Refreshing King for a Day Provides Sparkle and Charm
Giuseppe Verdi : King for a Day (Un Giorno di Regno)
Todd Donovan (Cavalier), Jane Hammett (Marchioness), Richard Cohan (Baron), William Neely (Treasurer), Lee Gregory (Edward), Emily Stern (Giuletta), Corey Head (Count Commander), Stacy Cohen and Elizabeth Amisano (Flower Girls)
Pocket Philharmonic; Donald Pippin (Conductor)
Rick Dougherty (Director)
Verdi’s second opera and only comic one aside from Falstaff, was not a success initially and has never become a part of the standard repertory. But that does not deter Donald Pippin from including in frequently in the Pocket Opera repertory and this season it returns sounding as fresh and youthful as ever.
The plot, with a libretto by Felice Romani (and sung in a translation by Pippin), of King for a Day (Un Giorno di Regno), includes a typical opera buffo story line with thwarted young love, a hidden identity, a scheming father and plenty of opportunities for solos and ensembles of the Rossinian type. While Verdi’s score admittedly lacks the grace and polish of his predecessor’s comic operas, King for a Day includes several delightful and tuneful numbers and is well worth the occasional performance.
The musical and theatrical demands of the opera are modest and perfectly suited to a company like Pocket Opera. With a skillful ensemble and the Pocket Philharmonic, one scarcely missed a full chorus and orchestra. And of course nowhere else does one get treated to Pippin’s sparkling narration, itself worth the reasonable price of admission.
The cast was generally strong, though not without some weak links. Todd Donovan displayed a nicely focused baritone as the Cavalier disguised as the Polish King Stanislas. His full, pure tone and ringing top register suited the role as did his easy, natural presence. As his apparently thwarted lady, the Marchioness, Jane Hammett matched him with and equally graceful, expressive presence and strong singing. Hammett’s light soprano soared above the ensembles and deftly negotiated the coloratura writing. She also captured the Marchioness’s various facets from romantic figure to motherly confidant within the compass of her performance. Another absolute delight was Emily Stern’s Giuletta. This young mezzo seems to be destined for bigger things if her performance in King for a Day was any indication of her potential. A radiant, unaffected presence and a beautiful and expressive face are complimented by fine musicality and a gleaming warm tone that is evenly and freely produced from top to bottom of her considerable range. William Neely’s Treasurer was drawn in bold comic strokes suitable for this bass role, but in a somewhat broader style than the rest of the cast. Neely handled both music and text with equal ease, tossing off the patter writing with finesse and commendable diction. The Baron of Richard Cohan was not particularly well-defined, but the fault lies as much with the role as with the performer. Cohan invested the part with an appropriately blustery bravado and sang what a full, if somewhat unfocused tone. In the romantic tenor role of Edward, Lee Gregory lacked the resources to bring the character to life. His vocal technique is not sufficiently developed to allow the sort of easy, flowing tone needed and he sang off the breath most of the time. Rick Dougherty’s refreshing stage direction kept the action clean and allowed the humor in the opera to be derived from the characters and situations. He neatly avoided relying on shtick with results that were both witty and classy.
Conducting from the piano as well as narrating, Pippin lead a lively, persuasive reading of the score. In any other setting, using the overture as an Act II entr’acte as was done here, would seem a strange choice. But Pippin’s introduction served as overture and set the mood perfectly for the delightful performance that followed.