Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Union Avenue Opera's "Un ballo in Maschera" Opens Friday Night

Soprano Courtney Mills
Union Avenue Opera continues its 18th Festival Season this Friday evening with the mystery and intrigue of Giuseppe Verdi’s magnificent Un ballo in maschera. Riccardo and Amelia share a forbidden love, but the beguiling Amelia is married to Riccardo’s closest friend and confidante Renato. Amelia enlists the aid of sorceress Ulrica in an effort to extinguish her illicit love for Riccardo, but discovers her secret is already out. The culmination takes place at a lavish masked ball as this love triangle turns deadly.

The cast of Un ballo in maschera will be led by three artists making their UAO stage debuts: Tenor Emanuel-Cristian Caraman as the conflicted Riccardo; Soprano and Springfield, Illinois native Courtney Mills as Amelia, the object of his secret passion; and Baritone Andrew Cummings as her suspicious husband Renato.

In the pants role of the pageboy Oscar, Soprano Rachael Holtzhausen also makes her debut. Last seen in the role of Ruth in 2010's The Pirates of Penzance, Mezzo-soprano Denise Knowlton returns as the sorceress Ulrica. Other familiar voices include Todd von Felker (Ping, Turandot) as Samuel and David Dillard (Polyphemus, Acis and Galatea) as Tom, alongside Jon Garrett as Chief Magistrate, Tom Sitzler as Silvano, and Anthony Heinemann as Amelia's servant. The cast is accompanied by a chorus of sixteen local artists including seven making their UAO stage debuts.

Patrick Huber's Set Design Under Construction
Stage Director Mark James Meier returns to stage Ballo after a second critically-acclaimed production of Turandot last season. Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Scott Schoonover conducts the orchestra. Webster University graduate Steven Hitsman serves as Production Stage Manager. The design team includes Set Designer Patrick Huber and Costume Designer Teresa Doggett (take a sneak peek at her designs by clicking here). Pianist Henry Palkes serves as Production Répetiteur.

Don't miss UAO's Friday Night Lecture Series at 7:00 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall presented by Glenn Bauer, Ph.D., Associate Chair, Department of Music at Webster University prior to the Friday night performances (June 29, July 6). Lectures are FREE and open to the public.

Emanuel Cristian-Caraman & Courtney Mills
Ballo in the Media:

Sarah Bryan Miller previews the production in the Post-Dispatch; Patricia Rice interviews Courtney Mills in The Beacon; Hear Scott Schoonover, Courtney Mills and Andrew Cummings interviewed on Cityscape; Nancy Kranzberg interviews Scott Schoonover on KDHX Arts Interview

Also, check out UAO on Twitter and Facebook!

Un ballo in Maschera opens this Friday, June 29 and will continue June 30, July 6 & 7. Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church at 733 N. Union Blvd. All performances start at 8pm. Production sung in Italian with Projected English Supertitles. Tickets start at $32 and are available online at or by calling the box office Monday through Friday between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. at 314-361-2881. Student Rush tickets are available for $15 at the door with a valid student ID (cash only).

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Look at UAO "Un ballo in Maschera" Costumes

Teresa Doggett
Costume Designer Teresa Doggett marks her seventh season working with Union Avenue Opera. Her design debut with the company was a production of Bellini's Norma during the 2006 season. Since then, she has costumed several productions at UAO including Die Zauberflöte, Carmen, Die lustige Witwe and Turandot to name just a few. Doggett, also a working actress in the St. Louis community, brings keen character insights into the creative process of building and collecting a suitable wardrobe for any given production.

Operatic Saint Louis' Phil Touchette recently visited Union Avenue Opera's costume shop on the third floor of Union Avenue Christian Church to discuss her costume designs for the upcoming Un ballo in Maschera.

When approached by stage director Mark James Meier about a design concept for Ballo (traditionally set in 1790s colonial Boston), Doggett says that Mark didn't have a particular concept other than declaring "I don't want to do it 'Baroque.'" The task, then, was to find a "look" which could place the characters into a time and space where this dark opera could make sense. During pre-production meetings, Set Designer Patrick Huber suggested blending elements of graphic novels and steam punk (a Victorian-era aesthetic concerning the influence of new industrial machinery on everyday life) into the overall concept. The costumes provide a dark edge that puts the characters in different worlds: the past, the present and the sci-fi future. Below are a few samples of designs for the five principal characters of the opera: Amelia, Riccardo, Renato, Oscar and Ulrica.

