8/22/2016

2016 South Shore Critic Awards, a.k.a. The Crabbies



Play: “Arcadia” (Nora Theater)

Musical: “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812” (ART)

Director (Play): Lee Mikeska Gardner, “Arcadia” (Nora Theater)

Director (Musical): Rachel Chavkin, “Natasha, Pierre, etc.” (ART)

Ensemble Acting (Play): “Arcadia” (Nora Theater)

Ensemble Acting (Musical): “Hunchback of Notre Dame” (Ogunquit Playhouse)

Lead Actress (Play): Adrianne Krstansky, “Blackberry Winter” (New Rep)

Lead Actor (Play): Maurice Emmanuel Parent, “The Convert” (Underground Railway)

Lead Actress (Musical): Jackie Burns, “If/Then” (Providence Performing Arts Center)

Lead Actor (Musical): F. Michael Haynie, “Hunchback” (Ogunquit Playhouse)

Solo Performance: Phil Tayler, “ Buyer & Cellar” (Lyric)

Supp. Actress (Play): Anne Gottlieb, “Broken Glass” (New Rep)

Supp. Actor (Play): Will McGarrahan, “Casa Valentina” (SpeakEasy)

Supp. Actress (Musical): McCaela Donovan, “Little Night Music” (Huntington)

Supp. Actor (Musical): Bradley Dean, “Hunchback” (Ogunquit Playhouse)

Musical Direction: Dave Malloy, “Natasha, Pierre, etc.” (ART)

Choreography: Patricia Wilcox, “Bye Bye Birdie” (Goodspeed)

Scenic Design: Mimi Lien, “Natasha, Pierre, etc.” (ART)

Costume Design: Paloma Young, “Natasha, Pierre, etc.” (ART)

Lighting Design: Bradley King, “Natasha, Pierre, etc.” (ART)

Sound Design: Kevin Heard, “Hunchback” (Ogunquit Playhouse)

8/17/2016

Cooperstown, NY: Basses Loaded

 
Opera Crossing from the parking lot to Glimmerglass Festival
(photo: JM Rothblatt)
 
Cooperstown, a bucolic destination merely two hours west of the Massachusetts border, is of course home to the Baseball Hall of Fame; its lesser known claim to fame: the annual Glimmerglass Festival of operas where the basses are always loaded (with talent, that is, as are the sopranos, tenors and baritones). This year's offerings ran the gamut from Rossini's seldom-heard Thieving Magpie to Puccini's popular and beloved La Boheme (inspiration for the musical Rent) to the relatively modern The Crucible (based on the Arthur Miller play) to the Sondheim work, Sweeney Todd.  All four can be seen over the same weekend, making for a true opera buffet.  And all four were beautiful to hear and see, with the exception of visuals of theTodd, with sets and costumes that almost detracted from the finest Anthony (Harry Greenleaf) and Joanna (Emily Pogorelc) ever.  The most memorable opera of the quartet was arguably The Crucible, which featured Jay Hunter Morris, whom Boston audiences were privileged to enjoy in Odyssey Opera's production of Die Tode Stadt last season.  Next summer's roster will include Oklahoma!, Xerxes, The Siege of Calais and Porgy and Bess. But sports fans and opera buffs have another treat in store in town, one they may easily share, a world-class museum.


The Fenimore Art Museum
(photo: JM Rothblatt)

That would be the Fenimore Art Museum (yes, that Fenimore, namely James Fenimore Cooper), an astonishingly unexpected treasure trove. In a single morning's visit, one could see several terrific temporary exhibitions as well as featured items from their incredible permanent holdings, most notably the Thaw collection of American Indian Art. The current temporary exhibitions include early works by famed photographer Ansel Adams, Shakespeare Theater Posters by Scott McKowen, an extensive display of Toulouse-Lautrec works, art by Lowell's own James Abbott McNeill Whistler, portraits of Native America Now, and New York Country Landscapes by Robert Schneider. There are historical displays including items pertaining to the Coopers, and a temporary exhibit of objects relating to Hamilton in the last days before his infamous end (of particular interest given the current Broadway show). All are beautifully displayed and organized in stunning galleries. The museum is complemented by its sister museum, run by the same folks, just across the street, The Farmers Museum, consisting of dozens of buildings brought to Cooperstown from towns all over New York State, including a working farm and a New York State inspired carousel.

