I can pinpoint the moment I became a Stephen Sondheim freak. It was the first time I heard A Little Night Music. In a song called "You Must Meet My Wife," a lawyer, Frederick Egerman, talks with his mistress, Desiree, about his charming and sweet young wife who is, after 11 months of marriage, still a virgin. It's just two people talking, but talk set effortlessly to music, with language both elegantly natural and funny ... and it rhymed!
Night Music, suggested by Ingmar Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night, features Egerman, Desiree and the people standing between them: his young wife and son, and Desiree's lover and his wife.
Sondheim shows notoriously feature bad books. The two exceptions are the ones he wrote with Hugh Wheeler, Sweeney Todd and Night Music. The latter flows effortlessly from song to scene and back, creating a glittering, stylistic masterpiece. (Original Broadway director Hal Prince called the show "whipped cream and knives.")
Opera Theater of Pittsburgh presents Night Music, directed by Scott Wise, as part of its Summer Fest. The three-week rotating rep include five works: four operas and one Night Music.
That production schedule might suggest the downside: lights, costumes, sets, etc. are fairly under-rehearsed. And it's no insult to say that musical-comedy acting doesn't come naturally to opera singers. Wise has done wonders and probably could have done much more.
But there is a tremendous upside: these glorious voices singing this mesmerizing music. I'm not an opera queen, so hearing singers sing without amplification is a remarkable experience.
Daniel Teadt sings Egerman with warmth and beauty; Anna Singer displays impressive comedic chops as Desiree; and their on-stage chemistry has you rooting for them from the beginning. Robert Frankenberry's powerfully sung Count Mangus, and Bridget Skaggs, as his scathing wife, get their share of laughs. Brynn Terry, Rebecca Henry and Sabina Balsamo unfurl beautiful voices to great effect, with Daphne Alderson providing luscious dark notes as Madame Armfelt. Finally, Benjamin Robinson is the most fully realized and perfectly sung Hendrick I've ever seen.
No review would be complete without mentioning conductor Walter Morales and his impeccable orchestra, so let me finish by saying "bravi!"