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March 16, 2012

Robert Ward's 'The Crucible' gets vivid staging by Peabody Opera

Peabody Opera Theatre is on a roll. In the same season that saw worthy productions of Igor Stravinsky's "The Rake's Progress" and Dominick Argento's "Postcard from Morocco," the company has successfully tackled another demanding 20th-century work, Robert Ward's "The Crucible."

Based on the Arthur Miller play, "The Crucible" does not always have a distinctive ring to my ears. I find some of it too obvious or heavy-handed; the orchestral thump at the first mention of the word "witchcraft" is but one example.

And I confess to wondering if Ward was thinking of another American opera when he wrote the big scene between John Proctor and the wicked young woman who once had his heart -- it sounds like it could easily turn into a duet called "Abigail, You Is Not My Woman Now."

That said, "The Crucible" reveals a good deal of craftsmanship and, above all, packs quite a theatrical wallop ans it rushes toward the dispiriting conclusion of this story about bewitched, bothered and bewildered folk in colonial Massachusetts.

Roger Brunyate, directing his final Peabody Opera main stage production as head of the company, seizes on that propulsive element and zeroes in tightly on the drama. He also designed the economical set, which is subtly lit by Douglas Nelson.

Brunyate got impressively intense performances from Thursday night's cast (this group also performs Saturday; another was heard Wednesday and will be onstage Friday). The singers did not ...

meet all the needs of the score, which is filled with wide leaps and extended fortissimo passages, and several performers were reduced to shouting. But everyone managed to communicate credibly the essence of the music.

Nathan Wyatt was a standout as John Proctor, the moral core of the story. Although he struggled at times to control the tone at either end of his range, the bulk of his singing emerged solid and warm.

Alexandra Razskazoff did vibrant work, vocally and dramatically, as Abigail. Julianne McCarthy sang with a good deal of expressive flair as Elizabeth Proctor.  Peter Tomaszewski gave a sympathetic, sturdy-voiced performance as Reverend Hale.

Among the others, I was particularly taken with the tender tone and sensitive phrasing of Delaney Rosen as Rebecca Nurse. And James Kil strongly conveyed the noble character of Giles Corey.

The orchestra, conducted effectively by JoAnn Kulesza, poured out an impressive wave of instrumental angst.

PHOTO (of Amedee Moore and Jisoo Kim from the Wed/Fri cast) COURTESY OF PEABODY INSTITUTE

Posted by Tim Smith at 3:32 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes, Opera, Peabody Institute

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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