Michael Milenski has done it again. On paper, the opening offering of Milenski’s Long Beach Opera’s 13th season,
introduced on Wednesday night and repeated next Sunday afternoon, may have
looked like marking time. Given the company’s reputation for innovative fare,
a revival of Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” may have seemed like warmed-
over turkey; Massenet’s “La Navarraise,” which completed the double bill,
is less familiar, yet cut from very much the same cloth. But paper is fragile stuff, and Long Beach has, once again, put on a terrific
show. The reasons are numerous. They begin with two spellbinding performances
by Elizabeth Day, who sang the leading roles in both short operas. The list
continues with the stunning work of director/designer Hugo De Ana, whose
staging of both operas was full of fresh ideas including, in the Massenet,
some battlefield fireworks that could easily blow you out of your seat. They
also include the conducting of Michael Recchiuti, who delivered two poised,
nicely balanced readings. Elizabeth Day is not a newcomer; she was the Elisabetta in the Long beach
“Don Carlo” of 1986 and the Tatiana in the “Eugene Onegin” the year
before. Those were roles for a dramatic soprano; Santuzza and the Navarraise
actually call for a high mezzo. (Marilyn Horne’s recording of “La
Navarraise” is the way most of us know the opera.) In this range Day is
marvelously communicative. There were a couple of rough spots in the
Mascagni, which may have just been warming up. In the Massenet she dominated
the stage with some stunning vocalism, and a marvelous stage presence to
match. This was, make no mistake, the work of a big new star. The rest of the vocal work was at least competent, sometimes more so. Arturo
Spinetti’s big, burly Turiddu, delivered fortissimo for the most part, is
surely one of several legitimate ways of getting through “Cav” (if not the
only one). Kirk Redmann, the love interest in “La Navarraise” got through
the notes acceptably, but might consider narrowing his rather juicy vibrato.
Excellent support in minor roles was provided by Paula Rasmussen (a perky
Lola in the “Cav”) and Louis Lebherz, in the villain’s role in “Nav.”
Not the least of the evening’s pleasures was the rediscovery of that latter
work. We know Massenet from the lavender and gossamer of his big, romantic
operas. “La Navarraise” has its share, but also some gorgeous large-scale
thunder. Its action-packed brief duration is a marvel of dramatic
compression. Nobody ever said that about “Cav,” and nobody ever will.
THE FACTS: What: The Long Beach Opera presents Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” and
Massenet’s “La Navarraise.” Where: Terrace Theater, Long Beach Convention Center. When: 2 p.m., Sunday, December 2. Starring: Elizabeth Day, Arturo Spinetti, Kirk Redmann. Behind the Scenes: Conducted by Michael Recchiuti; designed and directed by
Hugo De Ana. Tickets: $10-$55. Information: 213 596-5556. Our rating: * * * *