A Lakota Painted War Hide, c.1880, Fenimore Art Museum
(photo: JM Rothblatt)

Thus it's plain to see that one could spend a fruitful long weekend in this charming town where it's easy to touch all the relevant bases.


7/20/2016

ArtsEmerson's "Cuisine": Well Worth the Whisk

Melvin Diggs & Sidney Iking Bateman in "Cuisine & Confessions"
(photo: Alexandre-Galliez)

ArtsEmerson's current production, Cuisine & Confessions, is the fifth visit to Boston by Les 7 doigts de la main, or “7 Fingers” as they are now calling themselves, the wonderfully wild and witty circus troupe based in Montreal. The “cuisine” on the menu is less of a dinner or buffet than a collection of tapas, consisting of the “confessions”, or individual back stories of the nine performers as they prep, mix and cook, ultimately resulting in banana bread made, baked and served by them.
 
The multitalented cast of nine provided an array of visual delights that ranged from tumbling to juggling to aerial spectacle. Everyone in the ensemble was sublimely professional and a joy to see and hear. There were some highlights that stood out, but in the end it was the sort of communal presentation that defies singling anyone out, though the heartbreaking narration and accompanying acrobatics by Matias Plaul as he tells of his father's being “disappeared” in Chile is unforgettable. Sidney Iking Bateman, Melvin Diggs, Mishannock Ferrero, Anna Kichtchenko, Heloise Bourgeois, Nella Niva, Emile Pineault, Matias Plaul and Pablo Pramparo were individually and collectively splendid. So were the Creation and Staging by Shana Carroll and Music Director Sebastian Soldevila (even including an audiovisual Bolero), Sound Design by Colin Gagne, Lighting Design by Eric Champoux, Scenography by Ana Cappelluto and Costume Design by Anne-Seguin-Poirier.

The cast crossed off ingredients on a blackboard as the performance proceeded. Even the program notes got into the act, providing the recipe for the banana bread. For the record, that goes like this: Cream 4 ounces butter with 4 ounces of sugar. Mix in six crushed bananas, then two eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla extract and chocolate chips to taste. Combine 9 ounces of flour, one teaspoon of baking soda and a pinch of salt, then slowly mix into the creamed mixture. Pour into greased and floured loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about fifty minutes or until cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. (Though they had the audience set their cellphones at thirty-six minutes, so take the timing with a grain of salt).

The results of their labors and incredible flour power was not merely a dessert, but about eighty-five minutes of astonishing acrobatics and hysterical humor. While their efforts were extraordinarily difficult and demanding, this troupe made it all seem like, well, a piece of cake.

7/16/2016

Ogonquit's "Hunchback": Hump, What Hump?

F.Michael Haynie as Quasimodo and the Cast of "Hunchback of Notre Dame"
(photo: Julia Russell)

Parental guidance warning: this is decidedly not your childrens' cartoon version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame ; rather, it's a “musical created for the adult audience”, according to Thomas Schumacher, President of Disney Theatrical Productions. Based primarily on the original source, the 1831 Victor Hugo novel Notre Dame de Paris, with some songs from the 1996 Disney film, it had its premiere in Berlin in 1999, where it ran for three years. Subsequent versions honed the tale, including the effective prominent presence of a choir, and the elimination of most of the antics of a trio of comic gargoyles. First seen by this critic at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, this is an amazing and satisfying transformation all around, with significant differences in tone, subject matter and sophistication, drastically diverging from the story line of the film. Now in its New England premiere at Ogonquit Playhouse, only the third American production, after having been presented at La Jolla in San Diego and then at Papermill, it's a stunning achievement, much deeper, darker and more deadly, and, ironically, much more animated than the film.

