The tale of Pygmalion, the master sculptor who creates a statue of his idolized woman Galatea and has Venus bring it to life, was told by the Roman poet Ovid in his work the “Metamorphoses.” It has been told again and again, down to George Bernard Shaw’s play of Professor Higgins’ creating the perfect lady (though perhaps GBS’s work “Pygmalion” is better known in its musical version of “My Fair Lady”). Yet Franz von Suppé’s operetta “My Beautiful Galatea” is a comic take on this myth, perhaps more in the spirit of Offenbach’s “Orpheus in the Underworld” and Weill’s “One Touch of Venus.” The twist here is that Galatea, far from being the perfect woman, becomes insufferable, and Pygmalion desires that she revert back to stone!
Bel Cantanti is an opera company with a unique mission, bringing rare operas to audiences, but with smaller orchestras (9 pieces and good sound mix) and reduced props (enhanced by slides with Art Nouveau and vintage photo looks). Far from a drawback, this can work to advantage to make opera more intimate and more approachable. Von Suppe’s operetta is given new life in its current vibrant production under the artistic direction and musical direction by the indefatigable Katerina Souvorova and directed by
Here it is set in the 1920’s, with flapper clothing for Galatea and a pin-striped suit for Midas, appropriately enough a businessman in the decade famous for Coolidge’s statement that “The business of America is business.” The surtitles, especially the introduction to the plot at the beginning, even remind one a bit of a 1920’s silent movie. Another 20’s-era reference: “You should go out and listen to some jazz!”
Kelly Curtin plays Galatea with brazen character just suited for the part, sly looks, and a magnificent voice, especially in the stunning aria just after she comes to life. This is likewise true of Alex Alburqueque who brings to the part of Midas excellent skills as a comedian as well as a soaring voice, as when he tries to seduce the recently awakened Galatea with jewellery in: “Seht den Schmuck, den ich für euch gebracht,” or more prosaically in English: “Look at the jewellery that I brought you.”
This brings to mind a minor quibble: Why not perform the music in its native German instead of English? Using the original language is certainly the procedure when Bel Cantanti performs Russian opera, and Dr. Souvorova said in her informative introduction to this operetta that the translation is stodgy. For those who are not familiar with this operetta’s music, it sounds at times like Franz Lehar and at times like Gilbert and Sullivan, particularly in the “patter-song” performed by Galatea, Midas, and Pygmalion’s apprentice Ganymede (performed ably by Joseph Baker).
Adding to the proceedings is inclusion of The Olney Ballet. The ballet added movement, grace, and spectacle to the overall enjoyment of the production.
Viennese music is something of a tradition on New Year’s – and there are Viennese-style waltzes in the overture and elsewhere in the operetta to enjoy. We are on the threshold of the Vienna New Year’s Day Concert, so we can do letter better than say with Galatea in her drinking aria “Hell im Glas, da schäumt das duftige Nass” – “bright in the glass, fragrant liquid foams” – as we lift a glass in praise to this production: “Cheers!” Or more appropriately for the Viennese world of the play, “Prost!”
Running Time: 2 hours plus one 15 minute intermission.
“My Beautiful Galatea” is playing through January 6, 2019 at Randolph Road Theater. For more information, visit online.