Amelia's Act I & Act II Costume
Amelia's costume for Acts I & II consists of an overcoat/bodice piece comprised of faux leather and a dark maribou collar. "It's dark and meant to be very dramatic," says Doggett. "This is not the sort of thing you would typically see in an Amelia costume. Again, we want to go for the drama, the intensity. The collar, actually, is wonderful for framing a singer's face. Courtney Mills, our Amelia, is the only true blonde in the show, so it really sets off her face wonderfully from the first time we see her onstage."

Riccardo's Act I Costumes
Riccardo's Act I costume is a black leather coat, followed by a fisherman's coat later in the act. "The coat's vest underneath is very baroque in style and has a certain cut, so we are making a reference to the original setting of the opera," says Doggett.

His end of Act I coat, when in disguise at a fishing village, has a non-specific time reference. "It's got quite a Victorian look but it still says that it's somewhere, yet not the baroque period."

Doggett notes the great amount of faux leather in her costume plot, and expresses sympathy for the tenor, Emanuel-Cristian Camaran: "Poor Emanuel is going to be wearing this coat, which is almost 25 pounds! Yet, this will create a very tailored look for him."

Renato's Act I & Act II Costumes
Renato, sung by Baritone Andrew Cummings, will also be clad in leather for the production, specifically a jacket in Act I, then wool for Act II.

"There is another leather coat here, but I've given a slightly different cut on him. The coat is rather closed up, especially from the first time we see him onstage." says Doggett.

In her process, Doggett saw Renato wearing dark red colors. "There was just something about his character that said to me 'red.' I don't know quite what it is, but I think it works really well for him. He's the only character in Act I, Scene I who is in a warm color. Everybody else is in grays and blues--darker colors that are much more cool than his coloring."

Doggett was definitely pleased with what she found for his Act II ensemble. "I found a fantastic wool coat for him with all of these studs on it which makes a strong statement about his character. He's very strong, determined and jealous." She remarks that this coat, combined with the baritone's height (over 6'5") will make for a very dramatic image onstage.

Oscar's Act I & Act II Costumes
For the "pants role" of the page boy Oscar, Doggett found two distinct looks for Soprano Rachael Holzhausen.

"For most of the show, I wanted Oscar in black and white, mainly because he is probably the most charming and sincere character--he only wants to do good...I thought that Oscar would see everything in black and white. There is either 'Yes' or 'No' and 'Good' or 'Bad.'"

It is only in the Act II fishing village scene that Oscar is wearing something other than black and white: a brown travel coat. Doggett also mentions a reference in the Antonio Somma libretto in which Oscar is called 'the domino' which will come into prominence for the Act III costume.

Ulrica's Costume
The sorceress Ulrica, sung by Mezzo-soprano Denise Knowlton, will have the most earthen, yet futuristic look of the production. Doggett sees the Ulrica of this production as more of a shaman and linked to the earth than everyone else in the piece, connecting the old with the present.

Some elements of science fiction pervade Ulrica's look. "She's going to have some mini-discs woven into her wig and fastened onto some of the jewelry to reference a futuristic world."

Doggett adds, with a chuckle, "There's also going to be some chicken bones. There's going to be a mixed reference which brings her into the old and modern worlds."

Ulrica's costume embodies the most color as well as texture. Doggett incorporates lots of faux leather, nubby velvet fabrics, tye-dye and distressed fabric. "There's a sense of tactile-ness about her, where everyone else has a tailored look."

Designs ©Teresa Doggett. Design photos ©Phil Touchette.

Un ballo in Maschera opens this Friday, June 29 and will continue June 30, July 6 & 7. All performances start at 8pm. Production sung in Italian with Projected English Supertitles. Tickets start at $32 and are available online at or by calling the box office Monday through Friday between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. at 314-361-2881. Student Rush tickets are available for $15 at the door with a valid student ID (cash only).

