Encore Michigan

Michigan Opera Theatre Studio Artists shine in ‘Little Women’

Review March 14, 2017 Graham Mitchell

CLINTON TWP., MICH. –Two years ago, Michigan Opera Theater began a Studio Artist program to nurture aspiring opera singers from around the country and give them opportunities to hone their vocal talents on the main stage. Little Women was an excellent choice to showcase the Studio Artists in leading roles, as well as local singers in the cast. The performers had a special surprise on Saturday night, as the composer was in attendance for their moment in the spotlight.

American composer Mark Adamo wrote the libretto and score to Little Women by adapting Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel for the stage. The story follows the March Family’s four daughters into womanhood. Jo, the second daughter and main character, was sung by Briana Elyse Hunter, mezzo-soprano. The role is a challenging one with a wide range, musically and emotionally, as she transitions from an immature adolescent to an enlightened adult. Ms. Hunter made this difficult role seem effortless as she performed with an abundance of energy and charisma. Joseph Michael Brent as Laurie, Jo’s close friend and unbeknownst suitor, brought a youthful exuberance and sweetness to his role.

Some of the most beautiful music of this show is given to the characters of John Brooke and Meg March. Meg, the eldest daughter, falls in love with John Brooke, Laurie’s tutor and a man of humble means. In an attempt to woo Meg, Brooke expresses his feelings through a story and proposes to her in “There Was a Knight Once.” Baritone Jeff Byrnes sang this aria with great tenderness and sensitivity. Meg eventually accepts his proposal, which upsets Jo. In “Things Change, Jo,” Meg explains what it’s like to be in love. This aria was exquisitely sung by mezzo-soprano, Laura Krumm, and was a highlight of the evening.

The cast blended well as an ensemble and is a testament to the strong musical values that Michigan Opera Theater has established over the years. Additionally the orchestra was in excellent form under the baton of Suzanne Mallare Acton, always sensitive to the needs of the singers.

Unfortunately, the stage directing was not as seamless as the music. Director Lawrence Edelson made some extremely odd choices on focal points at certain times in the opera. Meg’s wedding scene is a prime example. Musically, the focus is on Alma and Gideon March as they sing their wedding vows to Meg and John. However, the visual focus is drawn away from them. Alma, Gideon, Meg, and John are almost hidden behind other characters and set pieces in low light, while Jo and Laurie fidget in silence with better lighting at the front of the stage. I found this distracting and it took away from the beautiful moment that was happening upstage. Odd moments like this happened throughout the show and disrupted the storytelling of Adamo’s libretto and score.

Overall, MOT’s Little Women was a wonderful production and truly showcased the amazing talent in Michigan. We are truly lucky to have a gem like Michigan Opera Theater in our community and I look forward to watching the development of the Studio Artist Program in the years to come.