WATERTOWN — Things are looking up for Boston Midsummer Opera, which opened its 11th season on Wednesday night with continuity where it counts, plus a triple dose of new: one new venue, and two Italian operas that were new at least to many in the packed house.
The two one-act works presented were Donizetti’s playful farce “Il Campanello” and Mascagni’s tenderly lyric “L’Amico Fritz.” The new venue was the Mosesian Theater at the Arsenal Center for the Arts. And the continuity arrived courtesy of the supple conducting of BMO music director Susan Davenny Wyner and the fluid stage direction by Antonio Ocampo-Guzman, who directed the company’s 2013 and 2014 productions. Add a capable cast and you get an evening full of geniality and charm.
“Campanello” is a tuneful “melodrama giocoso,” and by far the lighter of the two works. Its libretto is essentially built on a one-joke premise with many variations: Dr. Annibale Pistacchio, an old apothecary, is thrilled to have arrived at his wedding night, but while his young bride Serafina awaits, her former lover Enrico keeps deviously interrupting the festivities, disguised as three different patients seeking late-night counsel from the pharmacist. Each gag is funnier and more outrageous than the last. Wedding guests chime in boisterously. David Kravitz, in fine voice, plumbed the role of Enrico for every last ounce of its comedy, and Jason Budd as the poor doctor conveyed mounting exasperation with such vividness you almost felt sorry for him.
Budd returned in Mascagni’s “L’Amico Fritz” as Rabbi David, whose expertise appears to be less in the Talmud than in the fickle ways of the bachelor’s heart. With a nimble scheme he engineers a match between the wealthy landowner Fritz and Suzel, a simple but noble-hearted farmer’s daughter. The score similarly ensnares its own listeners with one supplely shaped melody after another, and its deep flow of lyricism proves irresistible. Meredith Hansen sang affectingly as the young Suzel, and Matthew Vickers as Fritz had ardency and a clear tenor on his side. The score’s Cherry Duet – one of its few well-known passages – proved the evening’s highlight.
Budd as the rabbi deftly conveyed the crinkled-eye warmth of his character. Britt Brown and Stefan Barner both did well in smaller roles. For her part, Davenny Wyner drew lithely idiomatic playing from the orchestra while having to deal with vexing challenges of stage geometry (conducting from behind the singers). The theater itself, however, was just the right scale, and brought a delightful intimacy to these two works. It should serve as a welcome new home for BMO going forward. In the meantime, catch these two one-acts if you can.
BOSTON MIDSUMMER OPERA: “Love, Italian Style”
At Arsenal Center for the Arts, Watertown, July 20 (repeats July 22, 24)
Jeremy Eichler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org