Something strange and wonderful has happened to the Prince George's Civic Opera Company.
The evidence, embodied in the Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht "Threepenny Opera," was presented Friday night at the Wolf Trap Barns and will be shown twice again Thursday and Saturday with a contrasting interlude ("The Beggar's Opera") this Friday.
A substantial part of what happened may be The Barns itself, a great place for performing and hearing intimate opera.
The P.G. production of "Threepenny," with the same performers, sets and costumes, was presented last month in the Queen Anne Auditorium of Prince George's Community College, and it was good. But on its second run, in The Barns, it became something special. The performers came into their own in this space; communication with one another and with the audience was heightened, timing was precise, gestures had impact and in the mellow acoustics of this 200-year-old building, the voices blossomed. It was light-years ahead of what had been seen in March.
Curiously, it was also enormously better than "The Beggar's Opera" as performed by the same cast the night before. That was a solid production with the usual first-night problems, but it was not inspired as "Threepenny" was on its opening night. The difference may be that the cast was still fresh from a brief run with "Threepenny." Evidently the "out-of-town tryout" in Prince George's County, followed by a few weeks to rest and assimilate the material, had something to do with it.
The material also helped. "The Beggar's Opera" is a clever piece; it was daring in its time and is still stageworthy. But its style is a bit archaic and stilted when compared with the jazzy, slangy, no-holds-barred modernism of "The Threepenny Opera." The P.G. County's double bill offered a rare opportunity to compare the two, presented side by side in the same place and with the same performers. "Beggar" came across nobly, but "Threepenny" packs a lot more punch. There was some question whether it would lose that punch when sung by operatic voices, as it did once in a disastrous recording made in Vienna. But apparently young American operatic voices are just right for what is essentially 1920s German cabaret music.
Occasionally, the music does rise to an operatic level, notably in the soprano roles given to Teresa Ann Reid and Carolene Winter, both of whom sang superbly. Reid was most impressive in the "Jealousy" monologue, but Winter matched her in the higly competitive duet that followed. Joseph Myering often dominated the show in the role of Peachum and showed a flair for vaudeville-style solos. He was perfectly mated to Marguerita Kris in the flinty-tough role of Mrs. Peachum. She seems born for that role until you recall her witch in "Hansel and Gretel" -- not too different a role, come to think of it. But she was also a unique and enlightening Elvira in the company's "Don Giovanni." Jerry Hall gave a distinctive and convincing performance as Tiger Brown and Stanley Dunn sang "Mack the Knife" in fine style -- aided greatly by Dorothy Biondi's imaginative, brightly busy staging of this number.
The stage direction had worked well on the first run, but was much better in The Barns. It had more focus and impact, in fact, than the last operatic production shown in the Terrace Theater: Offenbach's "Christopher Columbus" as directed by Roman Terleckyj.
The star of the show, tenor Christopher King, has grown enormously as an artist in the past year or so and was an ideal Mack the Knife. In the role of Jenny, Mary Pat Finucane sang beautifully. But she seems to need a bit more seasoning before she can portray a prostitute convincingly.
Music Director David Abell, clearly a master of the Weill idiom, conducted a performance that was musically precise and exciting throughout.