As “The Bells of Notre Dame” in Paris toll, a chorus introduces the story that takes place in and around the cathedral. Two orphaned brothers, Frollo (Bradley Dean) and Jehan (Matthew Amira), were raised by priests of the cathedral; Frollo flourished and became a priest, while Jehan ran off with gypsies and died, leaving his deformed son Quasimodo (F. Michael Haynie) to be brought up by Frollo in the belfry of the cathedral. The boy grows up to be the bell ringer of the cathedral, longing for a fuller life “Out There”. He slips out to the marketplace below during the Feast of Fools celebration and is captivated by the gypsy dancer Esmeralda (Sydney Morton), who arranges for him to be chosen as the King of Fools by the gypsy leader Clopin (Paolo Montalban) in the wonderfully danced “Topsy Turvy”. Esmeralda sings her plaintive plea “God Help the Outcasts” as both Frollo and the handsome Phoebus, Captain of the Guard (Christopher Johnstone) become enamored of her. When Frollo catches Esmeralda and Phoebus in a kiss, he plots revenge, arresting both of them on trumped-up charges. When Esmeralda is brought out to be burned at the stake, Phoebus rescues her but is wounded by Frollo in the process as Quasimodo watches helplessly from the belfry tower (“Esmeralda”). She convinces him to hide Phoebus, but they are found by Frollo who arrests them again. Esmeralda is to be burned at the stake, inspiring Frollo's great solo turn in “Hellfire”. Quasimodo rescues her and takes her to the tower where....well, let's not spoil things. He has a terrific “eleven o'clock number” in “Made of Stone”. Ultimately, he descends to the square, where all the people come to realize what humanity they have in common with the hunchback, seeing him in a new light.

This theatrical version boasts the same creative team as the film, with Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and Book by Peter Parnell, adding almost a dozen new songs and dropping some (such as the frivolous gargoyle number, “A Guy Like You”). Masterfully directed here by Shaun Kerrison with expert Choreography by Connor Gallagher, it's memorable on so many levels, from the breathtaking Scenic Design by Adam Koch, to the clever Costume Design by Martha Bromelmeier (except for the silly gargoyle outfits), complex Lighting Design by Richard Latta and the brilliant Sound Design by Kevin Heard. This version is Conducted by Brent-Alan Huffman, with the added bonus of a powerful thirty-two member choir under Chorus Master Wendell Scott Purrington. The cast is uniformly excellent, most notably the crucial and demanding central role of Haynie's Quasimodo. Morton and Johnstone sing beautifully, and Dean earns a well-deserved ovation for his depiction of the incarnation of evil to counterbalancing the simple goodness of the Hunchback.

The program notes that Hugo discovered a one-worded piece of graffiti in Notre Dame Cathedral, “ANAKTH”, Greek for “fate”. The word FATE appears on the pre-show curtain, referencing Hugo's melancholic approach. The choir, acting as a Greek chorus, actually sings in Greek (Kyrie Eleison) as well as Latin and Romani. The show is mostly serious with very few comic moments, such as a visual gag concerning St. Aphrodisius (Neal Mayer, who has the distinction of having performed in all three American productions of the show). There is a very different ending from the Papermill version, which portrayed the people putting smudges on their faces like those of Quasimodo, symbolically demonstrating their commonality with him as outcasts. Nonetheless, this is still a very moving piece, a Broadway-ready triumph for this company, that truly rings.

7/14/2016

Goodspeed's "Bye Bye Birdie": Puberty in Prime Time

The Cast of "Bye Bye Birdie"
(photo: Diane Sobolewski)

In 1976, Charles Strouse was busily engaged in the creation of an improbable musical based on a comic strip about a little orphan and a dog. It was premiered at Goodspeed Opera House, with Book by Michael Stewart, Music by Strouse, and Lyrics by Lee Adams; it was to go on to win the next season's Tony Award as Best Musical. The show was in development for years before it finally saw the light of day at Goodspeed in its world premiere, and required a good deal of revision before it was ready for its ultimate opening on Broadway. That show, of course, was Annie. Seventeen years prior to that, when most of the creative team and cast were unknowns, Broadway had enjoyed this team's first musical, also a Best Musical Tony winner; this one scored as a long-running tenant on Broadway, a film version (more about this later), a televised 1995 adaptation, and countless high school productions over the years. Despite its title, Bye Bye Birdie has never really left us.

