I was happy to dial up The Telephone, a charmingly retro comedic opera with the world's simplest plot: a guy tries to have a conversation with his girlfriend, who keeps getting interrupted by, yup, a telephone. Uh huh - that's it. That's the story.
This one-act opera was written in 1953, yet you could easily imagine the constantly ringing rotary phone onstage as an iPhone 6, the one your plugged-in friend furtively checks every 30 seconds when you're trying to connect over dinner. It's refreshing to see that all the hand-wringing about how technology is affecting our relationships is as old as, well, the telephone.
Soprano Naomi Forman and baritone David Klassen are vocal powerhouses with great comedic chops, and Winnipeg pianist Madeline Hildebrand provides lively accompaniment. By the time they bust out with an operatic re-enactment of Lionel Richie's "Hello," they had the audience eating out of the palms of their hands.
Don't put this show on hold – it's sure to be a hit, even with the non-opera crowd.
Winnipeg Free Press: 🌟🌟🌟🌟
Who would have guessed that Menotti’s comic one-act opera (sung in English) about society’s obsession with the telephone would ring even more true today than when first penned in 1947?
Brandon-based soprano Naomi Forman portrays the well-heeled Lucy, who entertains a steady stream of phone calls. Her own gentleman caller, local baritone David Klassen as Ben, desperately wants to propose, but keeps getting put on hold after Lucy’s rhinestone-trimmed phone (I want one) rings off the hook.
The 45-minute show directed by Klassen also features Winnipeg dynamo pianist Madeline Hildebrand, who tosses off Menotti’s knuckle-busting score with ease. Forman displays her powerhouse vocals during three solos including giddy coloratura passages, with her keen comedic skills equally matched by Klassen’s deadpan mugging. The latter’s heartrending solo "When the air sings of summer" shows off his richly resonant vocals and knack at fleshing out a seemingly one-dimensional, comic character with poignant humanity.
As a grand finale, Forman and Klassen lead a campy sing-along set of songs inspired by the phone. In an age of texting, tweeting, buzzing and beeping, The Telephone is more relevant than ever.
— Holly Harris
Classic 107 Radio, Winnipeg:
Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti's opera The Telephone captures all of the intensity and anguish of a man's love for a woman, and a woman's love for...her phone...!?!
Produced by Naomi Forman (Naomi Forman Productions), and directed by David Klassen, The Telephone is about a love affair with, well, a telephone. Absurd? Kind of. Funny? Yes. Relevant? Definitely (I nearly plowed into a lamp post the other day because I suffer from this urgent need to text at all times). Sad confessions aside, The Telephone is a lot more hilarious than it is embarrassing.
Starring soprano Naomi Forman as Lucy, baritone David Klassen as her suitor, and pianist Madeline Hildebrand as The Voice of the Telephone, The Telephone is the perfect morsel of everything a light, quirky Fringe production should be. The show uses the original setting of Menotti's one-act opera from the 1950's, and is no less pertinent in the midst of today's social media epidemic.
A brief synopsis: Klassen's character, Ben, begrudgingly waits in earnest as Lucy (Forman) obsessively gossips and giggles into her sparkly purple telephone (Hildebrand's charismatic playing makes for an impressive ring-tone). Ben's hopes that he might seize the chance to woo Lucy begin to dwindle, amounting in a rant against "this two-head monster" that has stolen his love!
I won't spoil everything about the show, but the off-the-opera-grid epilogue makes it pretty clear that telephone technology will rule the day. While the first half of the show is exclusively Menotti, Forman threw some sass into the second half, writing an eclectic medley of pop tunes (Hey Menotti, call me maybe??)
"What I love most about Fringe is the opportunity it gives us to experiment with opera and all of its theatrics," says Forman, whose previous Fringe experience includes StarBach's: The Coffee Cantata (Naomi Forman Productions) based on the music of J.S. Bach.
"There are so many wonderful companies here in Manitoba who can hit the notes beautifully, but with the intimate Fringe setting we're able to bring a certain brand of comedy to opera. We don't have to play by the rules - we're all trained musicians, we all know the rules, which makes it a lot more fun to break them!"
Forman, Klassen, and Hildebrand all showcase a vibrant chemistry onstage that can only be achieved with a certain level of comfortability.
"We all know and trust one another," says Klassen. "I don't think I've ever gone on stage as calm as I was today because I knew that no matter what happened, I could rely on all parties involved."
The relaxed stage presence of the cast made it easier for the widely diverse audience to engage and have fun throughout the performance.
Important side note: this is a family friendly show - G-rated with a total running time of 45 minutes. Your 9-year-old may still choose Carly Rae Jepsen over Menotti, but who says you can't bring kids to an opera.
-Reviewed by Sara Krahn and written by Claudia Garcia de la Huerta