British soprano Katherine Manley carries The Sound of Music from the mountains to the city in a triumphant performance of one of the most popular musicals of all time at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver.
Manley as Maria, governess and then stepmother to Captain von Trapp’s seven children, does not live in the shadow of Julie Andrews who created the role in the 1965 film version. Rather, she is Maria in her own right, warm and wonderful as she endears herself to the children and eventually the Captain (and the audience). Her voice is clear and joyous, singing such memorable songs as “The Sound of Music,” “My Favorite Things,” “Do-Re-Mi,” and “Sixteen Going on Seventeen.”
In contrast, it’s hard not to compare Troy Cook with the film’s Christopher Plummer as the patriarch. He’s good, though his deep operatic baritone seems too low at times. But he's able to soften his strict demeanor under the influence of Maria, and his haunting rendition of “Edleweiss” brings goosebumps when he asks the audience to join in as the festival crowd.
Without a doubt, the showstopper is mezzo-soprano Maria Zifchak as Mother Abbess belting out “Climb Every Mountain” when she counsels Maria to return to the vonTrapp household. Her strong, clear voice is like the voice of God; Maria has no choice but to “follow every rainbow til she finds her dream.”
Humor comes from Robert Orth in a stellar performance as Uncle Max Detweiler. He has a fun time with the role, hamming it up at every opportunity while puffing on his electronic cigarette.
The children are adorable, all members of the Colorado Children’s Chorale except for soprano Julie Tabash, who makes her debut with CCO. She gives a winning performance as the eldest daughter Liesl.
Baroness Elsa Schraeder is aptly portrayed by soprano Lucy Schaufer, who also makes her COO debut. Rolf, the object of Liesl’s affections, is played nicely by young tenor Ian O’Brien.
Based on Maria’s memoir The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, the musical is set against the backdrop of the German invasion of Austria. In a stark reminder of Hitler’s Nazism, four German soldiers come on stage after the wedding in the second act and stand, guns poised, for what seems like an eternity. When the curtain rises, a huge, in-your-face swastika hangs in the background. It’s a frightening symbol of the era in which the vonTrapps lived, and Director Ken Cazan rightly gives it an important place in the play.
The rest of the sets are charming. From the flickering candlelights of the Abbey chapel to the chandeliers of the mansion in Salzburg, Austria, no detail is spared. It is simply a beautiful production, on par with Central City Opera.
The Sound of Music plays through August 10, 2014. For tickets, call 303-292-6700 or visit www.centralcityopera.org.