WEBSTER GROVES, MO. — Judith Weir's "The Vanishing Bridegroom," the new work for the year (and a US premiere), lasts a scant 90 minutes and tells three Gaelic tales of bridegrooms who vanish in mysterious and mythical ways. Weir's way with the operatic medium is fairly subdued, yet with a fine ear for orchestral textures and timbres, and for choral work.
On the handsome unit set designed by Alison Chitty, Francesca Zambello has devised a staging that is arresting and engrossing, a few moments of over-activity notwithstanding. Of the singers, tenor Brad Cresswell made the strongest impression for his imposing physical presence and a handsome, vibrant instrument. Soprano Lauren Flanigan shone as the aging bride. In the pit, Scott Bergeson gave a dramatic and aurally commanding reading of the score.
Rossini's infrequently heard "Turk in Italy" was staged in honor of his bicentennial, using Andrew Porter's witty and accomplished translation. Despite a failure to establish a convincing context for all the onstage goings-on, Ken Cazan managed to create a clever animated production that reached a delirious high point in the finale of Act One: The two rival heroines take their fight into a boxing ring - just one of countless magical settings devised by the gifted John Conklin.
The cast was the most accomplished of the season, with Erie Mills taking top honors in a tour de force performance as Fiorilla. Jeffrey Francis showed real promise in the tenor role of Narciso, as did mezzo-soprano Kristine Jepson as Zaida; bass-baritone David Evitts made a human, vocally imposing Selim; Joseph McKee and Terry Hodges filled out the principal cast with excellence. In the pit, unfortunately, Kenneth Kiesler had noticeable troubles keeping the stage and pit in perfect harmony.