Set in 1961, the show bisects the real life event of Elvis Presley's induction into the Army.  As anyone who has seen one or more of those endlessly-produced high school versions of the show can attest, it's the sweet story of Albert Peterson (George Merrick), talent agent and songwriter who once had a dream of becoming an English teacher, his secretary/girlfriend Rosie (Janet Dacal), and the prospect of their biggest rock and roll star, Conrad Birdie (Rhett Guter) being drafted. They concoct a publicity stunt in which Conrad would bestow “One Last Kiss” on a lucky member of his fan club live on the “Ed Sullivan Show”. By lottery, Kim MacAffee (Tristen Buettel) of Sweet Apple, Ohio (somewhere between Pittsburgh and Dayton) wins the dubious honor, which prompts one of the cleverest ensemble numbers ever performed, the gossipy “Telephone Hour” (which uses its lyrics to reference the original title proposed for the show, Let's Go Steady), one of theatre's greatest opening numbers (though the show was originally written with a scene between Albert and Rosie that lacked the high energy of this eventual opener). Kim's boyfriend Hugo (Alex Walton) is decidedly unthrilled, especially when Birdie moves in with the MacAfees. Kim's father Harry (Warren Kelley) shares Hugo's lack of enthusiasm, until he learns the whole family is to appear on the televised smootch; this inspires a number with Mrs. MacAfee (Donna English) and their eleven-year-old son Randolph (Ben Stone-Zelman), the serio-comical “Hymn for a Sunday Evening”. Albert tries to comfort the fan club members, notably Kim's best friend Ursula (Dorcas Leung), in “Put on a Happy Face” (the eventual title of composer Strouse's memoir). When Kim runs away, her family sings the hysterical “Kids” number, as Albert's mother Mae (Kristine Zbornik) arrives with tap dancer Gloria Rasputin (Lauren Fijol) to entice him away from Rosie, who's off to a local dive run by Maude (Branch Woodman). Meanwhile Birdie tries to convince his fans that it isn't the end of the world as we know it in the song “Got a Lot of Livin' to Do”. Loose threads get tied up when Birdie leaves town (on the train with Mae aboard), Kim and Hugo reunite, and Albert learns of a job teaching English in Pumpkin Falls, Iowa, requiring that the teacher be married. This finale is somewhat low key, but all that precedes it was truly exciting on a level rarely seen these days. A favorite scene, the hysterically funny dance Rosie performs with a group of Shriners is among the missing.

Some of the jokes are dated, even jaded, but most land wonderfully given this expert cast. As is often the case with Goodspeed, everyone on stage is so amazingly good that it's impossible to single anyone out, though Kelley shines in “Kids”, with a line of dialogue adlibbed by the original actor in the role, Paul Lynde, “Ed (Sullivan), I love you!”. Zbornik excels in her solo, and Dacal is a true Spanish spitfire, as anyone who saw her in In the Heights can attest.  Obviously Stewart, Adams and Strouse, tongues firmly in cheeks, had a lot of fun satirizing this typical town and its people in the sixties, and the whole rock-and-roll revolution. Oddly enough, the show had no title song until the film version with Ann-Margret, who at twenty-two was a way-too-voluptuous Kim, especially in wide-screen format. Goodspeed has incorporated that title song, and reinstated another, “A Mother Doesn't Matter Anymore” written for the televised version. The original Broadway show garnered four Tony Awards out of eight nominations, thanks to its lovingly and unabashedly corny plotting, terrific score, and the signature approach by its original director, Gower Champion. The 1981 sequel, Bring Back Birdie, was a flop, lasting just four performances. (This just a couple of years after this critic was told by Stewart that he'd sworn off writing for musicals). But Strouse, at 88 years old, has never stopped composing. In 2002 Boston's Huntington Theatre Company presented his musical Marty and in 2005 Providence's Trinity Rep mounted his semi-autobiographical Dancing with Time, and he (with Adams, and others) has several new works in various stages of development.

As usual, Goodspeed spins yet another miracle, a high-spirited romp with Direction by Jenn Thompson (who keenly respects the original material but has a lot of fun with it) and original Choreography by Patricia Wilcox. The Scenic Design by Tobin Ost uses venetian blinds to manage quick set changes cleverly, and the Costume Design by David Toser, Lighting Design by Philip Rosenberg and Sound Design by Jay Hilton are all up to the company's very high standards. The expert Music Direction is by Michael O'Flaherty in his twenty-fifth year with Goodspeed. Special attention must be paid to the extraordinarily terrific projections before each act, with television highlights from the period, including Ed Sullivan himself, as well as a brief nod to Maureen Stapleton, who played Mae in the film version.

It's no wonder this show has been extended until September 8th. And it wouldn't be surprising to find this lively production had a future life. To quote Sullivan, “folks, this is a really big shew”.

