Rimrock Opera’s production of “The Crucible,” by Robert Ward, played in front of a backdrop that echoed Vincent Van Gogh. But it was a sky without light and stars: dark, twisted and ultimately, blood-red.
The opera’s libretto comes from Arthur Miller’s play of the same name about the 1692 Salem witch trials. From the opening note, there’s no comic relief.
All the performers in the Rimrock staging were superb, but three especially stood out: Michele Berger as Tituba, Carolyn Coefield as Mary Warren, and Joshua Lawler as John Proctor.
Ms. Berger’s voice, acting and diction totally convinced me that she was a black slave. Even with the dialect, I understood every word. I found her confusion, as Tituba, as to whom she should pray, touching.
Carolyn Coefield’s interpretation of Mary Warren explained to me the dilemma of all of the young girls who were sucked into the plot. Mary’s emotions flitted across Ms. Coefield’s face.
I found myself rooting for Mary as well as the Proctors, especially in the final courtroom scene, where she hung on to the truth until faced with her own imprisonment.
Joshua Lawler stood out for his dramatic voice control and stage presence. As the doomed John Proctor, he was the rock upon which this production stood.
“The Crucible” was first performed by the New York City Opera in October 1961 and won both the Pulitzer and New York Music Critics Circle Citation in 1962. The audience came to the debut looking for blood and left with nothing but praise. “The Crucible” is now the most performed American opera, even surpassing Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess.”
As a theater event, it’s unsurpassed. The tragedy is real, not concocted, as in so many 18th and 19th century works. The thread of truth versus lies runs through the whole story.
But I found the music less entrancing. There were no grand, show-off arias, no memorable melodic lines. When I attend the opera, I want the hairs on my neck to stand up. I guess that I’m saying I want my opera overblown, larger than life, maybe even melodramatic, at least musically.
So now I know. “The Crucible,” as an opera, isn’t my cup of tea. But the two choices for the 2012-13 season are. Look for the comedy, “Don Pasquale” in September and “Aida” next April.
And as always, thank you, Doug Nagel and Rimrock Opera.