- The Washington Times - Monday, June 25, 2007

ohn Musto’s comic opera “Volpone” returned to its original venue during the weekend as the Wolf Trap Opera Company unveiled a snazzy new production of the work it commissioned and premiered in March 2004. The company’s current iteration of the opera seems considerably more polished, crackling with malice, humor, and surprisingly deep insight into the less savory aspects of the human character.

Based on a wild and crazy farce by popular Shakespeare contemporary Ben Jonson, England’s own Moliere, this operatic realization of “Volpone” whittles the playwright’s lengthy comedy down to a workable length, and spices it up with contemporary puns and jokes by librettist Mark Campbell, who seems to have sharpened a few of them since the work’s premiere.

Volpone‘s” score — aptly characterized at its premiere by Wolf Trap Opera’s director Kim Pensinger Witman as “fast and dense” — is modernistic and edgy. Nonetheless, it is loaded with lyric possibilities and blessed with a devilishly clever libretto that paradoxically allows its characters to inhabit earlier times while speaking clearly and appealingly to contemporary audiences.

Jonson’s “Volpone,” or “The Fox” — whose two-dimensional, commedia dell’arte characters are wickedly named after the animals they most closely resemble — seems to anticipate the “greed is good” mantra of Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko in the classic film “Wall Street.” Volpone, the opera’s eponymous anti-hero, is a crafty old codger who, with the help of his devious servant Mosca (aka the Fly), cons his insincere friends out of most of their earthly goods by promising them his own wealth as he lies on his purported deathbed. The result is a madcap French-style farce that makes for a hilarious evening of musical theater.

Director Peter Kazaras provides ironic yet elegant direction to this production, making the most of scene designer Erhard Rom’s numerous trapdoors and entrances and exitways. And the company’s young cast weighs in with a performance that collectively highlights each character’s peculiarities while providing them with convincing lyric weight.

Standouts in this production include baritone Joshua Jeremiah (Volpone) and tenor Jeremy Little (Mosca), both of whom have large, powerful voices that befit their dominant roles. The opera’s two-dimensional villains, Corvina (soprano Lisa Hopkins), Cornaccio (tenor Rodell Rosel), and Voltore (baritone Museop Kim) are convincing and add real depth to the satire. And soprano Anne-Carolyn Bird (Celia) and tenor Steven Sanders (Bonario) as ill-fated young lovers, provide humor, pathos and wonderful singing to round out their Monty Pythonesque characters.

A special hat-tip also goes to mezzo-soprano Faith Sherman whose Erminella, the good-hearted madam, gets to sing some of the opera’s finest lyrical moments and does so with great passion and poise.

The small Wolf Trap orchestra performed enthusiastically under the baton of Sara Jobin, correcting quickly from some overly loud playing at the beginning of the opera.

All in all, the Wolf Trap Opera’s revival of “Volpone” offers a welcome return of a memorable new opera whose story got under way right here in the Vienna woods. Light, contemporary, and full of fun, it will prove to be one of the classical highlights of this summer season.


WHO: The Wolf Trap Opera Company

WHAT: “Volpone” by John Musto, lyrics by Mark Campbell.

WHEN: Friday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

WHERE:The Barns at Wolf Trap, 1635 Trap Road, Vienna


INFORMATION: Call 877/965-3872 or visit www.wolftrap.org


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