KPBS AIRDATE: February 24, 2006
In these days of media spin and fictional memoirs, truth is a slippery commodity. The deliberate absence of honesty can be devastating; its presence can contribute to confusion, or loss of innocence. Consider Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor.” A series of lies from a cruel, self-serving brother sends poor loving Lucia into a crazed tailspin. In Lee Blessing’s “A Body of Water,” a middle-aged couple has lost all traces of memory; a frustrated and somewhat sadistic younger woman feeds them factoids and fabrications that only add to their instability and bewilderment. In Stephen Sondheim’s classic fairy tale musical, “Into the Woods,” there are dark, disturbing truths behind the ‘happily ever after.’
Here’s one irrefutable fact: San Diego Opera general manager Ian Campbell has made another significant discovery. Angela Gilbert, who stars in “Lucia di Lammermoor,” is a find, a glorious soprano who looks beautiful, acts wonderfully and sings like an angel. After Lucia’s heartless brother deceives her with lies about her beloved’s infidelity and forces her into a marriage of financial convenience, she plummets into her brilliant mad scene. Gilbert is heartbreaking in her frantic trills and poignant flute duet, punctuated by stunning moments of physicalized despair. Next to Gilbert’s effortless coloratura and chromatic runs, the locally beloved tenor, Richard Leech, seems to be straining, but Reinhard Hagen brings his rich, resonant bass to the hypocritical chaplain, Raimondo. Vocally and visually, this is a marvelous production, and it’s destined to be the launching-pad for this young, bel canto diva-to-be. Remember the name: Angela Gilbert, heard here in a live recording of Bellini’s “La Sonnambula.”
In a different vocal vein, there’s Lamb’s Players production of “Into the Woods,” a musical that reminds you to Be Careful What You Wish For. Sondheim’s celebrated peek behind the fantasy makes these fairy tales rather grim. But there are many delights in this production. The ensemble is charming and talented, supported by a crackerjack band, a cute, cutout Crayola set and colorful, character-defining costumes. Every fable has a moral, right? Here, it’s decency, integrity and communal responsibility.
Truth-telling has no inherent advantage in “A Body of Water,” the haunting new work by acclaimed playwright Lee Blessing. The young woman who visits the clueless couple may be their lawyer… or their daughter. In either case, she messes with their already addled minds. What’s disturbing and unsettling here is the notion of who and what we are without our memories. The play leaves us as befuddled and uncertain as the characters. It’s a chilling, often thrilling piece of work, beautifully designed and excellently acted, by Ned Schmidtke, Samantha Soule and Sandy Duncan.
If you can handle the truth, you can enjoy some honestly outstanding theater.
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.