Glimmerglass’s rarely done ‘King for a Day’ a rare treat, well done

The heroes of the Glimmerglass production of Verdi’s rare — really rare
— second opera, Un Giorno di Regno (King for a Day), are director
Christian Rath, choreographer Eric Sean Fogel, and set and costume designer
Court Watson. This trio has taken a work with a threadbare, unfunny plot, and
only intermittingly inspired music, and transformed it into an afternoon of
zaniness that delighted the audience in the Alice Busch Opera Theater in

Verdi wrote this work in 1840 when he was 27. It is his only comic opera
until Falstaff, the final masterwork of his old age. Un
was booed by the audience in Milan, in part because of poor
singing, and it received but a single performance.

Verdi bounced back from this disappointment with his third opera,
Nabucco, which is about as far in spirit from Un Giorno as
one could get. He was clearly not looking in the rear-view mirror. Just as he
abandoned the comic path, so has the work been abandoned by opera houses in the
last 173 years, although Europe has seen a few mountings.

The Rath team put the six principal singers and the chorus through all sorts
of physical activity — climbing, jumping, boxing, kissing, dancing, and
swinging chairs at each other in a chaotic closing scene to Act 1 that is
reminiscent of The Barber of Seville and The Italian Girl in
, both by Rossini, whose presence hovers over Verdi in this
creation. The site gags come so thick and fast and are so ingenious that the
audience forgets this soufflÈ could collapse at any minute if the temperature
is not kept at a high heat.

KarliCadel-KingGeneral-6281.gifGinger Costa-Jackson as Marchesa

Rath signaled to the audience that a circus was about to start by projecting
clown-costume circles of color on a white curtain during the toe-tapping
overture. Then, in the English titling (for a production sung in English), the
audience was invited to attend a double wedding and to allow four hours “to
clear security.” Similar 21st century touches were interpolated in the text
by Kelley Rourke, who did all she could to make this creaky story of young love
thwarted (and then triumphant) relevant.

The stage business was so intricate, and non-stop, it was a wonder that the
first performance went so smoothly. I expected the cast to fall off the steeply
raked set at any moment and tumble into the orchestra pit, but no one did.
Indeed, if anyone was ever out of place it wasn’t evident to the audience.
The physical comedy delivered by the young cast assured a success.

Had Verdi not been the one to write this, however, no one would stage it
today. So, is the great master present at all in the music? Here and there,
yes. A few phrases from mezzo-soprano Ginger Costa-Jackson (as the Marchesa)
find their way into Gilda’s music in Act 1 of Rigoletto. Some of the
choral work prefigures Ernani.

What is more instructive, however, is how Verdi assimilated Rossini,
Donizetti and Bellini in this work, which is only to be expected given how wet
behind the ears he was. The basso buffo singing of Doctor Dulcamara (The
Elixir of Love
) and Don Pasqualeare not far from the surface in
the music for bass Jason Hardy as the Baron Kelbar, and baritones Andrew
Wilkowske (as La Rocca) and Young Artist Alex Lawrence as the King of the
title. One extended passage for the King and chorus in Act 1 is a close
parallel to music from Rossini’s Il Viaggio a Reims. A promising
duet for tenor and baritone in Act 1 could be plopped into Bellini’s I
without much alteration.

And so it goes for about two hours of music — little Verdi, but lots of
early 19th century Italian opera by other masters. What he did demonstrate at
27 was his ability to write for the voice. The tenor part (the love-sick
Edoardo, sung by Young Artist Patrick O’Halloran) is particularly fine.

As the Marchesa, Costa-Jackson was the only “name” singer in the cast.
Dolled up in a red sheath and a blond beehive wig, she vamped around the stage,
often holding a twinkly gray toy poodle that adamantly refused to move at one
point in the first act. Her part lies high for a mezzo, and Costa-Jackson had
some problems at the top of the range. But given she was in a track meet of a
production that must have sorely taxed her lung power, it’s surprising she
sang as well as she did.

KarliCadel-KingStageOrch-57.gifClockwise from top: Jason Hardy as Baron Kelbar, Patrick O’Halloran as Edoardo, Jacqueline Echols as Giulietta and Andrew Wilkowske as La Rocca

None of the three low-lying males — Hardy, Lawrence, and Wilkowske — has
the cavernous bass or baritone voice, or the agility in articulation, to do
justice to the patter. Nor do they have the blustering style of a Doctor
Bartolo. All were too light for their roles, but they threw themselves into the
proceedings with gusto, particularly Hardy. His impersonation of a boxer alone
is worth the price of admission.

The best singing came from the young couple (who would become Nannetta and
Fenton in Falstaff in another 53 years). Young Artist Jacqueline
Echols was a prim Giuletta in her modest patterned dress. She has a melting
soprano voice and terrific stage presence, even when singing from under the
raked stage. As her true love Edoardo, O’Halloran looked like Clark Kent in
an argyle sweater, matching socks, shorts and black-frame glasses. He doesn’t
yet sing like Superman, but he has much potential. His voice seems agile enough
for Rossini, but also with sufficient heft for Donizetti and Bellini. For me he
was the most rewarding singer on stage.

The two smaller parts of Delmonte and Count Ivrea (who totters around on a
walker) were assumed by two more Young Artists, Andrew Penning and Joe Shadday.

The performance was conducted by Joseph Colaneri, the new music director of
the Festival. He miraculously led a crisp, tidy performance in which everyone
stayed together even as they were rocketing around the stage. I don’t know
how this was achieved, but it was. The orchestra played very well for its new

Un Giorno can be heard on CD in a luxury cast that includes JosÈ
Carreras, Jessye Norman, Fiorenza Cossotto and Ingvar Wixell on Decca, under
conductor Lamberto Gardelli. The score holds up in repeated listening,
particularly with the manic images from Glimmerglass in one’s head. Even
though Rath’s production book must be 5,000 pages long, other companies might
want to take a look at this rarity — if the cast is young and fit.

David Rubin

This review first appeared at CNY
CafÈ Momus
. It is reprinted with the permission of the author.

image_description=Jason Hardy as Baron Kelbar and Alex Lawrence as Belfiore in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2013 production of Verdi’s King for a Day. Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival.
product_title=Glimmerglass’s rarely done ‘King for a Day’ a rare treat, well done
product_by=A review by David Rubin
product_id=Above: Jason Hardy as Baron Kelbar and Alex Lawrence as Belfiore

Photos by Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival