Rivals Revel in Fun

A review by Christopher Sirota

I had an extremely fungible time last Saturday night, January 18th, at the Hunter College Kaye Playhouse where The Bronx Opera Company perfumed Kirke Mechem’s The Rivals… a comic opera full of malapropisms as it is based on Sheridan’s 1775 comedy of the same title from which the term “malapropism” was coined, thanks to one of the lead characters named Mrs. Malaprop. Malaprop enjoys showing off her gasp of the English language by sprinkling her sentences with a supposedly erudite choice of constabulary. Hopefully the humongous point is taken, and you get what I mean…now consider the joy and skill that would be required to make this effective in an opera.

Kirke Mechem’s version of The Rivals tackles this challenge with a plunger – ok I’ll stop here – with aplomb and then some. Not only does Mechem add this twisty language effortlessly, but his score and libretto completely captures the zaniness of this story of mistaken identity, jealousy, and mockery of the rich. Furthermore, the other characters, who do not use malapropisms, have plenty of funny lines balanced just so with the frolicking music. This balance pushes the pace of the show but never forces, or rushes it…an amendable feat to be sure – sorry I could not resist.

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As for the performance, I have been an avid follower of The Bronx Opera Company for several years, and continue to enjoy their energy and enthusiasm in bringing to life both known and lesser-known operas. Last Saturday was no exception, there was tremendous clarity of voice and character creation from all of the leads. Lindsay Ohse as Lydia Larkspur began with and never dropped her energetic singing and her spirited physical comedy, which was truly a joy to watch. Equally as fun to watch were Patrick McNally, as Jack Absolute (imagine a thoroughly hilarious Jim Carrey singing mellifluous opera), and the over-the-top-in-a-fun-way Blake Friedman as his friend Nicholas Astor. Adding to the fun, although we expect beautiful singing from an opera company, we do not typically count on comic routines throughout that continue to work, but director Benjamin Spierman and his group were successful as evidenced by the constant laughs elicited from the audience.

Overall, the word that pops into my mind, and on this page is “fun.” The show was light, and truly skipped along a fine line between musical and comic opera. I enjoyed the rich score that Michael Spierman conducted, as always, with fervor, and his musicians matched his thrust. I would mention that a few times the orchestra overpowered the singers, and, sadly, this happened at moments we needed to hear funny lines and malapropisms. Also, since I am a fan of the natural, unmic’d theater, several times I found myself wishing, not for mikes, but for the performers to come downstage more often so I could hear them…a mutual benefit…and much more fun for all.

Christopher Sirota writes for OuterStage and DramaQueens on a regular basis. He is also a cinematographer with one film receiving international distribution, another in post-production, and a third readying for pre-production.
Photo by A.G. Liebowitz/WrightGroupNY