delineating its true shape and substance, though the modern idiom results in hints of strain for some of the singers.Pasatieri does not turn out the sort of compelling melodies that you hum going out of the theater, but his style in general is lyric and pleasing, his arias expressive and meaningful, and often quite moving. He has a fine hand with insightful ensembles, such as the carriage ride home, or the letter-reading scene, where everyone is busy with his own thoughts. He's also expert at putting together a dramatic scene of conflict, whether family brawl or heated dialogue.

Conducted by Doug Reed, the instrumental ensemble is invisible behind the scene, resulting in excellent balance and right proportion - not a bad idea for many productions. Coordination with the singers is nearly flawless, which is in itself a neat trick.

Too often opera in English is as indistinguishable as if in a foreign tongue, but not in this case. Diction has apparently been a high priority, for you will not miss a word, and the young voices show to advantage in this small theater.

As Catherine the heiress, LaDawn Gardner sings in a clear, pretty soprano with freedom on high notes, and builds her character effectively, from the repressed, timid girl of the first act, through awakening young woman, to the cold, self-controlled creature she becomes. Her duet with Townsend, "First Love," is touching, and her final aria of self discovery builds to a dramatic climax.

Eric Glissmeyer is histrionically strong as the dissembling Morris Townsend. Through the chinks in his facade a cheap fortune hunter shows so obviously that one wonders at Catherine's gullibility. He's debonair and shallow, and finally pitiful. Glissmeyer sings well and expressively in a baritone of good potential, though his high notes are sometimes clouded.

Completing the power triangle is Ross Bailey as Dr. Sloper, Catherine's father, who conveys an insensitive, cold fish character, the master of his household in the masculine Victorian mold. Peterson's voice is not quite strong enough for the climaxes, but his dramatic instincts see him through.

Among outstanding supporting characters is Ruth Christensen, a good mezzo who plays Catherine's Aunt Lavinia, a hopeless romantic whose silly susceptibility is almost disastrous for the girl. Rebecca Pyper's coloratura is pealing and vibrant, and her full-bodied characterization of the flirtatious, short-fused Marion adds welcome high spirits to the proceedings.

The set looks authentic, though a few more Victorian geegaws would fill in the bare spaces, and costuming accords well with the somber mood of the piece.

In the alternate cast, Sarah Daniels and Robert Prosch will sing Catherine and Townsend.