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Published: 2/13/2005

Sound system mars sublime singing

BY STEVEN CORNELIUS
BLADE MUSIC CRITIC

If there is a single lesson to be taken from last night's Toledo Opera Gala performance at the Peristyle, it's that American composers for the theater are invariably optimistic. The evening was titled "From Broadway to the Met," but bliss was the ultimate destination these composers had in mind.

Here are three examples. Carousel's dead-end roustabout protagonist Billy Bigalow dreams that his son could become president. True to his name, Anthony Hope of Sweeney Todd believes in the unlimited possibilities that come with love. West Side Story's Maria witnesses her lover's death, but, unlike Juliet (her artistic model), she chooses life.

Only in America. And perhaps only in yesterday's America.

Last night evoked a nostalgia for a nation still moving out of adolescence and into the complexities of adulthood.

Tellingly, Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, the most recent, darkest, and emotionally complex repertoire chosen for the evening, was set in London, not America.

Joining conductor Thomas Conlin and the Toledo Symphony on stage were soprano Kristen Plumley, mezzo-soprano Jessie Raven, tenor George Dyer, and baritone Weston Hurt.

Soloists were supported by the Toledo Opera Chorus, which sang solidly, though they delivered a decidedly geriatric rendition of West Side Story's Sharks and Jets.

The night belonged to Bernstein, who contributed music to seven (including encore) of the night's 18 selections. Five were from Candide, perhaps America's most recognized but rarely staged musical.

Plumley was a plucky Cunegonde in "Glitter and Be Gay"; Raven offered sultry wisdom in the tango "I Am Easily Assimilated," both from Candide. Dyer ached as Anthony singing "Johanna," and Hurt presented a wonderfully honest Joe in "Ol' Man River" from Showboat.

If there was a down to the evening it was the evening's midtown sensibilities.

Amplification, the scourge of modern Broadway, repeatedly marred performances.

Opera lovers pay to hear vocalists sing mightily, not sound systems. Even the singers seemed to back off at times as they heard their voices boom unnaturally.

That was a shame.

Great art - and there was wonderful singing last night - is most successful when delivered with an open hand, not an armored Humvee.

Contact Steven Cornelius at: scornelius@theblade.com or 419-724-6152.



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