Review: Eastman Opera's 'She Loves Me' enjoyable production

04:59 PM, Nov 09, 2013

Alicia Ault plays the female lead, Amalia Balash, on Friday and Sunday in Eastman Opera Theatre's production of She Loves Me. (Photo provided by Eastman)/


Written By Daniel J. Kushner

If you go

What: Eastman Opera Theatre’s She Loves Me.
When: 2 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Kilbourn Hall, 26 Gibbs St.
Cost: $20.
For tickets: (585) 454-2100, esm.rochester.edu/concerts/tickets or at the box office before the show.

Eastman Opera Theatre’s She Loves Me is an utterly enjoyable production with a distinctively generous spirit.

A near-capacity crowd at Kilbourn Hall was on hand for the 1963 Broadway musical, with music by the creative team behind Fiddler on the Roof, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. It’s the story of Amalia Balash and Georg Nowak, feuding coworkers at a perfume shop who, unbeknownst to them, have been exchanging love letters as anonymous pen pals.

Stage director Stephen Carr — in his first production as assistant director of Eastman Opera Theatre — presided over a delightful production that, while sweet and earnest at its very core, was not afraid to be silly. The live ensemble accompanying the production, led by music director Wilson Southerland, was a great complement to the singers on stage, executing the light and frothy music with the wit and intelligence needed.

Alicia Ault, as the strong-willed and outspoken Amalia, was pleasant throughout, though at times — particularly during the first act — failed to project the assertive melodies of the show. Her tone was markedly fuller during “Dear Friend,” the closing number of the first act. Then things really began to click in the second act with “Where’s My Shoe?” in which the soprano’s lovely voice took on new vitality. In turn, Amalia became a more engaging figure.

As the tightly wound and rather buttoned-up Georg, tenor Sam Grosby’s voice cut through the orchestra with ideal warmth and strength.

Each of the supporting characters were fully developed and supremely believable. David Gleichman lent great appeal to the cantankerous shop owner Mr. Maraczek. Baritone Jarrett Logan Porter was a commanding presence as the likable everyman and Georg’s friend, Ladislav Sipos, especially during his featured song “Perspective.” Matthew Swensen’s performance as the cad Kodaly was polished and at all times entertaining.

Performances gathered strength as the musical progress. As Ilona Ritter, Andrea McGaugh was entirely sympathetic, yet her timbre was sometimes on the airy side and light on actual tone, most noticeably in “I Resolve.” In the second act’s “A Trip to the Library,” the song’s lower tessitura seemed much more suitable to McGaugh’s naturally dusky tone.

Some of the highlights of the production were unsurprising, Georg’s jittery and endearing “Tonight at Eight” and Amalia’s exuberant “Vanilla Ice Cream” among them. But ultimately, the chemistry between Grosby and Ault was never quite there. There was subtle separation between the two performers in each of their interactions — not entirely believable as irreconcilable coworkers, but not exactly magnetic as lovers.

It should also be noted, though, that the audience seemed to strongly disagree, as evidenced by their emphatic cheers when Georg and Amalia finally shared a heartfelt kiss.