by J.D. Goddard

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The Ohio Light Opera premiere of The Little King. (Photo by Matt Dilyard)

On Wednesday, July 23, in the College of Wooster’s Freedlander Hall, Ohio Light Opera presented the opening performance of its seventh and final work of the summer season, Emmerich Kálmán’s The Little King (Der kleine König) with libretto by Karl von Bakonyi, Franz Martos and Robert Bodanzky. This was OLO’s premiere performance of the rarely performed 1912 work and its eleventh Kálmán operetta.

The convoluted plot deals with a boyish monarch who falls in love with a famous visiting opera singer. She also happens to be the daughter of a revolutionary plotting his assassination. During her visit she orders a bouquet of roses for the king and has a bomb placed in amongst the thorns. In true operetta fashion, the plot is foiled by an overwhelming love attraction between the two and the bomb is defused. There are many twists and turns throughout as the King is forced into exile and ultimately reunites with the opera singer. They “want to build a new kingdom for themselves, a kingdom of love, from where no one shall expel them.”

Clark Sturdevant’s portrayal of the “little” king was convincing despite the fact that he is a good six feet tall. His command of the stage was forceful yet endearing, and his impressive vocal ability ranged from gentle to boisterous with a wonderful ringing top. His ensemble work was exceptional and his pianissimos were superbly placed.

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Natalie Ballenger (as Anetta, left) and Clark Sturdevant (as the King) from the Ohio Light Opera premiere of The Little King. (Photo by Matt Dilyard)

The opera singer, Anetta Montarini, was ably sung by Natalie Ballenger, who moved with ease and grace while aptly portraying her multi-faceted character with a brilliant voice. Her duets with Sturdevant were highlights.

Daniel Neer brought a clear and precise characterization to the role of Admiral Montbrison. His duet “Freedom’s Song” with Anetta and chorus was solid and projected well.

Huck, a demanding character role, was ably portrayed by Anthony Maida, an eight year veteran of OLO. Having been handed the reins to the kingdom, he held together the intricacies of the plot while flouncing about the stage. His duets with Zaza were highlights, along with his “I Need a Baroness” with chorus.

Gretchen Windt’s characterization of Zaza was strong and convincing. Hers was a strong voice, resonant and full-bodied.

Stephen Faulk was exceptionally strong as Lieutenant Lancelot. His brilliant vocal abilities and superb diction made for a well-thought-out portrayal. His opening duet with Zaza and chorus, “A Cute Little Maiden,” set the bar high for the rest of the performance. His spoken dialogue could be heard clearly.

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Anthony Maida (as Huck, left) and Gretchen Windt (as Zaza) from the Ohio Light Opera premiere of The Little King. (Photo by Matt Dilyard)

Christopher Oblesby (Field Marshal General Lincoln), Jason Lebaron (A Chief of Police), Michael Lucas (The Lord Chamberlain and An Old Lackey), Nathan Brian (The Colonel), Arielle Schmidt (Daisy), Jamie Rappaport (Fifi), Christopher Calderizzo (HediI), Spencer Reese (Doltschi), C.J. David (A Petty Officer) and Bonnie, the Greyhound (“My Darling”) filled out the cast with strong performances.

As always, the chorus was absolutely outstanding. Kálmán’s Verdian choral writing was the highlight of the show. The interjection of a tango theme was also quite brilliant.

Steven Daigle’s stage direction and English text translation, along with the excellent lighting by Eric Norbury, choreography by Carol Hageman, set design by Cassie King, costumes by Charlene Gross and sound by Andy Kauff all supported the production well. Steven Byess conducted the orchestra with the clarity and nuance demanded from this waltz-filled, difficult score.

Judicious trimming of the text would have been appropriate. When there is more text than music and a three-act performance lasting more than three hours, one’s mind can tend to drift while waiting for that next beautiful Kálmán musical moment.

Despite its length, this was an excellent afternoon with The Ohio Light Opera. They are Northeast Ohio’s gem during the summer and rightly so.

Next performances: July 27, 31, August 2, 6

Published on ClevelandClassical.com July 29, 2014.

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