'The Light in the Piazza' a charming operatic fable about romance
A fanciful Florence and thrilling voices provide the magical setting
Published June 2005
By Lucy Komisar
The fifties of the novel on which this musical play is based was the era of "Three Coins in The Fountain" and "The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone," a time when Americans mused about finding sensitive lovers and romance in Italy. Playwright Craig Lucas has kept that sense of fifties fantasy which fits perfectly with Adam Guettel's operatic score and lyrics. A story of wild "love at first sight" might appear unlikely in a realistic script, but it's what opera thrives on.
The Light in the Piazza
Book by Craig Lucas
Based on a novella by Elizabeth Spencer
Music and lyrics by Adam Guettel
Directed by Bartlett Sher
Vivian Beamont Theatre at Lincoln Center
150 West 65th St.
Through Sept. 4 2005
And the production directed by Bartlett Sher is a delight. His actors whirling through and around the ochre stone archways and towers of Florence, into museums and elegant palazzos, are colorful flights of imagination and whimsy that feed day dreams.
Into this fanciful summertime city comes Margaret Johnson (the vivid soprano, Victoria Clark), a Southern woman whose marriage is a disappointment, and her daughter Clara (Kelli O'Hara, with a rich, sweet soprano). She is a "special" young woman of 26; a childhood accident affected her mental and emotional development. This is barely perceptible except that she often lacks adult social inhibitions. She says what she thinks, which is not always à propos, though it certainly is refreshing.
Kelli O'Hara (seated) and Victoria Clark
Photos by Joan Marcus
But mother runs interference, seeking to protect her. Then Clara meets the charming Fabrizio (Matthew Morrison, with a melodious operatic voice and an appealing style) who knows only a smattering of English. Mother faces a critical problem. Should she stop the romance? Should she tell the boy's dominating father (a moody, forceful Mark Harelik), who runs a men's haberdashery?
The surprise of the story hangs on the different attributes Americans and Italians of the time valued about women. And it suggests gently that love can be found by everyone. The play is affecting without being sentimental.
Kelli O'Hara and Matthew Morrison
Some of the lines are spoken or sung in Italian, which offers a curious realism in the midst of the reverie. The music is modern, the lyrics poetic and intelligent. It's a wonderful summertime fable for New York.