Thursday, June 21, 2012

STL Public Radio's "Cityscape" to Feature UAO "Ballo" Cast and Conductor

St. Louis Public Radio's broadcast of Cityscape for tomorrow--Friday, June 22nd--features the director and conductor team of Union Avenue Opera's upcoming production of Verdi's Un ballo in Maschera. Host Steve Potter welcomes onto the program UAO Artistic Director and Conductor Scott Schoonover and cast members Soprano Courtney Mills (singing the role of Amelia) and Baritone Andrew Cummings (singing the role of Renato) to discuss the production opening next weekend as well as the company's upcoming production of the first installment of Wagner's Ring Cycle: Das Rheingold

Cityscape airs on KWMU 90.7 FM at 11:00 a.m. to Noon on Friday, June 22nd and will be repeated at 10:00 p.m. that evening. You may also listen to archived audio of the program on the St. Louis Public Radio website.

Tickets for Un ballo in Maschera and Das Rheingold start at $32 and are available online at or by calling the box office Monday through Friday between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. at 314-361-2881. Student Rush tickets are available for $15 at the door with a valid student ID (cash only).

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Union Avenue Opera Continues 18th Season with Verdi's "Un Ballo in Maschera"

Union Avenue Opera continues its 18th Festival Season with Giuseppe Verdi's tragic Un ballo in maschera (The Masked Ball) June, 29, 30 and July 6, 7 at 8:00 p.m. in its original Italian.

Accompanied by a thrilling score, Verdi's vivid characters grapple with life and love, betrayal and death. Witness the mystery and intrigue that stems from Riccardo and Amelia's forbidden love; the beguiling Amelia is married to Riccardo's closest friend and confidant Renato. Amelia enlists the aid of sorceress Ulrica in an effort to extinguish her illicit love for Riccardo, but discovers her secret is already out. The culmination takes place at a lavish masked ball as this love triangle turns deadly.

The cast of Ballo, stage director Mark James Meier and conductor Scott Schoonover have been hard at work staging for the past week. Take a look at a few rehearsal shots from Act III:

Soprano Rachel Holtzhausen (Oscar) & Baritone Andrew Cummings (Renato) 
Tenor Emanuel-Cristian Camaran (Riccardo) & Soprano Courtney Mills (Amelia) 
A flurry of dancing by the UAO Ensemble
Tickets start at $32 and are available online at or by calling the box office Monday through Friday between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. at 314-361-2881. Student Rush tickets are available for $15 at the door with a valid student ID (cash only).

Keep visiting Operatic Saint Louis for more exciting news and stories on Un ballo in Maschera!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Review of Opera Theatre of St. Louis's "Alice in Wonderland"

The Mouse tells his tale to Alice
Copyright Ken Howard, 2012
Congratulations are in order for the orchestra, chorus, and the wonderful cast of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis's Alice in Wonderland, and especially for soprano Ashley Emerson as Alice. They do exceptional work with difficult and, ultimately, not very persuasive material. The opera pushes the performers and the company’s technical capabilities to their limits, but does so for no valid dramatic purpose. This is flash for the sake of flash, and it gets tiring rather quickly.

The problem, in my view, is that librettist David Henry Hwang and composer Unsuk Chin have extended, augmented, and generally beaten to death Lewis Carroll’s whimsical and witty creations. They have added irrelevant contemporary cultural references and have bookended the whole thing with a prelude and postscript that seem to have been dropped in from a German Expressionist cabaret. Your mileage may vary, but I found it rather heavy going.

That’s not to say that Mr. Hwang and Ms. Chin haven’t put a lot of brains and talent into this Alice. Mr. Hwang’s impressive credentials speak for themselves, of course, and his expansions of Carroll’s text are often brilliant, particularly in the Mad Tea Party sequence. But they’re mostly in a radically different and aggressively contemporary style that has little to do with the original. They also tend to outstay their welcome. Yes, having the Dormouse turn his story of the three sisters in the treacle well into a rap number is funny for about thirty seconds, but after that it becomes tiresome.

Ms. Chin’s impressively eclectic score is a treasure trove of nearly every musical meme of the last half century. It’s clearly the work of an immensely bright and gifted composer, but it’s often too clever by half, employing elaborate musical and percussive effects that detract from the text rather than amplify it. This is most obvious in her settings of Carroll’s verses, every one of which goes to great lengths to break the meter of the original, thereby draining much of the comic effect. Like the March Hare, she’s murdering the time.

