Drawing upon one of the most beloved of Christmas stories, Gramercy Opera has captured a gem of the holiday spirit with its production of “Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – The Opera.”
Staged in the historic Montauk Club of Brooklyn, built only 45 years after the original publication of Dickens’ story, audiences will feel as though they have stepped through a door to the past. Both the set and costumes felt highly authentic; with the performers not more than 5 feet from the audience. This was a truly immersive experience that gives the viewer the feeling of being, like Scrooge, an unseen spirit watching the past unfold. A powerful tool in creating this effect was the use of lighting, done by Lauren Libretti, which saw shadows strewn about to either hide characters or make them loom larger.
A notable aspect of this adaptation was the lack of recitatives, opting instead for spoken dialogue. As composer and musical director Felix Jarrar puts it: “Dickens’ words do not translate well into the world of opera, and much of the colloquial dialects of the characters and mannerisms can be lost if one adapts it as an opera that is entirely sung with recits and arias. His characters have so much built-in personality… my main priority was to make sure the music only enhanced these characteristics.” Despite this, the words which were sung were well-handled, even the oft-quoted “Bah, humbug!”
In the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, bass-baritone Jeremy Hirsch was very much the iconic miser, looking more than twice his actual age through makeup and costume. Though small and stooped, he seemed enormous when staring down a little orphan boy, played by Henri Frederick, who had come to sing “Noel” in the hopes of some bit of charity. All the fearsome presence he held was soon swept out from under him as he came to be at the disposal of the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.
As the younger Scrooge seen in Christmas past, Timothy Stoddard transitioned well from the bashful apprentice to the bitter penny-pincher who drove away his darling Belle, played by the vivacious Marie Putko. The real transformation for Stoddard came in Act two when he donned the mantle, wreath, and stole of the Ghost of Christmas Present. His sweeping entrance and flamboyant charm elicited many laughs from the audience and much displeasure from Scrooge, who upon meeting him let out a succinct “Oh, God.” This part was, for me, the high-point of the show not only due to the mirthful antagonism Stoddard displayed towards Scrooge, but for the heartfelt moment where Tiny Tim, played by Haley Denis, musters the strength to sing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” before his family and their scarce dinner table.
As the Ghost of Christmas Future, Petra Jarrar cut a striking figure, silent and entirely veiled. It’s in this bleak vision where we foresee not only the death of Tiny Tim, accentuated by the heartbreak of Scott Joiner’s Bob Cratchit, but the death of Scrooge as well. Absent here was the famous graveyard scene where Scrooge reads his own tombstone, understandable given the indoor nature of the set. While this lessens the impact of his fate, it made Scrooge’s redemption come not from fear, but from realizing there still remains just a glimmer of hope.
Worthy of mention are Angky Budiardjono in the role of Jacob Marley, whose phantasmal baritone provided the opening with much foreboding, and Mark Hanke in the role of Mr. Fezziwig; covered in rhinestones and holiday cheer, Hanke was the center of attention as he led spirited waltz with his wife, played by Emily Peragine, who was very much his joyful match.
For a tale retold and adapted more times than one can count, Gramercy Opera’s production was as touching as it was visually splendid. While its run ends on December 3, audiences will certainly be delighted to experience up close and personal this perennial tale of rekindled love for one’s fellow man.