Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live: “Falling in Love For 160 Years”

Harry Forbes
Forbes on Film & Footlights
3 March, 2019

VHRP Live’s love-themed concert may have been the company’s best yet, not forgetting such earlier gems as Son of Dublin and Ladies First. (The title of this late Valentine’s Day treat, if you were wondering, pays homage to the company namesake’s 160th birthday.)

Art work for the "Falling in Love For 160 Years" concert of the Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live!, 2019

Art work for the “Falling in Love For 160 Years” concert of the Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live!, 2019

Presenting an especially well-balanced blend of favorites and rarities, the cast of four men and four women paired most winningly in various combinations, while the songs were nicely grouped by category describing the myriad stages of love: “Convincing a Love,” “Missing a Love,” “Longing for Love,” and so on. As usual, Michael Thomas served as ace musical director playing the eighty-eights with his customary high style and sensitivity.

Artistic Director Alyce Mott once again assembled the members of what seems to have become her virtual repertory company, and all of them were in wonderful form. In tandem with choreographer Susanna Organek (whose dances were a continual delight), Mott staged the concert very fluidly.

Soprano Joanie Brittingham reprised a bit of her excellent Eileen from a couple of years back singing “When Love Awakens,” and the rapturous “Thine Alone” the latter with tenor Andrew Klima, the one newcomer to VHRP, and one to watch. He especially shone in the solo, “Mary Came Over to Me,” an unabashedly sentimental ditty with lyrics (surprisingly) by Irving Caesar (“No, No, Nanette,” “Swanee”).

Poster for the original Broadway "Eileen."

Poster for the original Broadway “Eileen.”

The great mezzo Alexa Devlin, Ohio Light Opera’s frequent headliner, had the virtual 11 o’clock number, a richly vocalized “‘Neath the Southern Moon” from Naughty Marietta. Her other choice pieces included a melodic duet with sterling baritone Jovani Demetrie, “I Love Thee, I Adore Thee” from The Serenade, and another with versatile bass Matthew Wages, the charming “On the Other Side of the Wall” from Babette.

The latter selection followed a bravura coloratura piece from the same show by the impressive Sarah Caldwell Smith entitled “Where the Fairest Flow’rs Are Blooming,” which makes us want to hear the whole show. Wages, for his part, also scored with his stirring “Gypsy Love Song” from The Fortune Teller, climaxing with some ethereal offstage vocalizing by Smith, a lovely effect.

A 1905 poster for Victor Herbert's "The Fortune Teller" (1898), showing the women's drum corps.

A 1905 poster for Victor Herbert’s “The Fortune Teller” (1898), showing the women’s drum corps.

Claire Leyden, who made such a strong impression in VHRP’s The Enchantress last season confirmed the promise shown there with several bewitching numbers. There was a very cute duet with Smith, “For Better or For Worse,” from Princess Pat, their voices blending neatly; then a sequence of numbers from Sweethearts with Demetrie (who will be Leyden’s co-star in the full show in April). Demetrie’s began the sequence with a powerfully sung “Every Lover Must Meet His Fate.”

The purity of Leyden’s voice in “The Angelus” and the conviction of her delivery (fittingly staged on a prayer kneeler) was most striking. And she and Demetrie sounded mighty fine together when these numbers were sung in counterpoint. Leyden then led the company in “Sweethearts” itself singing the verse with rare dramatic emphasis. The pair also reunited in “Never Mention Love When We’re Alone” from The Debutante.

Overseeing all this vocalizing passion was baritone David Seatter who served as the evening’s affable compere, joining in several of the numbers, as well as dueting most charmingly with Devlin in “Because You’re You” from The Red Mill, and then in the second act, “What is Love?” from The Wizard of the Nile with Leyden.

Sheet music cover for Victor Herbert's "The Wizard of the Nile," 1895. (Edward Schuberth & Co.)

Sheet music cover for Victor Herbert’s “The Wizard of the Nile,” 1895. (Edward Schuberth & Co.)

Other highlights included the Cyrano, Christian, and Roxanne wooing scene from Herbert’s 1899 Cyrano de Bergerac, not just well sung, but pointedly acted. Other rarities included Brittingham’s “My Gipsy Sweetheart” (complete with tambourine) from Old Dutch, and Demetrie leading the men in the virile “My Fair Unknown” from Miss Dolly Dollars, Wages’ warmly vocalized “Molly” (not from a show), Brittingham’s plaintive “Heart O’Mine” from Fanshastics, and Brittingham and Klima’s posthumously published waltz duet, “Give Your Heart in June-Time.”

The poster for the hugely popular 1935 movie version of "Naughty Marietta".

The poster for the hugely popular 1935 movie version of “Naughty Marietta”.

And on the more familiar end of the scale, Smith and Klima paired on three of the Naughty Marietta chestnuts beautifully, closing the show with, most fittingly, “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life.”

Next up, as indicated, will be Sweethearts on April 30 and May 1.

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