“A Little Night Music” – Arizona Opera

Theater/Opera Review – March 7, 2022


Arizona Opera, Symphony Hall
Phoenix AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater/Opera Critic

When an opera company tackles a musical theater piece, you can count on two things – great singing that is often superior to the best theater company and the score played by a large ensemble allowing the performance of nuanced orchestration rarely heard in the current small, shallow Broadway orchestras.  Both things happened glowingly in the Arizona Opera’s staging of Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant “A Little Night Music.”  Other things critical to a successful musical theater production weren’t as perfected.

The set, borrowed from the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, was full of huge trees that served wonderfully for the musical’s outdoor sequences but was a strange and incongruous backdrop for the musical’s many interior scenes including a bedroom, a music room, a theater, and other inside locales.  Pieces of the interior scenes were pulled and pushed into place in an attempt to liken them to the swirling sets that transform locales in Broadway musicals but the various interior locales were plagued with the hovering trees that created strange pictures and didn’t allow the show to move effortlessly through its many sites.

The singers sang Sondheim’s limpid score with brilliant musicianship and some of the songs have never been so well sung but the characters must do more than sing.  Each performer must create complex character roles that were mostly missing from this production.

Perhaps the most important test of a superb musical theater staging is a show that moves sprightly from sequence to sequence with swift propulsion.  This production lumbered when it should have dashed and the characters paused awkwardly after each line of dialogue so this “A Little Night Music” never sprinted as it should have.

Patricia Racette as actress Desiree Armfeldt who lives for lecherous and illicit affairs with many men sang the show’s signature “Send in the Clowns” touchingly but never appeared to be the man chasing woman she must be.  Keith Phares’ Fredrik Egerman was better as a two-timing husband who has attraction to Desiree while attempting to win his young virginal wife Anne.

Jill Grove as Madame Armfeldt, Desiree’s man hungry mother, performed a lecherous “Liaisons” where she bragged about her many male conquests.  Terrence Chin-Lay presented a Henrik, Fredrik’s young son, who possessed the hots for Anne, played with transparent up-tightness by Katrina Galka.  Servant Petra was played with insightful perception by Melanie Long.  Conductor Andrew Bisantz’s orchestra played Sondheim’s distinctive melodies with lushness as appropriate for the all-waltz score.

If Keturah Stickann’s lumbering staging had been more drawn from musical theater, this could have been a near-perfect rendition of a rarely seen show.  Instead, it was a musical treasure without the necessary theatrical flourish this show must have.  “A Little Night Music” will play two performances in Tucson on March 12 and 13.  For tickets, call the Arizona Opera box office at 602-218-7334.

Grade: B