All that said, Alice is very nearly redeemed by the impressive performances of its huge cast. Ashley Emerson, who was such a delight in Daughter of the Regiment last season, simply could not be better as Alice. Her diminutive stature is perfect for the part and her voice, while sometimes lacking the power needed to pierce Ms. Chin’s orchestration, has the flexibility and range the role requires. Ms. Chin seems to be fond of pushing her singers to the upper and lower limits of their voices, and towards the end Alice is required to hit some notes only dogs can hear.

Bass-baritone Aubrey Allicock is a wonderfully deranged Mad Hatter, but he’s equally effective in the Hatter’s very non-canonical lament for lost time. Tenor Matthew DiBattista shines as the rapping Dormouse and countertenor David Trudgen is a fine Rabbit and March Hare. Mezzo Jenni Bank has a nice turn as the hip-hop Duchess and soprano Ashley Logan is an appropriately abusive Cook.

Soprano Tracy Dahl, a familiar figure on the Opera Theatre stage, has a lovely turn as the Cheshire Cat, while soprano Julie Makerov exudes homicidal glee as the Queen of Hearts. Choreographer Seán Curran makes a rare on-stage appearance in two pantomime roles: the Caterpillar (accompanied only by James Meyer’s bass clarinet) and the Mock Turtle.

He’s great fun in both, although the Caterpillar’s sequence is another example of a joke that goes on too long, and having the unspoken dialog projected on the screens used for the projected English text might be a problem for those with visual impairments. If you’re going to do a scene in pantomime, it shouldn’t require subtitles.

There are many other fine performances in this cast—so many, in fact, that I can’t list them all here. I will say that there doesn’t appear to be a weak link in the lot, which is pretty remarkable given that there are 35 named roles altogether.

If his enthusiastic program notes are any indication, director James Robinson loves this Alice at much as I don’t, so it comes as no surprise that his blocking, pacing, and stage pictures are all exemplary. There are places where the action is likely to be baffling to anyone who is not familiar with the original novel (the business with Bill the Frog-Footman, for example), but that has more to do with the adaptation itself.

Fanciful sets by Allen Moyer and Tenniel-inspired costumes by James Schuette add to the strong visual appeal of the show, as do Ashley Ryan’s wigs and makeup. Lighting designer Christophe Akerlind and video designer Greg Emetaz also bring Wonderland’s magic to life.

Conductor Michael Christie and members of the St. Louis Symphony do a marvelous job with what sounds like a very challenging score, as does Robert Ainsley’s chorus.

For me, the bottom line on Alice in Wonderland is that all the truly spectacular work by the performers and designers is not ultimately enough to compensate for what I see as a fundamentally wrong-headed attempt to “improve” Carroll’s creation. There’s a fine line between the respectful adaptation and the complete deconstruction and re-write. This Alice crosses that line. I didn’t care for the results, but of course, your mileage may vary, and the production itself is certainly beyond reproach.

Alice in Wonderland continues through June 23rd at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information, you may visit

[Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic at 88.1 KDHX, where this review originally appeared.]

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Review of Opera Theatre of St. Louis's "Cosi fan tutte"

The cast of Cosi fan tutte
Copyright Ken Howard, 2012
Would we still be doing Cosi fan Tutte if it didn't have music by Mozart? Sure, Da Ponte’s libretto has a cynical modern edge, but its casual sexism is pretty grating to a contemporary audience. Director Michael Shell nevertheless makes a good case for it right up to the final ensemble, when his deliberately revisionist take lost me completely. Still, it’s beautifully sung and played and intelligently acted, and that’s what really matters.

Cosi fan tutte roughly translates as "all women are like that". The excellent modern English rhyming translation by British composer and director Jeremy Sams tries to take a bit of the anti-woman sting out of it by translating it as “we’re all like that”, but there’s no getting around the fact that the libretto is far more critical of the constancy of women. The guys get a free pass.

For those of you new to it, the plot of Cosi goes like this: two army officers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, are so convinced of the faithfulness of their fiancées—Dorabella and her sister Fiordiligi, respectively—that they accept a bet from their cynical philosopher friend Don Alfonso that the women can't be seduced. Don Alfonso convinces the boys to go away on a mock military expedition and then return in disguise and attempt to woo each other’s fiancées. The usual complications ensue, helped along by the wily and very practical maid Despina. It’s all wrapped up with a not entirely convincing happy ending in which everyone rather improbably agrees to forgive and forget, but only after the disillusioned officers are forced to admit, in the words of Sherlock Holmes, that "women are never to be entirely trusted—not the best of them."

