A Wisp of Glory

By Montague Gammon III

Perhaps the Virginia Opera production of Camelot is most charitably regarded as a gesture of good faith, a public statement that VOA will make good on its promise to take over the economically endangered Lyric Opera of Virginia season.

Near the end of the play, the beleaguered King Arthur, his wife gone, his best friend leading an army against him, refers to the “fleeting wisp of glory” that was Camelot.

Arthur’s comment was tellingly relevant to this production, whose glories, save only the voices, were indeed wispy and fleeting. Lack of money need not damage a show’s artistry, but either lack of attention, or throwing up ones hands in the face of budgetary adversity, can tank one in a heartbeat.

Why would anyone let Merlin onstage with a yarn beard and wig that would be laughed off the stage of a Junior High production of Lil Abner?

Where was the lighting designer, when he was not, quite inexplicably, setting whole banks of stage lights to shine, blindingly, into the eyes of the audience? (Camelot director Greg Ganakas did that in his VOA Porgy and Bess too, and it didn’t make sense then, either.)

Just generally, the lighting design seemed non-existent, never defining the individual performers; if so many lights had not been directed onto the faces of the audience, they might have been available to illuminate the faces and forms of people onstage.

And why, when Lancelot has his Big Moment, when he performs a genuine miracle for goodness’ sake, catching Guenevere’s eye and capturing her heart, was he kneeling almost in darkness? Has anyone heard of a follow spot? Or what’s called a “special”?

Now a concert production – minimal staging and scenery and costumes, emphasis on the music – is fine. This one frequently managed a certain spare but colorful grace with its minimalist look, though one could argue that a minimalist Camelot is a contradiction in terms. But maybe the platforms could have been made to look like something other than the choral risers they were? And if one could not hide the pipes from which hung a few pieces of – yes, wispy – fabric that were variously used as backdrops, a quick coating of black spay paint would have made the plumbing supply stuff less noticeable.

Repurposing tuxedoes and formal gowns by draping them with Renaissance costume pieces was quite acceptable, though the “roll out the wardrobes” variation on kiddy show costumes-and-props-pulled-from-a-trunk was a bit on the hoary side. Again, and throughout the show, the predominant impression was that expediency, rather than originality or artistry, was the guiding principle.

Anyway, Eugene Brancoveanu, as Lancelot, sang wonderfully but looked less the doughty knight than the Pillsbury Dough Boy. Peter Kendall Clark did quite well with King Arthur’s vocals. Shannon Jennings, in her brief appearance as Nimue, and Marissa McGowan as Guenevere, both held their own quite nicely. Generally the acting was acceptable, unremarkable, and neither awkward nor particularly dimensioned.

The only other memorable character was Mordred, played as nothing more than a useless, rather peevish and annoying twit by Jon Peterson.

Well, when Carousel hits the VOA/LOV stages in May, one can approach it with a certain reassurance, since it’s a restaging of a well regarded show done back in 1996. Even if logistical or budgetary difficulties again prompt resort to facile decisions and avenues of easy escape, the company at least begins with a sound foundation, and possibly existing scenery, costumes and the like.

Virginia Opera Association
Closed Jan 20.