UBC Opera's The Crucible shows off some promising voices

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      A UBC Opera presentation at UBC’s Old Auditorium on Thursday, November 10. No remaining performances

      Fear, paranoia, and prejudice have kindred dynamics and they define what happens in Arthur Miller’s witch-hunt play The Crucible, virtually laying a blueprint for a 1950s political witch-hunt.

      The time of the play’s creation was ripe for allegories about witchcraft, since Joseph McCarthy and his House Un-American Activities Committee stooges were themselves unwittingly creating a breeding ground for the hysteria of popular opinion. The play saw the light of day in 1952, and in 1961 the opera that the American composer Robert Ward based on it came out at New York’s City Opera. The opera has been widely produced in the United States, largely by unpaid university casts like the one mounting the recent UBC production. Student casts are about the only ones that can afford to do justice to so large a production with so many players.

      The opera won a Pulitzer Prize, but there’s something poignant about Ward’s early success because little that he went on to write captured any attention—certainly his seven other operas nor his miscellany of orchestral works didn’t. (Ward, born in Cleveland in 1917, was initially going to be here for the production but cancelled.)

      The Crucible makes for a long evening and one not without its problems. The music has an all-but-inevitable Aaron Copland–esque, rough-hewn Americanness—Ward studied under Copland—but too much of it sounds tonally diffuse. Still, there are lovely patches, such as the powerful septet in Act 1, and a number of four-square American hymnlike tunes serve to locate the feeling of the opera just where it should be. These felt like oases in a desert.

      Also, I think it’s too long. It can’t have been easy for Bernard Stambler to fashion a libretto from Miller’s typically profuse verbiage but even so, what he’s made of it could definitely stand some cutting.

      Yet the production, under the direction of Nancy Hermiston, is sound and it looks good. There’s an early-American vernacular in its appearance, if not always in the way the actors speak their lines.

      As for acting and singing, there’s some very fine work coming out of UBC these days, as this production proves. Reverend Parris isn’t an especially big part but Tony Luca Caruso made it seem big, with every gesture and note perfectly placed, and he absolutely looked the part.

      Ditto Heather Molloy as Elizabeth Proctor: this is a majorly promising voice, as are Eden Tremayne (Mary Warren), Heny Janawati (Tituba), and Francesca Corrado (Rebecca Nurse).

      I was hoping to say The Crucible makes a better opera than play. It doesn’t. But it was worth seeing it try.



      Are you kidding me?

      Nov 14, 2011 at 1:47pm

      The Crucible is one of the best plays ever written.

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      Nadia Goldman

      Nov 14, 2011 at 5:35pm

      I wonder what your thoughts are on the lead Baritone. He is a major promising artist as well, isn't he?

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      Nov 14, 2011 at 11:03pm

      I thought this was a shabby composition on every level - but capably performed. Kudos to the cast, but the composer, even in 1961, should have known better than to draw a double-barline on this one - and i am sure he did know better. His orchestration shows he at least had some sort of ethic. But that is certainly not enough to save the work from its gauche insistence on one-syllable-per-note routines and incessant climax after climax. The musical lines always seemed to be arriving at a point - again and again. The effect was dramatic slackness and musical hodgepodge. I hated the opera, but again, good performance - given what they had to work with.

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      Nov 17, 2011 at 12:53am

      Thanks for asking, Nadia. You're right, I should have said something about the Proctor baritone. I thought he was fine and just needs time, experience and focus. It's an ungratefully written part and isn't the only one. There are reasons why the opera hasn't really entered the repertory.

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      Nadia Goldman

      Nov 17, 2011 at 9:26am

      I went and saw both cast and I can safely say that there were two completely different interpretations of John Proctor. I have seen these two young baritones sing, superb singers by the way. Considering the level of difficulty this role presents to a singer, one can only say bravo!! to the two young baritones who stepped up to sing such demanding role. However, I must say I liked the cast from Saturday because the chemistry between all the characters was perfect, specially between Heather Molloy and Jose Ramirez as it was bone chilling and electrifying during the second act, and heart melting by the end of the opera. I was in tears.

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