6/15/2016

Broadway in Boston's "If/Then": Door #1/Door #2

Anthony Rapp & Jackie Burns in "If/Then"
(photo: Joan Marcus)
 
The most charged words in the English language might well be, “what if?”, as in, what if we had made other choices than the ones we made. How different might our lives have been? The 2014 Broadway musical If/Then answered that question with several possible answers. With Book and Lyrics by Brian Yorkey and Music by Tom Kitt (the duo responsible for the Pulitzer-winning Next to Normal), it was a star vehicle for Idina Menzel. It garnered two Tony Award nominations (for Best Musical and Best Lead Actress for Menzel) and had a respectable run of over four hundred performances. It's now on a national tour, arriving at Boston's Opera House for a run from July 5 to 17, with Jackie Burns in the lead role of Elizabeth. It's to her credit that the score seems to have been written specifically for her, and no coincidence that she was nominated for an IRNE Award for portraying Elphaba in Wicked, another Menzel role. But as much of a star turn that Burns' performance was, it's only one memorable part of a fine production, which comes along just when we needed it most. Given the recent tragic event in Orlando, it's a timely reminder that, to quote Lin-Manuel Miranda at this season's Tony Awards, “love is love is love is love is love.....and love cannot be killed or swept aside”. The love enacted in this play includes two gay couples whose lives are affected by the choices made by their mutual friend Elizabeth, an example of how uplifting theater can be, and how life-affirming.

Make that lives affirming, as it centers around the two very different lives Elizabeth could have had, based on a simple choice. This may be the most existential musical in recent history, a story about what happens, or not, based on such choices, as well as by chance. Elizabeth , a recently divorced urban planner nearing her fortieth birthday, moves back to New York City to make a fresh start. She runs into old schoolmate Lucas (Anthony Rapp), a community organizer, and Kate (Tamyra Gray), a kindergarten teacher. Lucas urges her to change her name to Beth; Kate suggests she adopt the name Liz. At this point in the play, “Beth” leaves with Lucas and “Liz” stays with Kate. Thus begin the two tracks that play out, each dependent on which choice Elizabeth finally makes. Without revealing too many spoilers, here is a synopsis of the parallel plots.

As Liz, she's pursued by Josh (Matthew Hydzik),             As Beth, she accompanies Lucas to a protest
a member of the army reserves, whom she meets             over a development project, which she is asked
when she decides to remain in the park with Kate            to oversee at the moment she answers that
and Kate's girlfriend Anne (Janine Divita). Liz                 phone call.  She also has a one-night stand with
doesn't answer a call she gets on her cell phone.               Lucas and becomes pregnant but doesn't tell
An old friend Stephen (Jacques C. Smith) gets                him.  He exits her life for two years.  Meanwhile
her a teaching position. He introduces Lucas to               she earns multiple awards for her work and
his best friend David (Marc Delacruz) and they              Lucas becomes a noted activist.  Beth takes on a
become a couple, even adopting a son. Things               protégé Elena (Kyra Faith), who finally
also get serious for Liz and Josh, leading to                   disappoints her when she leaves the job to have  
pregnancy, marriage and a family. Kate and                  have a family.  After a near catastrophe, Beth is
Anne also marry. After a catastrophe, Liz                      compelled to reestablish contact with Lucas.
leaves her teaching work, despondent. Asked                Stephen offers her a position working with him,
to join Stephen in a project, she accepts and                  but she turns him down, planning to run for city 
looks forward to a promising career.                              council.
  
Elizabeth meets Kate and Lucas in the park for coffee, where Josh, returning home from his third tour of duty overseas, offers to buy her coffee and she accepts. Both of the stories take Elizabeth, as Liz and as Beth, along somewhat similar yet strikingly different paths, and the exposition of both lives is frequently fascinating (though it must be said that city planner and community organizer are not sexy jobs, and theatrically rather dull). It's best that one not examine too closely the specifics of the results of the two potential choices, as it should be obvious that Elizabeth's personal dilemmas wouldn't really affect the lives of others to the extent that they do in the script. Just go with the flow, and you'll find this a very thought-provoking and ingenious examination of the consequences of the choices we all must make and the role of chance in our lives. The success of the storytelling is largely dependent on the expertise of the cast, and here the ensemble doesn't disappoint. As brilliantly directed by Michael Greif, with outstanding Choreography by Larry Keigwin, this is a winning effort all around, from the Set Design by Mark Wendland to the Costume Design by Emily Rebholz to the Lighting Design by Kenneth Posner and the Sound Design by Brian Ronan. The projections are terrific; New York City has never looked so good. The score, while it may not be quite on a par with that of Next to Normal, is a keeper, an almost through composed (thus virtually operatic) piece. As noted, Burns is up to the huge demands the role makes, as is Rapp (of Rent fame), a member of the original cast who has grown in his role. Gray and Hydzik offer great support, as do the remaining members of this cast.

