The IU Opera Theatre is wrapping up its salute to twentieth century work with Sergei Prokofiev’s fairy tale comedy The Love for Three Oranges. The production, conducted by Paul Biss with staging by Vincent Liotta and design by David Higgins is an attractive packaging of a complex and challenging work.
In the first act, a pale faced, sniveling prince, played by Mark Mowrey is terribly ill. His various maladies form a medical alphabet of complications. Everyone agrees that a good laugh is what he needs, but it’s a tough thing to bring off. At the behest of the King, sung by the redoubtable Allen Saunders, Truffaldino the agile jester, Joshua Vincent, is put on the case, but to no avail. Despite his efforts and those of a legion of humorists, nothing works. Fortunately, singer Rachel Holland discovers that all it takes is a bottoms-up-pratfall to break up the prince. Unfortunately, Holland was playing the part of the nasty witch Fata Morgana and she put a spell on the prince. The prince has to satisfy his love for three oranges With the curse and the prince’s departure on his quest in a classy hot air balloon, The Love for Three Oranges and the audience took a break.
After intermission, the quest for the oranges began, the action picked up and in Saturday night’s cast there were two remarkable performances. Michael Redding as Farfarello, the devil who transports the prince on his journey, totally took over the stage. His acting and singing were so powerful that they drew applause from the crowd and raised everyone’s expectations about the possible levels of performance. Following close on Redding’s coup was a nearly as successful scene by Quincy Roberts as a gigantic cook with a mean killer ladle.
The Love for Three Oranges is a hefty undertaking by any company. In addition to sixteen featured players there are separate choruses of tragedians, comedians, lyricists, eccentrics and empty heads. Making dramatic sense of this for the audience, even with supertitles, is a fiendishly difficult job. That the IU production frequently makes sense is a tribute to director Vince Liotta and his cast. That the orchestra sounded superb and the singers all were able to do their parts isan endorsement of conductor Paul Biss’s considerable skills.