Operagasm Exclusive Review: Sarasota Opera’s Vanessa
by Cody Laun
Saturday night I had the pleasure of attending Sarasota Opera’s opening night of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa. Having the opportunity to perform in so many operas, being on the other side of the pit was a treat. I rarely get the chance to watch a performance, so I was looking forward to being a spectator rather than a performer. I was not disappointed. All the elements of the show were excellent, and the recent renovation to the venue was beautiful.
The orchestra was as fine an ensemble as I have had the pleasure of hearing live. Maestro Neely masterfully shepherded the orchestra through Barber’s lush yet angular writing. The common pitfalls of convincing, consistent legato and timbral consistency in 20th century music were elegantly avoided. The winds were especially colorful, playing with tremendous technical facility and playful musical subtlety, with special attention paid to the instrumental interlude between scenes one and two of Act III which contained some of the most sensitive playing of the evening. Even Maestro Neely’s sense of humor made a cameo appearance when he forgot his score and had to go back and retrieve it. As he got back to the podium, he triumphantly held his score aloft for the audience to see, assuring them that there was no need to worry.
The sets were simple and elegant; The aesthetic was believable and intimate. Set designer Michael Schweikardt’s choice of color and flow within each scene added to the intimate, almost “Schubertian” quality of the production. The small stage was used effectively, fostering the cozy environment and close-knit relationships in the drama. The New Year’s Eve scene was grandiose without being gaudy, enabling Erika’s breakdown at the announcement of Anatol’s and Vanessa’s engagement to be seen with all its nuance and poignancy.
All of the vocals were exceptional, but the standout of the evening was Kara Shay Thomson, whose Vanessa had all of the musical sensitivity, technical prowess, and dramatic nuance required for the role. Her acting showed great command and understanding of the pain at the start of the show, and reserved joy when she falls in love with Anatol. Her pianissimi were breathtaking, filling the hall with sumptuous tone, leaving me on the edge of my seat, expectantly grasping for more.
The dramatic star of the night had to go to Cindy Sadler, who expertly portrayed the Old Baronness. Her voice was well-grounded and possessed all of the wizened character of the role. Her eyes told more about the strained relationship between her and Vanessa than all the singing of the evening could have done. Her posture was superb, her icy countenance present with every word and gesture.
Mezzo Audrey Babcock shone as Erika. Her passion and commitment to the role of the young niece were at home among the rest of the cast. Her transformation from the naïve niece to the jaded mistress of the house was outstanding. Tenor Scott Piper showed a firm command of the role of Anatol, and baritone Thomas Potter brought welcomed comic relief to the otherwise dramatically heavy plot.
While all the individual performances by each singer were fantastic, the relationships between characters seemed disconnected and strained. The first act was especially stark, but both the dramatic and musical energy improved significantly as the opera continued. The most disappointing part of the production, unfortunately, was “Must the Winter Come So Soon.” Babcock did a fine job, but it seemed out of place in the rest of the show. The energy and diction were both of an entirely different variety than she employed the rest of the evening, both before and after her devastating journey to the lake. As a performer, I have experienced this myself, and my assumption is that this was due to the fact that this was opening night, and that these relationships will continue to develop and strengthen with the run of the show, and that the pacing and consistency will also even out and increase as well.
Sarasota Opera has been reviewed by Musical America as “one of the finest venues for opera in America.” Despite the minor elements which did not match the rest of the production, the evening I had was no exception. The hall is beautiful, and the artistry was superior. I would highly recommend a trip to Sarasota Opera for any opera lover, and anyone who simply appreciates good music. I know that you will enjoy it.
A tenor whose voice is “powerful and quite even… beautiful, free, and lyric”(Elizabeth Blades, COWYO NATS 2007) characterizes Cody Laun as a Northern Colorado favorite. A frequent soloist along the Front Range, he has been featured with such groups as the CSU Chamber Choir, CSU Symphony Orchestra, and the Fort Collins Symphony. Specializing in oratorio and the lyric opera repertoire, Cody has performed such roles as Tamino in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, Alfred in Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, Ramiro in Rossini’s La Cenerentola, and Basilio in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.
Cody Laun received his Bachelor of Music degree in Vocal Performance from Colorado State University in the Spring of 2010. During his time at CSU, Cody performed such roles as Ferrando in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte with Emerald City Opera’s young artist program, Male Chorus in CSU’s production of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia, and was the featured soloist in a number of orchestral engagements such as Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, and Handel’s Dixit Dominus.
During his time at CSU, Cody received such awards as the Wendell Stubblefield Scholarship, as well as placing 1st in the 2007 CO/WYO NATS, and top 3 placements in 2008 and 2010. He recently received 2nd place in the 2011 graduate men’s division of the South Eastern region NATS competition. He received 2nd place in CSU’s Singer of the Year competition in 2009. While in college, Cody studied with Prof. Cynthia Vaughn, and Dr. Todd Queen.
Cody is currently in his second year of graduate study at the University of Florida, under the vocal tutelage of Anthony Offerle. In Decemer 2010, Cody performed Guillot in Offenbach’s The Lantern Marriage, Bill in Barber’s A Hand of Bridge, and Turiddu in a scene from Cavalleria Rusticana, all as a part of the University of Florida’s opera outreach program, and recently sang Tamino in UF’s production of Die Zauberflöte. In November 2010, Cody was featured as the tenor soloist in Handel’s Messiah with the Ocala Symphony Orchestra, singing alongside Anthony Offerle and Elizabeth Graham, and in June 2011, sang Tamino with FestivalSouth Opera. In March 2012 he will be singing Eisenstein with UF Opera’s Die Fledermaus, and will be performing Don Ottavio with FestivalSouth Opera, and Bach’s B Minor Mass with the Colorado Bach Ensemble in June 2012.