BY JOHN FLEMING
Times Performing Arts Critic
With Sarasota Opera seeing the finish line of its acclaimed Verdi Cycle — the final production is expected to be Aida in 2016 — artistic director Victor DeRenzi was looking for a new project to keep the company on the map.
"I have been wanting to do American opera for quite a few years now,'' says DeRenzi, who is launching the American Classics Series with Robert Ward's The Crucible, adapted from the Arthur Miller play. "I think it has the greatest name recognition of the American operas, and it's very accessible, not in any way cutting edge.''
The Crucible, awarded the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1962, sticks pretty closely to the Miller play. The libretto by Bernard Stambler is in four acts, like the play.
"A lot of the text is lifted directly from Miller into the opera,'' director Michael Unger says. " 'No acting, please' has sort of been my motto with the cast. You don't need to. The material is good enough. All you have to do is deliver the story, deliver the music, and it's going to tell itself because it's such a powerful piece.''
The Crucible, a parable of McCarthyism in the 1950s as told through the witch trials in 17th century Salem, Mass., was perhaps Miller's most political play. "It's a hideous part of our history,'' Unger says. "We, as Americans, own this story, whether we like it or not. I think we owe it to the victims of the hysteria to tell the story as clearly and honestly as possible. The more we work on it, the more we find the reality in it.''
Ward, who lives in North Carolina, will attend Saturday's opening night performance. "I've had four or five conversations with him,'' Unger says. "He seems to know every measure of the score without even opening it, and the guy is 93 years old.''
The Crucible has a large cast. It isn't performed a lot these days by opera companies. "The only productions I've heard of lately were by colleges,'' Unger says.
Sean Anderson, the baritone playing John Proctor in Sarasota, has a family history with the opera. His father, Alfred Anderson, also an opera singer, played the same role in a 1976 production by Washington Civic Opera. Sean is using his father's score for this production.
Anton Coppola, the Opera Tampa maestro, is the same age as Ward, and he conducted four productions of The Crucible in the 1960s, '70s and '80s. "It's very powerful,'' Coppola says. "The libretto is powerful and the music suits the situation. It's dynamic, it's forceful, it's compelling.''
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.