This may sound like the basis for a romantic comedy, and most of the time it is. But Cosi sails deeper waters than that, and in Act II the comedy stops dead for some dramatic arias that point out the very real pain and guilt that come with betrayal—a subject very much on Mozart’s mind at the time. Mr. Shell and his excellent cast make no attempt to sugar-coat any of the drama, which works very well, but faced with the abrupt shift to a happy ending, he has chosen to have them play against the text and make it plain that the women are still justifiably resentful and their fiancées still suspicious. I understand the logic, but to me if felt no more satisfying than playing the finale as written.

Part of the problem, I think, is that this Cosi is beautifully set and costumed (by James Schuette) as a late 18th-century period piece, so having Dorabella and Fiordiligi respond to the abusive behavior of Ferrando and Guglielmo as modern women would seems jarring. It would have made more sense, I think, to do the whole thing in modern dress (which, after all, is how it was done in 1790) and adopt a 21st-century attitude from the start. Jonathan Miller famously (or maybe infamously) did that back in 1995. That production has been revived often (most recently in Washington, D.C, earlier this year) but it has been (to say the least) controversial, others might be reluctant to follow his example.

Still, for the three hours and ten minutes preceding that final ensemble, Opera Theatre’s Cosi fan tutte is firing on all cylinders. The comedy of the first act is hilarious and precise, the dramatic scenes in the second act are played with great feeling, and the voices of this very strong cast are solid. Mr. Shell is a bit overly fond of having his cast stand on furniture and roll around on the floor (although less so than in last season’s Don Giovanni), but on the whole he keeps the action plausible and motivated in ways that more opera directors would do well to emulate.

Tenor David Portillo and baritone Liam Bonner make a great “Mutt and Jeff” comedy duo as Guglielmo and Ferrando. Mr. Portillo has a very impressive head voice, which he uses to great effect in the more dramatic moments in the second act, while Mr. Bonner’s instrument is clear and powerful voice throughout its range. They blend nicely in their ensembles.

Soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen makes an impressive Opera Theatre debut as Fiordiligi. The role is a challenging one, with some heavy dramatic lifting in the second act and florid passages throughout. She handles it all with ease. Mezzo Kathryn Leemhuis, who has done such fine work here in the past, continues her winning streak with an impeccably sung and acted Dorabella.

As the indispensable Despina, Soprano Jennifer Aylmer steals every scene she’s in, especially when Despina is passing herself off as a doctor or lawyer. Ms. Aylmer has terrific comic chops and a voice to match. It’s hard to imagine this role being done better.

Baritone James Maddalena is all manipulative insincerity Don Alfonso, a man in whose mouth butter would not only not melt but probably freeze solid as well. His voice seemed a bit lacking in power compared to the rest of the cast, but his acting was beyond reproach.

Robert Ainsley’s chorus is, once again, a model of precision and clarity. The orchestra sounded great under Jean-Marie Zeitouni, with an especially fleet-footed reading of the overture. I would have preferred it if Mr. Shell had refrained from filling the stage with business while the overture was playing, although I must admit Shaun Sheley’s fight choreography was impressive.

So, yes, I have some reservations about Opera Theatre’s Cosi fan tutte but they’re so minor in comparison to all the things that work in this production that I have no hesitation in recommending it. The comedy is uproarious and the drama is affecting. It is, in short, the crown jewel of the season so far.

Performances continue through June 22nd at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information, you may visit

Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic for 88.1 KDHX, where this review originally appeared.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Review of Opera Theatre of St. Louis's "Sweeney Todd"

The cast of Sweeney Todd
Copyright Ken Howard, 2012
If Opera Theatre of Saint Louis's Sweeny Todd isn't everything I could wish, it is (to quote an old joke) way ahead of whatever's in second place. In pretty much every way that really matters, this is (you should pardon the expression) a killer production.

I’ve been waiting for years—OK, decades—for Opera Theatre to tackle this most operatic of Sondheim’s theatre pieces. I’ve always wanted to hear this piece sung by legit opera/operetta voices. The ensemble, in particular, seems to cry out for the kind of strength and precision you get from a well-drilled operatic chorus. And I always figured OTSL’s deep pockets could deliver the kind of polished production values the show demands.

