For a minute Sunday afternoon, after arriving at Bass Performance Hall for the second performance of Fort Worth Opera’s spring opera festival, I thought I had accidentally wandered into a revival of The Music Man. On the stage, instead of the generic European village every opera connoisseur knows to expect for Donizetti’s Elixir of Love, I saw pure Americana, in the form of sets inspired by and suggesting Grant Wood’s neatly plowed fields, gently curving roads, and good-hearted rural citizens. Designer James Robinson, who created the production for a consortium of five American opera companies, in a stroke of conceptual genius, moved the setting of this gentle romantic comedy to the echt-American setting of a small middle western town, complete with bandstand in the town square.
To his credit, Robinson invented numerous little twists on the icons of American village life. He added an ice cream parlor—in itself a symbol of simple pleasures—but put it on a truck. He placed the snake-oil salesman on a motorcycle. And instead of Keystone Cops, he introduced a bumbling, energetic, smalltown football team. Even the surprisingly few anachronisms this approach produced (such references to a plaza, and the presence of an occupying army in an early twentieth-century American rural community) were more charming than disturbing. An old-fashioned Uncle-Sam-Wants-You recruiting poster silently signaled the perceptive viewer that we had landed sometime around the early months of World War II. One element that was not anachronistic, however, was the wonderful singing and acting. Soprano Ava Pine produced an appropriately comical and vocally brilliant rendition of the role of Adina, convincingly playing a slightly deluded small town girl while popping off some of the most difficult music in the soprano repertoire. Tenor Michael Fabiano was even more captivating dramatically as her perplexed and gullible admirer Nemorino, while Christopher Bolduc swaggered—once again, entirely appropriately—through the role of Belcore, and bass Rod Nelman proved equally impressive as Doctor Dulcamara, standing out, in hideous purple, against the soothing pastels and earth tones of the crowd. Dirctor Jennifer Nicoll introduced just the right level of mild slapstick and visual humor, allowing Donizetti’s well-structured comedy to proceed naturally, while conductor Stewart Robertson provided the impetus that supported both the singing and the comedy perfectly. Main photo: Michael Fabiano (Nemorino) and Ava Pine (Adina) (Photo: Ellen Appel for the Fort Worth Opera)