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Music Reviews : Retelling Of 'Crucible' At Cal State Northridge

November 10, 1986|JOHN VOLAND.

The ambitious David Scott, director of the Opera Theatre at Cal State Northridge, has struck again: He has asked his young charges to perform one of the literature's thornier works--and not merely to get the notes right, but to really enact it.

The work in question this time around is American composer Robert Ward's 1961 operatic retelling of Arthur Miller's "The Crucible." As heard Friday night--the opening night of a six-night run--in Cal State Northridge's Campus Theatre, Scott's willing young singers gave the brooding work their dramatic all, but were unable similarly to invigorate its music.

Ward's constant use of parlando vocal techniques and the omnipresence of fragmented phrases clearly threw most of the principals off, for only mezzo-soprano Linda Frisch's Elizabeth Proctor seemed sung of a piece, and only Frisch was comfortable enough (a very relative term in this case) with Ward's ungrateful vocal writing to inhabit her character musically.

Vocal unease and pitch problems plagued the rest of the cast throughout the night, though the John Proctor of Nicholas Vetter--a huge man with a promising middleweight baritone--improved markedly as the opera went on. Vetter's final scene with Frisch and soprano Ute Gefrerer (as the diabolical Abigail Williams) was powerful both theatrically and vocally.

Indeed, the dramatic high points were all powerfully played. The confrontation of honesty and adolescent pretension in the courtroom, John and Abigail's furtive meeting in the woods, the general growing dread of accusation throughout the work--all these situations were given their theatrical head. Credit must go to Richard Shank's stark sets and Scott's knowing stage direction for their cumulative effect.

Also impressive, though uneven, in smaller roles were three tenors: Beau Palmer, Drew Pulver and William Trabold as Rev. Parris, Miles Corey and Judge Danforth, respectively.

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