Now that the wait is over, I find that while I’m slightly disappointed with some of the show’s tech—in particular the decision to go with a mostly bare stage and a single-level set—everything else about this Sweeney Todd is so utterly compelling and theatrically on-target that I can recommend it without reservation. Whether you’re meeting the Demon Barber of Fleet Street for the first time or the tenth, this is a show that will stay with you long after the house lights have come up.

Let’s begin the catalog of this production’s strengths with praise for the stellar cast, headed by Rod Gilfry in the title role. Sweeney can be (and has been) sung brilliantly by musical theatre baritones like Len Cariou (who created the part) and George Hearn (who played it on the first tour) but there’s nothing quite like hearing a classically trained bass-baritone with a solid chest voice roll out those low notes. Mr. Gilfry is a fine actor as well, intensely focused and believably obsessed. His “Epiphany”, in which Todd finds his calling as a mass murderer, was unforgettable.

Karen Ziemba, a musical theatre actress with impressive credentials, is Todd’s partner in crime, Mrs. Lovett. When she came through St. Louis as Roxie in Chicago back in 1998, I praised her comic timing and charisma and suggested that she “could well be on her way to genuine super-star status”. Her subsequent career seems to have borne that out. Certainly her performance here is a masterpiece of comedy and connivance, with the sinuous movement of an experienced dancer thrown in for good measure. Operatic performers aren’t generally trained so well in stage movement, in my experience, so casting Ms. Ziemba was an exceptionally smart decision.

Baritone Nathaniel Hackmann and soprano Deanna Breiwick couldn’t be better as Anthony and Johanna, whose love story is the only plot thread that ends more or less happily. They’re in fine voice, completely invested in their parts.

If Opera Theatre ever decides to create their own version of The Three Tenors, they have a trio of winners in this cast. Kyle Erdos-Rapp brings a bit more depth to the role of Tobias than I have seen in other productions. His “Not While I’m Around” was especially intense, as was his final mad scene. Scott Ramsay had all the oily nastiness you’d expect as Beadle Bamford, along with a strikingly strong head voice and falsetto. His final notes in “Ladies in Their Sensitivities” could shatter glass. Anthony Webb has the same stratospheric reach as Todd’s short-lived rival, Signor Pirelli.

Bass-baritone Timothy Nolen underplays the role of the repellent Judge Turpin a bit, which ultimately makes him that much more menacing. He has a long history with the part, going back to a Great Performances broadcast in 2000, so it’s not surprising that he’s so comfortable with it. Mezzo Susanne Mentzer’s Beggar Woman has more depth than I’ve seen in the role in previous productions, so it’s a good thing that the staging gives her more prominence.

As was the case in Carmen, Robert Ainsley’s chorus sounded wonderful, with clear enunciation and a powerful, full-bodied sound. The chorus plays a prominent narrative role in Sweeney Todd, so it’s gratifying to hear it done so well. The St. Louis Symphony musicians under Stephen Lord were in fine form as well.

Director Ron Daniels has a long history with the story of Sweeney Todd. He and Christopher Bond were co-authors of the stage adaptation of the Victorian “penny dreadful” that inspired Sondheim and Wheeler to create Sweeney Todd in the first place. His work here is very effective until the final scene when he puts the chorus, still made up as lunatics from Fogg’s Asylum, on stage as mute witnesses to the final trio of murders. It draws focus and drains a bit of the scene’s horror. Up to that point, though, he seems content to stay out of Wheeler and Sondheim’s way and insure that all the comedy and drama are presented as clearly as possible.

Emily Rebholz’s “steam punk” Victorian costumes are a nice match for set designer Riccardo Hernandez’s bare bones industrial set, complete with a faux metal wall and plastic slaughterhouse curtains. My only complaint, as noted above, is that it’s all on one level. Usually Todd’s barbershop in on top of a unit with a trap door that allows his customers to be dispatched into a chute, emerging in Mrs. Lovett’s bake house. In the Opera Theatre production, bodies are flipped backwards and then clumsily hauled off by chorus members. I think it’s less effective, although your mileage may vary.

Minor complaints aside, though, Opera Theatre’s Sweeny Todd is the one that many of us have been waiting for. I’d put it right up alongside the Repertory Theatre’s production from several years ago, and that’s saying something. Performances continue through June 24th at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. For more information, you may visit

Chuck Lavazzi is the senior performing arts critic at 88.1 KDHX, where this review originally appeared.