This is a prime example of the level of professionalism of many national touring productions these days. It's as far from cookie-cutter shows as it gets. Instead, it's a very clever, original piece, beautifully performed. Catch it while you can; the choice is yours.

6/13/2016

Odyssey Opera's "Lucio Silla": Political Convention

Joanna Mongiardo & Katy Lindhart in "Lucio Silla"
(photo: Kathy Wittman)

As its companion piece to last week's production of Gluck's Ezio, in its “When In Rome” mini-festival, Odyssey Opera presented the equally rarely-heard opera Lucio Silla by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with a libretto by Giovanni de Gamerra. The influence of Gluck and the prevailing opera seria of the time, with stock characters and their predictable situations, can easily be seen in this work by Mozart and de Gamerra.  The work is amazing given its composition by a sixteen-year-old. It wasn't even the boy's first opera (that would be his equally obscure Mitridate, re di Ponto), nor of course would it be his last. Its place in the context of opera seria is not merely historical, however, as it has many touches that hold the promise that the prodigious musical genius was ultimately to fulfill. The youthful composer respected the rules of the form, with its many conventions, political and otherwise, but even at his extraordinarily young age, there were glimpses of what was to come, submerged under a plot-heavy story that almost defies synopsis; the synopsis in the program for this production is over two pages long, but herewith is an attempt to synopsize that synopsis.

The setting is Rome, in 79 BC. Cecilio (countertenor Michael Maniaci), a senator returning from banishment by the dictator Lucio Silla (tenor Yeghishe Manucharyan), meets a patrician, Cinna (soprano Joanna Mongiardo) and asks him about his wife Giunia (soprano Katy Lindhart) only to hear she is being held prisoner by Silla. Meanwhile Silla tells his sister Celia (soprano Sara Heaton) and a tribune Aufidio (tenor Omar Najmi) of his love for Giunia, who refuses to reciprocate the dictator's love even when told Cecilio has died. Later, in a cemetery, she encounters Cecilio very much alive. Silla is urged by Aufidio to force her to marry him, to which he agrees. Cecilio, upon hearing this, urges Giunia to marry the dictator and murder him on their wedding night, but she refuses and urges Cecilio to surrender his sword and to trust in the gods. The two of them are led away to prison, where Giunia continues to spurn the dictator even if it means she will die at Cecilio's side. In the final scene in the great hall, Silla has a change of heart, renounces any claim to Giunia and swears to marry her to Cecilio, as well as marrying Cinna to Celia. He then removes his crown, abdicates and declares that Rome is to be free.

As was the Gluck opera, this was eloquently conducted by Gil Rose, Artistic and General Director of the company, leading the Odyssey Opera Orchestra of thirty. Additionally, this work included the Odyssey Opera Chorus of sixteen, led by Chorus Master Krishan Oberoi. As Directed by Isabel Milenski, it was dramatically rather static, with some strange choices (not once, not twice, but thrice characters upended chairs to show their anger), and the comically abrupt change of heart at the end brought hearty laughter from the audience. But in the end it was all about the music, which was extraordinarily demanding and gloriously sung. All of the cast were superb, especially Lindhart, with her lengthy solos presaging the composer's later work (in particular, the Queen of the Night's role in The Magic Flute).  The Scenic Design by Jian Jung was similar to his work on the Gluck opera (even repurposing some elements), and the simple Costume Design by Seth Bodie and clever Lighting Design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew added some context.

Given the presentation of these two operas in the mini-festival of opera seria, there is a decided temptation, even an expectation, to compare and contrast them, but the fact remains that Gluck was composing at the height of his career and Mozart had only just begun. Each work had its memorable moments and extraordinary highlights, making for the festival a cornucopia of operatic riches.