Monday, December 18, 2023

"The Gift of the Magi" by Skylark Opera Theatre at the Lowry Lab Theater

Last weekend, Skylark Opera Theatre presented an opera based on the classic O. Henry story The Gift of the Magi. It's a simple story of love and sacrifice, but one that's stood the test of time and receives a beautiful musical treatment in this opera adaptation by David Conte (music) and Nicholas Giardini (libretto). Unfortunately it was a short run that has now concluded, but with any luck they'll bring it back next holiday* season. And mark your calendars for next June when Skylark will be presenting the Sondheim revue show Marry Me a Little, featuring songs cut from some of his musicals

You're probably familiar with the story of The Gift of the Magi, first published in 1905. Della and Jim are a poor young couple in love who sacrifice to buy a gift for each other - she sells her long beautiful hair to buy a chain for his watch, he sells his watch to buy her combs for her hair. The opera tells the story in four scenes over about 75 minutes. First we see the couple preparing for Christmas and promising not to buy each other gifts, then we see each of them discussing breaking that promise with a friend, and finally - the reveal of the gifts and what they cost. It's succinctly and beautifully told, along with interludes by the three magi, who create a bit of magic along the way.

The show was performed in the intimate Lowry Lab Theater at the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, which is a perfect space that is filled with music from the unmiked performers and six-piece orchestra (led by Skylark's Artistic Director James Barnett on piano). The modern yet traditional score is so lovely, with lyrics sung in English and easily understood, the musicalization heightening the emotional impact.

"do you still love me with short hair?"
(Siena Forest and Anthony Potts, photo by Jeff Newcomer)
Stage director Karen Weber utilizes the space well, especially in entrance and exits that one can imagine being outside the tiny apartment (populated with a few pieces of period furniture). The tone and staging emphasize the connection between Jim and Della, which is at the heart of the piece. Siena Forest and Anthony Potts portray the young couple and both sing beautifully and make for a believable couple in love, despite the fact that they recently played siblings (and Siena does, indeed, have long beautiful hair). Alyssa Burdick and Jeremiah Sanders provide great emotional and vocal support for Della and Jim, appearing in one scene each. Rounding out the cast and the sound of the piece are Darius Gilliard, Benjamin Dutcher, and Yuran Liu as the magi, cleverly helping the action along, and singing gorgeous three-part harmony.

Skylark Opera Theatre specializes in small-cast, intimate, usually modern operas sung in English, which is exactly how I like my opera. The Gift of the Magi is a beautiful example of that, for those of us lucky enough to catch it last weekend. Follow Skylark on Facebook for news of upcoming shows.

*Read about all of the holiday shows I've seen this year here, and listen to the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers holiday preview episode of our podcast Twin Cities Theater Chat here