Music by Daron Aric Hagen
Text by J. D. McClatchy
Based on the Comic Strips of Winsor McCay (1869-1934)
Directed by Martha Collins
Sarasota Opera House
6 N. Pineapple Ave., 941-366-8450
Nov. 10 and 11 (the date reviewed), 2012

Reviewed byMarie J. Kilker

A World Premiere, “Little Nemo in Slumberland”  had two performances, each with two different young casts of stars, for two real days creating a fictional two days and nights. Fine music and clever lyrics created a double treat on their own butdoubled again with the addition of spectacular visual presentation to themusical one. All were commissioned by Sarasota Youth Opera and the visualscreated by the University of Kentucky and Fenix Scenic LLC of Lexington with special cooperation from local production people at Asolo RepertoryTheatre. Not only were Winsor McCay’s history-making comics reproduced or blended traditionally into Michael Schweikardt’s scenery but 36 projectors produced his and assistant David Bengali’s  entire atmosphere ofNemo’s real bedroom and a wonderous Slumberland  with its various shades of darkness as well as luminosity supplied by Ken Yunker. Add Howard Tsvi Kaplan’s fantastic costumes with AnneFord-Coates’ hair and make-up designs (for everything from elegant royalty to liveried footmen to ripe fruits) and the effect was transport to another world. Both a real and fairy tale one, whimsical and serious.  (Whimsy’s an endangered species these days, but “Little Nemo” proves that with the right blend-in of reality, it can work and be worthy of preserving.)

The story is simple. InNemo’s sleep, Night, its King Morpheus and Princess, and entire realm of Slumberland  are threatened byEmperor Sol and his Daylight forces. (All these main characters are Nemo’s dream versions of neighbors. They include the rascal Philip, in dream Nemo’s opponent Flip, rival for the Princess’ affections.) From the time Nemo’s bed leaves behind only the huge Moon and flies on legs to Morpheus’ kingdom,  Flip and his aunt the Guardian of the Dawn try to destroy Slumberland  by preventing Nemo,the Princess, and helpful Dr. Pill going from the Moon back into the Palace orby making  everyone wake up. The beauty of the path through the Cave of Glass ruled by gorgeous Crystalette with her glistening attendants belies its danger. (A high  note sung by the Princess causes fatal breakage.)  Dr. Pill must come to the rescue by making  Nemo grow tall when Giants block Slumberland’s entrance. Hesoon supplies a huge cannon that shoots Princess and companions over the city walls. By then, the Guardian of the Dawn begins to project some light and Nemowakes. Act II brings him readily to bed and sleep, where he confronts the crisis. Emperor Sol wants to take over 24 hours a day. As Flip gets the whole palace to turn upside down and summons his aunt to bring in daylight that the Palace Guards can’t completely curtain off, Nemo saves the night by neutralizing Flip. He proposes and gets the compromise of an equal division of time for each ruler, brings in lawyers who draw up the contract, and gets word from the Princess that he can dream so as to visit her any time he wants to. As Moon and inhabitants sail offabove Nemo’s bedroom, the concluding music maintains to the last note the opera’s charm.

“Charming” is the word that best describes both the opera and its premier production. The day before I attended the second performance, I saw the filmed  live-from-the-Met modern “The Tempest” with lyrics I thought sing-songey when not forced and with very little Shakespearian text. No such problem with librettist  J. D.McClatchy’s brilliant blend of poetry and prose. Set just right to D. A. Hagen’s modern score, the text and the nicely enunciating  singers  came  over as natural, easy to follow even without reference to Benjamin D. Plocher’s fine surtitles. Finally, what could have been a logistical nightmare  was instead a smooth operation employing 100 singing actors and chorus from five ensembles, an orchestra of 13, and all the previously mentioned technical staff.  Only the adults in the cast acted in both performances:  a beautiful Chelsea Basier as Guardianof the Dawn; Kyle Guglielmo as the curative Dr. Pill; dignified Jeffrey Beruanas Morpheus. I much enjoyed the competent, spontaneous-seeming Nemo of Katherine Powell (Pablo Gonzalez previously); Natalie Almeter’s mischievous Flip (Sophia Masterson earlier); K. C. Herbert’s fetching Princess (A.Fernandez earlier but Luminella later);  Skyler Stahlmann’s impressive Chrystalette and the Stars of Monica Gonzalex and Rachel Querreveld.  It seemed a shame that the Cave inhabitant Gummerina (Kelly Hatton, and predecessor Devin Bradbury) shattered.  I wish I had seen the previous performers and entire showing on the day before those I viewed so I’d have two great memories, of two hours each.  I wouldn’t hesitate to attend a return or another production of “LittleNemo in Slumberland”  and recommend  it to any age of opera or musical comedy fan or lover of classic comics.

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