Indiana University’s Opera Theatre’s summer offering is a delightful production of Adam Guettel’s Tony Award winning musical The Light in the Piazza.
The music is lovely and flowing, but with some real substance and obvious evidence of the composer’s delight in setting up some complicated musical scenes and solving them with panache.
The skeleton of the story is of a young girl’s visit to Italy, an accidental breeze that takes her hat and puts it at the feet of a young handsome Italian and their falling in love. But there are layers and layers to the tale.
Margaret Johnson is the young girl’s mother and the show’s occasional narrator. She’s taking her daughter on a guide book driven tour of the Italy that she and her husband visited on their honeymoon after WW II. Saturday night Emily Smokovich sang well and did a great job of presenting a middle traditional mother of the 1950s. Jami Leonard was her sunshiny and smitten daughter. Though he didn’t sing, Anthony Webb was an important factor as her distant authoritarian father.
Set against the Johnsons was the family of the smitten young man, Fabrizio Naccarelli, sung ardently Saturday night by Thomas Stoffel. While the Johnsons were small in number and tight in emotion, the Nacarellis bubbled over both in number and in passions. Kenneth Marks was Fabrizio’s stylish father. Kelly Glyptis appeared as his solidly central mother, Thomas Florio was his sometimes philandering brother and Krista Laskowski was his jealously passionate wife.
In a passionate family scene, composer Guettel gently pokes fun at the show’s dramatic conventions and has Signora Naccarelli, tell that audience that although she isn’t supposed to be able to speak or understand English it’s her part to explain what’s going on. And she does.
At first Margaret Johnson has tried to put the kibosh on the romance. Daughter Clara had a childhood accident and although her physical development is normal her mental and emotional age is stuck at around twelve. But, her efforts are stymied by her own embarrassment, her formal manners and the language barrier. And finally, she’s overwhelmed by the power of the love that she sees between Clara and Fabrizio and thinks that the warmth of the extended Italian family will support them and Saturday night’s audience thought so too.
The Indiana University Opera Theater’s production is a collegiate premiere. It has the benefit of guest conductor Dan Riddle in the pit. Riddle was the assistant conductor for the Broadway production and worked with Guettel on the show. The nicely assured and varied stage direction was by Vincent Liotta. C. David Higgins designs were little miracles unto themselves with architectural features rolling into view or projected on the screen just as the mother read about them and a museum gallery descending from the ceiling on cue.
Adam Guettel’s The Light in the Piazza has its final performances Friday and Saturday, August 7th and 8th in the Musical Arts Center.
Listen to WFIU’s George Walker’s interview with conductor Dan Riddle.