In 50th year, Toledo Opera is pure gold


Half a century ago, the nascent Toledo Opera presented its first full production, Aida, in the Paramount Theater to some 3,000 formally attired fans.

Opening night was deemed a huge success and, since then, the local operation has strived and thrived, facing each challenge with resourcefulness and faith, and, above all, never missing a show.

Saturday night in the Peristyle, some 1,600 Toledoans wearing everything from formals to jeans lapped up the company s celebratory 50th anniversary production, Candide.

In so many ways, it s correct to say to the Toledo Opera: You ve come a long way, baby.

To mount such a sophisticated and musically diverse production as this Leonard Bernstein classic requires surefootedness in all ways, from cast, chorus, and orchestra to staging styles and timing.

This production had it all, and then some.

Conducted by Thomas Conlin, the Toledo Symphony tackled the challenging score with brio, making up for a few uncertain moments by brilliance in others.

The chorus, in black next to the orchestra on the stage, hammed it up tastefully and simply never sounded better.

Miking this show, while unusual, proved a good move because of the complex lyrics.

In his Toledo debut, actor Richard Kind sold the impossible story, infusing it with his own warmth, plenty of corny local references, and yet providing a real historical context in which to appreciate this rarely performed work.

The large and versatile cast captured and maintained a quiet zaniness with simple props and complex body language, all directed by that master of nuance, director Marc Verzatt.

But the evening belonged to Audrey Luna, a coloratura whose bell-like voice, confident delivery, and masterful acting was superb.

Most delicious was her signature aria, Glitter and Be Gay, with its high Ebs plus a high F that Ms. Luna tossed out as if it were one of the fake jewels she dripped.

More, please, of Ms. Luna, who has the makings of an American Natalie Dessay.

Joining Ms. Luna in vocal hijinks with attitude were Margaret Lattimore (Old Lady) and Abby Powell (Paquette).

As Candide, the hapless hopeful, tenor Ryan MacPherson was sweet and unaffected, but more impressive was Benjamin Warschawski in a trio of roles that showed off his edgy baritone. Marco Nistico as Dr. Pangloss/Martin was smooth but tended to swallow his words.

A benchmark indeed, last night s show. Let us hope we won t have to wait another 50 years for Candide.

But just ahead is the 51st season of the Toledo Opera in 2009-2010: Falstaff, Lucretia, April in Paris (the Gala), and L Elisir D Amore.