DENVER — COLORADO'S art scene hardly hops - too many outdoor sports consume people's time during most of the year. Yet one of the most popular pastimes here is, oddly enough, grand opera.
Central City Opera runs most of the summer in the frontier atmosphere of a nearby mountain town, while Denver's full-scale Opera Colorado offers beautifully costumed and meticulously detailed productions in the round. The performances sell out, and the crowd stomps, hoots, and applauds in ferocious cowboy style when it is pleased.
And it has been very pleased with this year's deluxe production of Richard Wagner's "Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg" - arguably the most celebratory of operas and the perfect choice to honor Opera Colorado's 10th anniversary season (which concludes this weekend).
The whole season has been marked with legitimate sentiment. Last fall's luscious production of "Otello" inaugurated the new Buell Theatre in the company's first proscenium production. This spring's "La Boheme" recaptures the witty production that opened Opera Colorado's first season in 1983 - at least the sets and staging are as close as possible to that production (which starred Placido Domingo as Rodolfo). In the current production, Fiamma Izzo D'Amico plays Mimi and Vasile Moldoveanu portrays Rodolfo in competent interpretations of the roles.
What is best about this "Boheme" is its wit and theatrical savvy. The supporting cast is mostly excellent. Pamela South's saucy Musetta, Kevin Langan's boisterous, compassionate Colline, and Erich Parce's alternately kind and domineering Marcello create atmosphere, color, and dash.
But the gem of the season is "Die Meistersinger" (closing this weekend). Not only is it the most lavish production of this or any year, it stars the local boy who made good in the wide world of opera. Former Denverite Stephen West sings Hans Sachs, the master singer himself, with authority, power, and beauty. Mr. West will carry his rich voice in this role to the Metropolitan's production this winter.
The Met ought to be a piece of cake for West after Wagner-in-the-round. Opera Colorado's greatest asset (besides its artistic director, Nathaniel Merrill) is also its greatest liability. The round offers something opera lovers rarely see: the opportunity for the singers to really act. They can directly face one another and create an intimacy and naturalness impossible in other mediums except film. When the audience stands for the hymn at the beginning of "Die Meistersinger," it feels more involved, too.
The chorus may be extra glorious in the round, but the solo voice loses color when the singer turns away from the particular viewer, so the principals have to compensate. This is why West, with his big, sumptuous bass/baritone voice, holds special power, in addition to being a terrific actor. Supported by the lovely Ashley Puttnam as Eva and a host of other fine singers, he glows.