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Put Logan opera festival on your ‘to do’ list

SHARE Put Logan opera festival on your ‘to do’ list

UTAH FESTIVAL OPERA, Ellen Eccles Theatre, Logan, Wednesday-Saturday, July 11-14; continues through Aug. 4. For tickets, phone 1-800-262-0074 or 1-435-750-0300, ext. 106, or go online to ( www.arttix.org). For information, go online to ( www.ufoc.org).

It's only an hour-and-a-half drive from Salt Lake City, and it's definitely worth it. Logan's Utah Festival Opera ought to be placed on everybody's summer "to do" list this year.

Although opera can seem intimidating to the uninitiated, this year's user-friendly programming and high-quality productions make for a great summer destination, regardless of your cultural inclinations.

The festival features Rossini's "The Barber of Seville," Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific," Victor Herbert's "Naughty Marietta" and Carlisle Floyd's "Susannah."

Three of the four shows are in English, and the only one that isn't ("The Barber of Seville," which is in Italian with English supertitles) is so funny that the language barrier never gets in the way.

On the other end of the spectrum, connoisseurs will be delighted with the top-quality talent and productions.

Opening night of the season began with a rollicking romp of a good time with "The Barber of Seville."

The title role of Figaro was sung by Shon Sims, whose full-bodied voice handles the rapid runs with ease, agility and masculinity. He couples this with a clever and hilarious interpretation of Figaro.

For example, with a wave of his hand, he tosses off the famous "Figaro, Figaro, Figaro" (which has been overdone to the point that even Bugs Bunny's spoof of the piece is famous) as if to say, "You already know this, so I won't bore you by taking myself too seriously." He then resumes the "Largo al factotum della citta" aria with gusto and panache.

David Gustafson as Count Almaviva blends well with Sims both vocally and theatrically, with a voice and performance that is no less thrilling to listen to and watch.

Other outstanding performances include Ding Gao singing the part of Basilio, with a particularly funny take on the character, as well as Carla Lopez-Speziale, playing the part of Rosina.

It would be hard to find a better production of this opera.

"Susannah's" intentionally minimal sets and more serious message contrasts with "The Barber of Seville," and this production is also excellent, showcasing some top-notch acting and singing.

Up-and-coming singer Paul Arthur Mow, playing Sam Polk, wows the audience with a clear, clean, powerful voice that is still capable of soft, tender pianissimos that carry to the back of the hall. Faith Esham, singing the title role, also has a beautiful voice with an emotionally expressive quality, although the vibrato at times can be a little inconsistent. Her portrayal of Susannah Polk parallels her singing — she is convincing, moving, capable of subtle nuances, but occasionally there is an emotional change that seems a little forced.

The rest of the cast is uniformly strong, with good performances, good singing — no "weak links."

Victor Herbert's "Naughty Marietta" has two outstanding forces — the chorus, and Danielle Strauss as Marietta.

The chorus is so strong that, last week, it overpowered the orchestra at times. But Strauss' soprano voice is so powerful that her high notes can carry — even over the chorus.

Strauss also gives a strong performance as Marietta, coupled with the robust portrayal of Captain Dick — vocally and in his performance — by Matthew Walley.

Curt Olds adds some spice and comic relief with his portrayal of Silas Slick. And the rest of the supporting cast is generally good.

However, although Melina Pineda has a nice voice, her dramatic portrayal of Adah comes across as somewhat stilted.

Overall, however, it is a most enjoyable production, though it lacks the uniform strength and synergistic energy of "The Barber of Seville."

The festival's final offering, Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific," stars Leslie Ann Hendricks in the role of Nellie Forbush and Bojan Knezevic as Emile de Becque. Juxtaposing Hendricks' Broadway-style vocals with Knezevic's deep, rich and clear bass operatic voice serves to accentuate the characteristics of the two roles, with Nellie sounding young and relatively inexperienced, and Emile more sophisticated, mature and worldly.

Hendricks gives a delightful character portrayal of Nellie, but her voice sometimes had trouble last week carrying out to the audience. The women's chorus also sounded noticeably weak compared to some of the other ensemble numbers heard during the week.

Overall, however, the production is a lot of fun, especially with Jeanette Blakeney as Bloody Mary and Curt Olds as Luther Billis providing some wonderfully colorful supporting roles.

E-MAIL: rcline@desnews.com