The Victorian Lyric Opera Company (VLOC), which calls Montgomery County home, is a vibrant company keeping alive the tradition of operetta, for example, its recent “concert production” of “The Queen’s Lace Handkerchief,” a little-known operetta by Johann Strauss Jr.
The company currently surprises audiences at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn (in a production running through Nov. 3) with a musical adaptation of the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood” for children, in which the wolf does not “sprint out upon Little Red Riding Hood and eat her up” (as in the French version by Charles Perrault); nor does “the wolf lift the latch and go straight to the grandmother’s bed and devour her” (as in the German version of the Brothers Grimm, in which grandma also drinks wine).
In this production, no one is eaten and no one dies. On the other hand, “Little Red’s Most Unusual Day” goes above and beyond the experience of many, if not most, children today by telling the story through the melodies of the operas and operettas of Gioachino Rossini and Jacques Offenbach.
Lyrics from these works are altered to accommodate the story, with Scott Nunn, in operatic voice and charismatic stage presence, entering with the aria “Largo al factotum della citta.” Yet this has now become “I am a Forest Ranger!”
Opera buffs need not be disappointed, for Nunn, in his debut with the Victorian Lyric Opera Company does sing “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro” but the Figaro he brings out is a stuffed animal puppy!
And so it goes, with a mixture of operatic melodies designed to introduce classical music to children while entertaining them in delightful ways.
Helen Aberger in a dual role of Little Red’s mother and grandmother and an up-and-coming Madison Halla (a junior at McLean High School) sing a wonderful duet “Off You Go to Grandmother’s Now” to the tune of “Barcarolle” from Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann,” the more sinister side of that opera is represented by two arias sung in a minor key threateningly by the wolf. Yet this wolf, played and sung strongly by Michael Bedder as Mr. Big Bad, is more endearing than threatening. Because of the music and some ironic references, the show is entertaining for adults as well.
With all the opera (and is a rare treat to hear melodies by little performed works by Offenbach such as “La Perichole”), there are many references to the world of childhood. The forest ranger, for example, wears a wide hat and is named Dudley, presumably a reference to Dudley Do-Right from “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.” Rossini’s “William Tell Overture,” long appropriated as the theme of the Lone Ranger, is here used as chase music, much like in a Saturday Morning Cartoon. The lyrics are occasionally didactic, as “I never play with my food” and “I wash every day” (sung by the straight-laced Dudley).
The show runs forty minutes, a short time frame accommodated to children, to be sure, but one that necessitates some additions to the fairy tale’s very simple plot. Victorian Lyric Opera Company supplies with embellishments to the story such as the wolf snatching away the trousers of the already shy forest ranger. In fact, Dudley’s shyness creates misunderstandings and drives much of the action.
A shy romantic lead losing his trousers while on a mission to win his sweetheart is reminiscent of Mark Twain’s “Story Without an End” from his book “Following the Equator.”
There is also a fun moment in which the “fourth wall” is broken, as the pianist is brought into the plot for a moment. While the melodies are from the Opera house, there is no orchestra. Instead, the versatile pianist, Sue McElroy and the talented singers are conducted by music director Stevie Miller.
Not only is the Victorian Lyric Opera Company’s production of “Little Red’s Most Unusual Day” fun for young and old alike, but it may also be the only operative program with a page for coloring the likenesses of fairy tale characters.
Given that the Victorian Lyric Opera Company specializes particularly in the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, we hope they will one day put together another fairy tale production to introduce children in an entertaining way to the works of these two masters of the art.