A gripping performance of Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men introduced the fourth entry in the Fort Worth Opera’s spring festival on Saturday night. The audience in Bass Performance Hall paid it the ultimate tribute: It sat in rapt silence through much of its 2.5-hour length.
Fort Worth’s four-opera lineup now includes Of Mice and Men, Angels in America, Turandot and Lucia di Lammermoor. They will continue in alternation through June 8, with at least one performance of each still to go.
A solid ensemble cast of eight singer-actors made Of Mice and Men an involving evening of musical theater. No doubt much attention was focused on tenor Anthony Dean Griffey, who gave a virtuoso performance as Lennie Small, a dimwitted man whose great size and strength is at odds with his childlike mind. Griffey was a superb Peter Grimes in the Metropolitan Opera’s recent theater broadcast of Benjamin Britten’s opera. His Lennie was starkly different but equally believable.
The final act of the opera, which is based of course on John Steinbeck’s novel and play, is a shocker. Its impact was magnified on Saturday night by the great disparity in size between Griffey, who is a large man, and petite Brandi Icard, who plays the woman Lennie accidentally kills. As a piece of acting the scene was chilling. And Floyd should be given credit for his orchestral writing, which is spooky. I was reminded a little of Bernard Herrmann’s music for the shower scene in Psycho.
Other cast members whose performances were especially memorable were Phillip Addis as George (Lennie’s caretaker), Stephen West as Candy and Matt Morgan as Curley. Joseph Illick conducted an excellent performance by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.
Richard Kagey’s stage direction was a strong enhancement, as were the sets by Vicki Davis (on loan from Utah Symphony and Opera). The stark scenery for the opening and closing scenes was especially evocative.
The composer was present. He received hearty applause when introduced before the performance. Clearly one of America’s most successful operatic composers has his fans.
This post has been modified to correct an error about the source of the sets for Of Mice and Men. They were loaned by the Utah Symphony and Opera. -Anne Bothwell