Wednesday, September 19 , 2018, 2:56 am | Fair 62º


‘Séance on a Wet Afternoon’: What They Did for Love

Opera Santa Barbara lifts curtain on a new season with exemplary cast and set

Séance on a Wet Afternoon, with music and libretto by Stephen Schwartz of Wicked fame, opened Opera Santa Barbara’s 2009-2010 season in a world premiere Saturday night at The Granada.

This production, also playing at The Granada on Friday and Sunday this weekend, is clearly a coup for the opera company. It opened to a full house Saturday and looks to be a success for the remainder of its brief run. Schwartz clearly knows what sells. Wicked was a hit on Broadway and in Los Angeles, and it followed the solid successes of Godspell and Pippin.

Furthermore, the cast and the production values were exemplary. The set was an aesthetic and mechanical marvel. All honor to scenic designer Heidi Ettinger, lighting designer David Lander and costume designer Alejo Vietti; they evoked the 1960s San Francisco ambience very well.

Opera Santa Barbara commissioned this reworking of a 1964 British film that starred Kim Stanley and Richard Attenborough and was favorably reviewed by critics in its homeland and in the United States at the time. The film was an adaptation by Bryan Forbes of a novel by Mark McShane. The commission of this opera was sponsored by Rich and Luci Janssen.

With all the labor, financial expenditure and loving artistic care, it would be nice to report that Séance makes for a meaty operatic evening. Unfortunately, it does not. Opera exists in its own lavish world. Séance featured operatic voices, but it lacked operatic content.

The story concerns a loony woman medium who is convinced of her great psychic powers, her loving and emotionally enabling husband, the kidnapping of a little girl and the anguish of her parents in trying to find her. This is truly the stuff of tragedy, but the work as written fails to rise to those heights.

Soprano Lauren Flanigan is Myra Foster, the medium, who is so hateful it’s difficult to believe anyone would put up with her in the first place. Baritone Kim Josephson makes a vivid impact as her husband, Billy, who loves her too much to say no to her. It is a basic failure of the story that he would placate her, because he is a relatively strong and decent person.

The child’s parents are portrayed very effectively by soprano Hila Plitmann and tenor John Kimberling, two good-looking young singers who bring a touching pathos to their roles. The police inspector working to find the child is strong and believable, as performed by baritone Craig Hart.

Special mention must go to the two children in the cast, Kelsey Lee Smith as the kidnapped little girl, Adriana, and Aaron Refvem, playing Arthur, the entirely imaginary son of the nutty medium. Both youngsters have fine singing voices and their acting was excellent. Both also brought a touch of grace to a story that certainly needed it. Child-stealing is a touchy subject. Watching grownups behave either stupidly or malevolently while the fate of a child hangs in the balance may not necessarily be the best way to spend an evening at the theater.

— Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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