Little Women Sing with Big Voices
Following tradition, Oberlin Opera Theater put on a memorable and impressive performance of Mark Adamo’s Little Women. Complete with four shows divided between two casts — of which I saw only the Friday/Sunday ensemble — this large production may have seemed daunting at first, but with contributions from experienced professionals, talented singers and musicians and the composer himself, Little Women brought audiences to their feet.
Many of the performers agreed that the highlight of their experience was not the success of the performances, but the opportunity to work with Adamo himself. Conservatory junior Joseph Barron expressed this with excitement.
“We [usually] work with composers who are…300 or 400 years old…Adamo seemed incredibly pleased with how we were doing it. Since he’s used to working with graduate students and professionals…it was very thrilling,” said Barron.
Adamo attended two dress rehearsals and opening night on Wednesday, March 14. Many of Adamo’s original concepts were already in motion in this Oberlin production, as Guest Conductor Christopher Larkin had performed the opera’s 1998 world premiere in Houston. Still, Adamo worked with students to give them some insight into his intentions and ideas from character to character.
“The piece started to make sense when I met him and he started talking,” said double-degree fifth-year Samuel Read Levine, who sang the role of Laurie. “Once I met him it was like we were all on this team trying to get the same thing done.”
Levine described his characer as a “lighthearted, easy-going guy,” and added that Adamo’s own descriptor of Laurie was “puppyish.” But, like Laurie, the tone of the opera transforms to become more serious in the second act, following the growth into adulthood and experiencing life with all of its hardships.
The opera, only nine years old, is largely written in an atonal style and was challenging for many of the performers.
“I have never done anything like this. I had to jump headfirst into it. Intervals are really important,” double-degree senior Julienne Walker said. “There were so many times I had to sit at the piano and plunk it out. [There were] sections I had to drill over and over and over again, [so that] it almost became muscle memory. [Although] the orchestra is playing…you don’t necessarily hear the notes. You have to train yourself to hear it when it’s not there.”
Barron was a standout as Friedrich Bhaer, the German professor. The wide range of Friedrich’s aria was masterfully dominated by Barron’s deep and resonant voice, winning extended applause.
“Sometimes singers get lucky with a great role,” Barron said.
Other standouts included Conservatory junior Maureen Sutliff, as well as Walker.
The character of rich Aunt Cecelia, portrayed by Sutliff, added a taste of ironic humor to the opera. Sutliff commanded an awesome presence, which was perfect for Cecilia, a strong-willed woman with an eye for money and independence.
Walker sang her heart out in the lead role as Jo, her first lead performance in an Oberlin opera. Her talent matched her will as she gave a stunning performance Sunday afternoon.