A regular reader of this column knows that we frequently comment on the extraordinary talent on display at both our New Jersey professional and community theaters. One key reason is our proximity, of course, to the very center of the theater world... New York. This closeness to Manhattan permits our professionals to easily work both sides of the river.. with the result that theaters such as the Paper Mill Playhouse in Short Hills and The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in Madison are the equals to most of Broadway. Our community theaters are also blessed with highly trained and experienced talent that have for all the obvious economic reasons elected to limit their performing to non-Equity activity.
Confirmation of this enormous talent on our doorstep, was on display last night, not in a palatial theater as in Newark's NJPAC, or New Brunswick's George Street Playhouse, or Princeton's McCarter Center. but in a modest church in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Basking Ridge has as artists-in-residence the Light Opera of New Jersey. This remarkable company is led by the husband and wife team of William Corson, resident director, and Lauran Fulton Corson, artistic director. Both have extensive professional performing and production credits. Mrs. Corson, for example, is a product of Julliard and has sung throughout the country in both opera and musical theater.
The LONJ produces semi-staged opera highlights, full-scale musicals/operettas such as The Pirates of Penzance and Oklahoma! plus workshops, cabarets and school programs mixing professional lead singers with highly qualified amateur performers. All the productions are in English.
The Light Opera of New Jersey (formerly the Ridge Opera) presented an impressive concert version (full costume) of Mozart's popular fairy tale "The Magic Flute." The excellent cast features Cameron Smith as the handsome prince Tamino; Elise Brancheau as the lovely Pamina, her second act solo was beautiful, clearly one of the highlights of the evening; Mark Wilson is marvelous in the fun role of Papageno, the silly birdcatcher, he is a superior clown with a terrific strong voice; Elizabeth Treat properly regal, but yet sinister as the Queen of the Night; Robin Lee is properly stately as the High Priest Sarastro; and Alex Corson, perfect as the brutal Monostatos, was an audience delight. We also applauded Alex last summer as Tony in New Jersey Youth Theatre's "West Side Story" (we wonder where his talent comes from?).
The fine supporting cast includes Samantha Dango (First Lady), Joanna Hoty Russell (Second Lady) and Hanne Ladefoged-Dollase (Third Lady)...the Three Ladies of the Queen of the Night; Laura Zupa D'Avella's role may be brief, but she sparkles as Papagena; Mike Baruffi and Changkuo Hsieh are the priests with Rick Morley as the speaker. Rick, just happens to be the Rector of St. Mark's.
Special note is required for three beautifully voiced young men...Andrew Pulver, a sixth grader who has already made his Met Opera debut; GianMarco Cergnul Scotti who has performed in New York and Rome; and Lorenzo Jordan has already graced the stage at Carnegie Hall.
These talented singers are supported by the glorious sound of a 50 member orchestra, the Central Jersey Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Avagliano.
Director Corson's creative team includes Mary Pinto as vocal coach; Bettina Papoulas Bierly, former Costume Director for New York City Opera, as costume designer; and William J. Ward for scenic design and props. Plus, Michael Avagliano music director and Lauran Corson opera artistic director.
Here is the saddest note of the day...this exceptional production will only play one more time...next Saturday night at 8 pm at the United Reformed Church at 100 West Main Street in Somerville, New Jersey.
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio March 1, 2014
Tickets are priced at $25 and $35 and are available on line at: http://www.seatyourself.biz/lightoperaofnewjersey or by calling 913-961-4659. Additional information can be found at www.cjso.org or www.lightoperaofnewjersey.org.