With little means, Bel Cantanti works magic in Mozart-Offenbach double bill

January 22, 2012

The Bel Cantanti Opera Company is one of a number of local groups relying on a mix of semi-pros, volunteers and advanced students to mount charming, low-budget, high-energy productions at various out-of-the way venues in the region. Saturday, it opened a five-show run of a double bill, Mozart’s “Der Schauspieldirektor” and Jacques Offenbach’sMonsieur Choufleuri restera chez lui le .”

With scarce resources, the company was apparently unable to muster much in the way of publicity; the audience at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville barely outnumbered the 21 cast members and musicians (the show is not even listed on the JCC’s Web site). But an entertaining evening of fine singing at a third of the price you’d pay at the Kennedy Center should draw much better.

Stage director Guillaume Tourniaire worked miracles with his cramped space, particularly in the Offenbach; the performers camped it up with goofy disco moves and deliberately schlocky stage business. The singing was generally solid in both casts (which had some overlap), though soprano Kimberly Christie displayed both uninhibited movement and shining vocal abilities that stood out from the rest. Bass-baritone Kwang Kyu Lee has a gloriously rich voice as well, though it was hard to get past his thick accent in the extended dialogue in both operas.

The company’s founder and artistic director, Katerina Souvorova, “conducted” a scrappy string ensemble with her head while playing an electronic keyboard (filling in wind parts). The predictable imprecisions were less bothersome than the jarring sonorities, and one cannot but worry what “Eugene Onegin,” set for the spring, will sound like with such incongruent forces.

But certainly the pluses outweighed the minuses. Everyone gave their all, the music was delightful, the sets and staging were entertaining, and the vitality of the art form continued to inspire and transport. Future performances are Saturday and Sunday at the JCC and Feb. 2 at the Austrian Embassy.

Eric Gramatges and Kimberly Christie perform at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington. (Photo by Alexandre Souvorov)

Battey is a freelance writer.

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