'Night Music' makes good use of setting, winning cast

| Tuesday, July 9, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Academics and pedants can talk themselves into a frenzy arguing whether Stephen Sondheim's “A Little Night Music” is a musical or an opera.

Those who believe it's a musical will point out that Broadway is Sondheim's world and where this adaptation of Ingmar Bergman's movie, “Smiles of a Summer Night,” made its debut.

Opera fans lay claim to it as a serious musical work that has had performances by companies such as New York City Opera, Houston Grand Opera and Opera Theater of St. Louis.

The Opera Theater of Pittsburgh production that opened July 7 (and repeats July 12 and 20) seems content to split the difference with a production that should offer satisfaction to both groups.

In the capable hands of director and theater veteran Scott Wise and conductor Walter Morales, who is also the music director of the Edgewood Symphony Orchestra and Undercroft Opera, the production plays like an old-fashioned operetta.

Hugh Wheeler's libretto supports that genre: People discover love, betray each other, fall out of love and rediscover love without anyone getting seriously hurt.

Meanwhile, they bare their disappointments, passions and secrets through Sondheim's clever, complex lyrics and his alternately waltzy and poignant music.

Events come to a head when husbands and wives — as well as a shared mistress and some of their nearly adult children — spend a weekend at Madame Armfeldt's country estate.

By the time they leave, they have learned that they may have miscalculated about the person they thought they couldn't live with or without.

Opera Theater of Pittsburgh has invested wisely in an excellent cast of singers who, in some cases, appear to have been hired more for their vocal talents than their resemblance to their characters.

You hear their value immediately in “Night Waltz,” where every member of the company, right down to the lowliest servant, offers a gloriously operatic entrée into the show.

Nevertheless, on first meeting, Brynn Terry looks too mature to be Ann, the still-virginal young wife of the middle-aged Fredrik Egerman played by Daniel Teadt, who disguises his youth with a skillful graying of his hair.

Conversely, Daphne Alderson doesn't look old enough to be Madame Armfeldt, a grandmother to Fredrika. She appears more like the sister than the mother of Anna Singer's Desiree.

But they work hard at winning us over.

Singer and Teadt are wonderfully compatible as a pair of former lovers and delightfully comedic in “You Must Meet My Wife.”

Singer touches your emotions with her second act “Send in the Clowns” and Alderson turns in an accomplished rendering of “Liaisons.”

Terry and Bridget Skaggs, who plays Charlotte Malcolm, nicely render the rueful “Every Day a Little Death.”

Rebecca Henry, as Ann's sexually aggressive maid, Petra, provides a moving downbeat note with “The Miller's Son.”

The setting and the venue are also worthy of note.

Scenic designer Britton Mauk and lighting designer Stevie Agnew have created an economical and workable setting that is as pleasing as a summer night's breeze.

A minimalist arrangement of chiffon curtains and a few lounge chairs and benches is backed up by a wall awash with color that morphs from peach to magenta.

Fans of architecture will find the location of particular interest.

“A Little Night Music” is performed in the Art Deco Theater of the Twentieth Century Club in Oakland. Created as part of a 1930 expansion, its Deco-esque chandelier and decorative details provide an attractive box for this musical gem.

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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