Arizona Opera Season and “soot and spit” – ASU School of Theatre and Film

This review aired on KBAQ April 8, 2013


Phoenix Symphony Hall
Phoenix, AZ


ASU School of Theatre and Film, Paul V. Galvin Playhouse, ASU
Tempe, AZ

The just concluded 2012/13 Arizona Opera season further enhanced the company’s place as a major American regional opera company as they continue to bring the best young operatic singers to town.  Productions continue to improve and are all consistently well sung.  Staging, while still sometimes awkward and archaic, has improved.  The season’s best opera was the new local production of Verdi’s “Il Trovatore.”

The company had great comic fun with the season closer, “The Marriage of Figaro,” where Sari Gruber performed an outstanding Susanna and Daniel Okulitch created an impressive Figaro.  But the entire cast did themselves proud singing Mozart’s delightful score that was well played by the superb Arizona Opera orchestra under Joel Revzen’s able musical direction.

The opening opera, Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” is a magnificent bel canto masterpiece and Lisette Oropesa was superb opening night.  I predict her Lucia will be one of the opera’s finest as she continues to develop and explore the role.  “Lucia’s” conductor Steven White was impressive.

Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette” possessed the season’s best ensemble singing in a production that had annoying off stage noise that marred it.  Musical subtleties were lacking and that further hampered it.  This season’s stalwart “Tosca” had sloppy direction by Bernard Uzan and Revzen’s workmanlike conducting had little musical flair.  “Tosca’s” lead singers, Jill Gardner, Adam Diegel, and Gordon Hawkins, were an imposing musical ensemble.

The Opera often rents less than impressive sets and needs to improve this aspect of its productions.  Nothing about Arizona Opera remains embarrassing and when the opera is able to bring major operatic stars to enhance the excellent work of the young singers they use, the company will move another notch on its continuing climb to become one of the best American regional opera companies.  Arizona Opera’s 2012/13 season earns an overall grade of B.

In another interesting theater event, the ASU School of Theatre and Film presented  “soot and spit,” a world premiere, that takes you inside the brain of 20th century artist James Castle who was profoundly deaf and it is unknown whether he could read, write, or use sign language.  Written by Charles Mee, the play allows audiences to experience Castle’s challenging handicaps but the play is slow and makes its points in a methodical way that doesn’t invite audiences in.  “soot and spit” is very revealing about the huge challenges some face but it is a tedious theatrical experience.  It continues through Sunday, April 14.  For tickets, call the Herberger Institute box office at 480-965-6447.

Grade: C