OF MICE AND MEN @ Sarasota Opera
By Carlisle Floyd based on the novella by John Steinbeck
Conducted by David Neely, Set Design by John Conklin, Costume Design by Howard Tsvi Kaplan, Lighting Design by Ken Yunker, Artistic Administrator – Greg Trupiano, Executive Director – Richard Russell, Artistic Director – Victor DeRenzi
(Reviews Below Slideshow) – Production Photos by Rod Millington
“Of Mice and Men,” reaches into your heart, squeezes it and, finally, rips it from your chest. In producing this, Sarasota Opera has given us a cast that so embodies this work, you forget they’re singing and acting. Michael Unger has taken this beautifully constructed opera and turned it into a brilliant piece of theater. Singers are allowed to soar but, through Unger’s intelligent and poignant direction, they use their singing voices to embody their characters. Raw emotion fairly swims through every note; it’s even evident in the silences. From the prolonged (and deserved) cheers and ovations at the end of this production, it’s made converts of many who never thought they’d salute a 20th-century opera.
In the final tragic moments of Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men, a handsome, well-dressed woman began quietly weeping, continuing without letup until the end of the opera. “I’m sorry,” she said later after the lights came up. “I knew what was coming but I couldn’t help myself. It was just so powerful.” Floyd’s 1970 adaptation of John Steinbeck’s tragic tale received a deeply moving and emotionally harrowing performance Sunday afternoon, presented by Sarasota Opera. The production was not only the high point of the company’s American Classics Series, but one of its finest efforts over the last decade. Which makes it even more depressing that the hardy company on Florida’s Gulf Coast is discontinuing its widely praised American opera series after three years [Michael Unger directed them all], and this production of Floyd’s opera will be the final work of the project. Executive director Richard Russell said yesterday that despite critical accolades and much favorable press, the home audience in Sarasota did not respond favorably to the series and the works performed. That certainly did not appear to be the case for Of Mice and Men at Sunday’s matinee. The audience frequently punctuated the performance with spontaneous applause, and the thunderous ovation at the end was by far the loudest and longest heard at any of the four operas presented this past weekend. Michael Unger’s stage direction was virtually faultless, making the dramatic moments searingly effective and the final scene devastating. (Classical Singer)
SARASOTA HERALD TRIBUNE
‘Of Mice and Men’ moves opera audience. One of the marks of an effective tragedy is the way its conclusion affects you even though you have seen it coming all along. The overall effect is gradually hypnotic. Their final scene is tragically gripping and bestows the finality this strange work demands. On Saturday evening, that reward was greatly appreciated by a hushed audience as the impressive protagonists and the superb orchestra brought the opera to its inevitable close.
With Of Mice and Men, conductor David Neely and director Michael Unger staged their third work in Sarasota’s American Classic Series, following Samuel Barber’s Vanessa (2012) and The Crucible, by Robert Ward (2011). The productions have been highlights for the company, garnering critical praise, prestigious awards and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. Tenor Michael Hendrick and baritone Sean Anderson starred as Lennie Small and George Milton, respectively, in the Sarasota Opera production (seen Mar. 9), and it’s hard to imagine these two outcasts portrayed any better.
LETTER TO EDITOR OF SARASOTA HERALD TRIBUNE
Finest local opera ever
My husband and I were dismayed by the number of empty seats at the Sarasota Opera House for the opening night of Carlisle Floyd’s “Of Mice and Men” last Saturday night. Those who had tickets, and did not attend or give their tickets to others, whether because of schedule conflicts or the fear that an American classic would be dissonant and tedious, missed a unique and unforgettable experience. In our 13 years of attending performances at Sarasota Opera, we have never seen anything as moving, powerful and emotionally devastating as the performance Saturday night. It was the finest piece of musical theater the company has presented since we first became subscribers and supporters. It was a tribute to the masterful presentation of this modern classic that the audience’s response to the first curtain call by “George” and “Lennie” was a thunderous roar of appreciation, followed by nearly equivalent approbation when the other singers took their bows. And when Carlisle Floyd, the composer of this iconic work that premiered in 1970, appeared on stage for a bow, there was no question that we who witnessed the performance were in the presence of genius. If any readers of this paper have hesitated to attend “Of Mice and Men” for whatever reason, I urge them to set aside their preconceptions and take the opportunity to experience something remarkable. They will find themselves immersed in one of the great American stories of all time, superbly presented by Sarasota Opera.
FROM COMPOSER, CARLISLE FLOYD
The time I recently spent in Sarasota resulted in one of the finest productions of “Of Mice and Men” I have seen in some time. Working with stage director Michael Unger and maestro David Neely was an artistic, as well as a personal, delight. It is gratifying for me to see the favorable responses this production got from audiences continued in newspaper articles and letters from patrons. Nothing is more rewarding and encouraging than that kind of unanimity of response. Michael’s direction was thoroughly professional in every way: he has fine dramatic instincts, a genuine eye for the stage, and worked very well with a gifted cast. In addition, I was impressed with the collegial and personal relationship he had established with the conductor by the time I arrived. From daily observing his work with the singers and the conductor, I would never have been aware of the fact that Michael’s work thus far has been largely in the theater. The performance he drew from a gifted cast was unusually fine with the result that the opera was received with extraordinary enthusiasm. I found Mr. Unger to be a very personable young man, imaginative and thoroughly committed to the work at hand with no excesses of ego. I hope this experience results in the production of another opera of mine with Mr. Unger directing.