WILMINGTON - Nearly every time you look down at the sidewalk, there's a stenciled image of a mustachioed face and the word
The source of this is OperaDelaware, which has imposed the likeness of little-known composer Franco Faccio onto the local landscape while making his opera Hamlet part of the international landscape after 145 years of obscurity. "Essere" means "to be" - better than "not to be."
With an intelligent cast, solid direction both on stage and in the orchestra pit, plus the treat of being at Wilmington's lovely Grand Opera House, the opera's East Coast premiere on Saturday is what OperaDelaware hoped for: an event worth traveling for with Hamlet presented in repertory with Verdi's Falstaff. Faccio buried his opera after a disastrous 1871 La Scala production - and now, resurrected by conductor Anthony Barrese, it feels strangely familiar but new, like something Verdi should've written but didn't.
You can hear the composer's learning curve. The first of the four acts juxtaposes too many subplots introducing Shakespeare's characters, jumping around without dramatic momentum. But what promises to be unintentionally funny - the musicalized "To be or not to be" speech - is where the opera kicks in.
The best music is often in the instrumental introductions to the most important scenes, though the opera's most distinctive moment is the gravedigger scene with an entrancingly spare orchestration anchored by a single-note drone effect with highly original wind-instrument writing. Ophelia's mad scene has few bel canto clichés, simply presenting a tortured soul's inner dialogue without typical impulse control.
Most characters have good soliloquy moments, but the title role is a star maker, to which OperaDelaware's Joshua Kohl brought a hard-to-match standard of unself-conscious charisma. He was all you'd want in a spoken Hamlet, but with a gleaming, mid-weight tenor voice that filled all vocal nooks and crannies. Sarah Asmar (Ophelia), Lara Tillotson (Gertrude) and Timothy Mix (Claudius) are all excellent, and Ben Wager (the ghost) is particularly imposing despite being costumed to resemble Moses.
Faulty orchestral moments arose in the first two acts, but not in the second two acts under Barrese. The scaffold-dominated production designed by Peter Tupitza and directed by E. Loren Meeker was more serviceable than lovable but used sophisticated video plus subtle lighting in Ophelia's death.
So, the opera's considerable power was fully liberated. And it's a sign of luck that it already has a nickname riffing on its Italian title, Amleto. Yes, you guessed it - "Omeletto."