A Little Night Music
Stephen Sondheim
August 1983
Artistic Team

Philip A. Kraus......................................................................Stage Director
Barnard Jones........................................................................Conductor
Elizabeth Gelman................................................................. Choreographer
Nan Zabriskie........................................................................Scenic Designer
Kerry W. Fleming.................................................................Costume Designer
Mark S. Mongold...................................................................Lighting Designer

Cast

Desiree Armfeltd...................................................................Gayle Royko
Frederika Armfeldt.................................................................Tutti Papas
Madame Armfeltd.................................................................. Jo Ann Minds
Frid.......................................................................................... Bradley Nystrom
Frederik Egerman................................................................... John Holland
Anne Egerman......................................................................... Eileen Hand
Henrik Egerman...................................................................... Mark Williams
Petra......................................................................................... Carol Lynn Howell
Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm................................................ Clyde Crewey
Countess Charlotte Malcolm................................................. Lisa N. Woodruff
Mr. Lindquist........................................................................... Michael Jorgensen
Mrs. Nordstrom....................................................................... Barbara Joy Nystrom
Mrs. Anderssen........................................................................ Benita Wandel
Mr. Erlanson............................................................................ Alejandro G. Abraham
Mrs. Segstrom............................................................ ............ Karen H. Laner
Malla..........................................................................................Kathryn Hartgrove
Bertrand.................................................................................... Bruce Tilley
Osa............................................................................................ Christine A. Steiner


Stephen Sondheim's 1973 musical A Little Night Music had always struck Philip Kraus as the composer's "homage" to operetta. With its waltz score in prevailing 3/4 time tinged with hints of Ravel and the brilliant orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick, Kraus had seen the work as much less a musical and more a modern incarnation of Viennese operetta. Certainly the story taken from Igmar Bergman with it's sophisticated book by Hugh Wheeler imitated the nostalgic and often bitter sweet romantic operettas of the early 20th century. This was certainly no Last Little Whorehouse in Texas!!

Wikipedia cites Michigan Opera Theater as the first opera company to produce the work in the same year, 1983, with Cleo Laine. Kraus would go one step farther than MOT and cast the show with opera singers save for the role of Petra. Glynnis Johns and Hermione Gingold on Broadway had had quite unorthodox vocal ranges and Sondheim had apparently put their music down an octave when they were cast. Kraus returned the roles to their natural octaves so that Desiree would sound more like classic Viennese soprano role la Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Madame Armfeldt to the standard contralto (instead of baritone!!! range). The effect of this was to give the work a completely operetta-like sound. Gayle Royko's floating of the high notes in "Send in the Clowns" was ravishing and reminiscent of a soaring Richard Strauss moment. Critics, including Suzanne Weiss, who had become used to actresses crooning or wheezing the musical lines couldn't get Ms. Johns or Ms. Gingold out of their heads. To more trained ears, it was a relevation and a perfectly viable way of presenting the work in the opera house where it has become quite successful despite the theater world's objections. It is well known from interviews that Mr. Sondheim does not like opera or opera voices, and yet in both Night Music and Sweeney Todd he managed to jostle Broadway that much closer to something he didn't care for. He probably could have written the great American opera, but just didn't care to!

Gayle Royko's performance of Desiree was iconic and possibly unique. She transformed the role into a classic Viennese operetta leading lady and with her star quality beauty was simply mesemerizing in the part. Comparing her to Schwarzkopf or Janowitz may seem  hyperbole, but that is exactly the way the role came off. Kraus surrounded her with a strong cast. John Holland's Frederik had a poignant world weariness to it and he was one of the few players of the role to actually be convincing as a lawyer! Mark Williams, LOW's Samuel from Pirates of Penzance, actually sang Henrik properly without having to resort to falsetto on the high notes, Newcomer Eileen Hand was the perfect soubrette for Anne with her brright soprano and pert demeanor. Lisa Woodruff, an early stalwart of the LOW chorus, made the cynical Charlotte a tragicomic figure of the first order and Clyde Crewey brought swagger and dashing good looks to his first leading role with company. Brad Nystrom, who had also just appeared with the company in Pirates, graciously accepted the small role of Frid mainly because Kraus had restored the character's sardonic song "Silly People" cut by Harold Prince from the original production. Broadway singer Carol Howell was suitable "amoral" as the servant girl Petra able to belt out her music with the best of them. Finally, the Liebeslieder Singers were cast with a cohesive ensemble from the best of the LOW chorus and were musically and dramatically the height of elegance.

Nan Zabriskie came to the company from the Goodman School of Drama and designed beautiful, richly appointed sets that made the scene transitions smooth and effortless. She was aided by Kerry Fleming's stylish costumes and Mark Mongold's professional lighting. The fade out of Ms. Royko at the end of "Send in the Clowns" was a magical moment commented on by many of the audience members.

Barney Jones and the LOW orchestra played the score with a "classical music" attention to detail and balance. It was a revelation after hearing the instrumental score played so perfunctorily by theater orchestras or in reduced instrumentation at Mariott Lincolnshire.

The production once again proved that Light Opera Works was not only a professional company, but one willing to push the boundaries with repertoire and the way in which certain works were perceived. It was among Kraus' personal favorites among all the pieces he directed in the first 18 years.



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