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The Virginia Opera Company is making its debut at Virginia Beach's Sandler Center with a real surprise - a brilliant, inventive new staging of "Camelot."
Brilliant? Who would have suspected it?
Putting the moxie in the medieval is not likely, particularly for such a beloved but overly familiar warhorse as "Camelot." Greg Ganakas' staging is daring and risky. He has moved the orchestra to the stage and sometimes has the cast dressed in modern clothes.
The result, against the odds, is an unusually intimate drama that gets directly at the heart of a love affair among three people.
Three is an unfortunate number when it comes to a love affair. There is, indeed, trouble in Camelot. Queen Guinevere, the youthful wife of the faithful but older King Arthur, has the hots for the new knight from France, Lancelot - and he for her.
They fight it but eventually sing the show's best song, "I Loved You Once in Silence" but are caught. Busted.
The poignant quality that "Camelot" should always have, but seldom does, is that the three respect and love each other. This Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot triangle is one of the most famous romantic dilemmas of all legend. Can friendship and duty prevail over physical love?
"Camelot" has always had to suffer under the shadow of "My Fair Lady" since it surfaced 52 years ago as the creators' (Frederick Loewe and Alan J. Lerner) follow-up to that classic.
That was a tough act to follow and "Camelot" has always has too much plot (plus legend and idealism) for its own good. Its last act is crammed with tardy exposition and even afflicted with a leading lady who ends up in a nunnery. (A challenge for any Broadway musical!).
As the years have gone by, though, the score has become beloved on its own, with "If Ever I Would Leave You" and the poignant "How To Handle a Woman" among others.
One feared the worst when it was learned that this might be a "concert" staging - particularly coming on the heels of the disastrously low-rent "Carmen" here. Delightfully, the staging of "Camelot" is not an excuse for cost cuts. Gregory Gale's costumes are suitably ornate and James P. McGough's hair designs are inventive.
This is a version that takes the emphasis off the pageantry and puts it exactly where it belongs - on the drama.
Peter Kendall Clark is a burly but likably vulnerable Arthur. Marissa McGowan is silver-throated and pure as Guinevere, a role that has been played before by everyone from Vanessa Redgrave to Ava Gardner. She fulfills the promise we noted in her in Broadway's latest revival of "A Little Night Music." Eugene Brancoveanu (Lancelot) is fine in the vocal category but looks precarious when making his entrance through and over all those chairs.
Indeed, the risers of the staging look dangerous even though they are used with great imagination.
Behind the scenes, there is the unlikely rivalry of two opera companies in our area. Few cities in the world have such classical presence. Here, VOC comes to the rescue, so to speak, by filling out the subscription demands of its Virginia Beach rival Virginia Lyric Opera. The next chapter in that melodrama will be played offstage.
It is unfortunate that "Then You May Take Me to the Fair" has been cut because it has some of the show's most clever, cynical lyrics. A better cut would have been the overly lengthy introduction with Merlin trying to explain the staging. Show us, don't tell us.
No matter how many times you've seen it, you haven't seen it staged this way.
It's an inventive find.
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© Mal Vincent, 2013