TARTUFFE

In the 27 years since its founding, the Opera Workshop at the California State
University at Northridge has provided valuable training to its young
participants, and substantial entertainment to the folks out front as well.
Its over 100 productions have ranged from repertory works to contemporary
novelties. Its current production of Kirke Mechem’s “Tartuffe,”which runs
through this weekend at the school’s Little Theater, is a distinguished entry
in the latter category.
A resident of the Bay Area, where he has taught at several schools, Mechem
has composed prolifically in many musical forms. First produced at a San
Francisco Opera workshop in 1980, “Tartuffe,” has made the rounds. And why
not? It gives off an aura of high professionalism; it gives its singers a
good workout, and puts up only a mild challenge to its audience. Its text has
been adapted by Mechem himself from Moliere’s sublime satirical comedy, and
he, too, has done a highly professional job.
The opera’s musical ancestors are the sure-fire old masters: Puccini above
all, whose best manner Mechem has carefully absorbed; Strauss (both Johann
and Richard) in a few nice waltz tunes and in some dissonant scampering right
out of “Till Eulenspiegel.” To these borrowings Mechem adds a passing nod
or two: some Wagner (both “Tannhauser” and “The Ring”) as appropriate
underlining to the pretentiousness of the title character, a flicker of the
Beethoven Fifth to illuminate a fateful knocking at a door.
If the resulting agreeable pastiche is somewhat less than memorable in
itself, it at least accords well with Moliere’s delicious comedy, and the
opera — which runs about 2 1/2 hours — does sail. Its acoustic setting at
CSUN, in the 200-seat theater where the sounds from the orchestra pit tended
to overwhelm all else, did the work less than full service, however.
Still, the production, conducted and staged by the workshop’s founder, David
W. Scott, did the work proud; the composer, in attendance on Tuesday night,
looked pleased. Cathy Susan Pyles designed an attractive single set; the
costumes by Teresa Gibson caught the period quite nicely.
And while one hesitates to single out individual performers during their
workshop years, don’t be surprised to see the names of Michelle de Young, a
large-voiced dramatic soprano who sang Mme. Orgon, and Robin Lee Parkin, a
pert, high-stepping soubrette as Dorine, showing up one of these days in the
big time. Jason Daniel was the imposing, menacing Tartuffe; Benito Galindo,
the properly dithering Orgon; Barbro Johansson his sweet if somewhat starchy
daughter Mariane. The next CSUN Opera Workshop is scheduled for mid-March:
“Suor Angelica” and “Gianni Schicchi,” real Puccini this time.
THE FACTS:
What: Kirke Mechem’s “Tartuffe,” presented by the CSUN Opera Workshop.
Where: The Little Theater, School of the Arts, Nordhoff St. and Etiwanda Ave.
in Northridge.
When: 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday.
Behind the Scenes: staged and conducted by David W. Scott, designed by Cathy
Susan Pyles and Teresa Griffin.
Tickets: $5-$10; information: 818 885-3093.
Our rating: * * *