Irish Classical Theatre Company and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra built a beautiful model for collaboration with this series of theatre-set-to-music productions. The 2023 installment was Shakespeare’s The Tempest with Jean Sibelius’ incidental music and it was a lush and lavish visual and aural feast.
First of all, the music. It was stunning, and it helped advance the story in critical places. The soaring sounds in the brass told your ears that a ship was on treacherous seas. Pizzicato passages in the strings conveyed dramatic tension and the light moments in the woodwinds brought deliverance. Balancing the music against the story was essential to make the production fit into a two-hour performance footprint, too. Of course the orchestra under JoAnn Falletta’s baton got it right.
The theatrical side was a perfectly-cast delight. Gender bending Prospero to Prospera was a fine choice and Aleks Malejs’s strong demeanor and velvety voice created an imposing persona. Yes, she could swirl the sea into a tempest, rule a country, demand the return of her power when thwarted, and raise a daughter, too. Hey, sometimes a sister has to show her brother who is really the boss. Prospera’s daughter Miranda is winsomely played by Sabrina Kahwaty, with a girlish charm overlaying her mom’s determination. Some of the region’s finest actors were hailed for the rest of the roles, too, sometimes against type, and forming a solid corps. Standouts were Marisa Caruso as the spritely Ariel, who leapt across the stage in a swirl of earthly colors. Kevin Craig (concurrently preparing for his solo performance in Second Generation Theatre’s Every Brilliant Thing opening this week) is Trinculo, the jester who is one of three Prospera enemies. Philip Farugia as the tipsy servant, Matt Witten as Prospera’s scheming brother Antonio who’s plotting with Sebastian (Todd Benzin) make a masterful albeit evil trio.
This was a substantial cast and production team, under the direction of Fortunato Pezzimenti. Vocal soloists and a choir of 10 (from the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus) sang back up, directed by Adam Luebke . The other force was the projection: sheer images of the sea and scenery were projected on the back of that lovely blonde wood stage, giving it a glimmer, a suggestion of the sea and the islandscape. David Dwyer and Jayson Clark as set and light designer respectively told the right amount of visual story here. Vivian DelBello’s costuming was elegant, as was Susan Drozd’s makeup and hair design.
Collaborations like these are testament to the gestalt of Western New York’s arts community: come together in strength and emerge even stronger. This partnership is laudable. Regrettably, time and expense make these limited engagements, but it’s gratifying to know that they endure for another year. Congratulations to the musicians, singers, actors, and production artists – and the administrators who raise the funds and program the seasons – for these gifts.
Show your support for both entities by visiting their websites (bpo.org and irishclassical.com), attending their regular performances, and contributing to their successful seasons.