By Lawrence Budmen

The Florida Grand Opera concluded its first season at Miami’s Carnival Center with a landmark event – the world premiere of David Carlson’s Anna Karenina. On April 28, the production’s opening night, a large audience was mesmerized with this remarkable new work and awarded the cast and composer a prolonged ovation.

With a libretto by the late operatic director Colin Graham based on Tolstoy’s classic novel, Carlson has crafted a music drama of extraordinary power. Concentrating on the contrasting stories of the title character’s troubled marriage and the bucolic romance of the aristocrats Levin and Kitty, Carlson has written music of surging lyricism, dramatic power, and theatrical flair. The composer paints the heroine’s angst and demise with a Russian patina. At times, Prokofiev comes to mind. Carlson’s lush, translucent orchestration carries the story forward with thrusting inevitability. Two wonderful vocal quartets soar in passionate operatic fashion. Carlson employs modernist aleatoric (or chance) techniques to suggest Anna’s unhinged mental disintegration. A true man of the theater, Carlson has penned a terrific evening of lyric drama.

Florida Grand Opera has spared no expense with this world class production. Mark Streshinsky has staged Graham’s production, skillfully utilizing Neil Patel’s turntable set. Robert Perdziola’s costumes are colorful and eye-filling; the tragic heroine mostly in black in contrast to the pastels of her aristocratic friends. Mark McCullough’s lighting vividly suggests emotions and seasonal change. He employs blues dramatically for Anna’s nightmares, hallucinations, and suicide.

In a career making role, Kelly Kaduce dominates the stage. With high notes that thrill and a creamy middle range, this gifted young soprano delivers vocal velvet. But she is also a great singing actress. Kaduce brings Anna’s passion and tragedy vividly alive. Her death scene weaves a dramatic display of vocal colors and intense theatricality. This is an authentically great performance. 

Christian van Horn, a mellow bass-baritone, suggests the chilly demeanor of Alexei, the heroine’s husband. Robert Gierlach brings baritonal heft and emotional charge to the role of Count Vronsky, Anna’s lover.

Brandon Jovanovich, winner of the 2007 Richard Tucker Award, unfurls an ardent, ringing tenor as the love sick Levin. As Kitty, the radiant charm of Sarah Coburn’s light soprano is beguiling. Christine Abraham’s rich mezzo and vital stage presence dominate her scenes as Dolly. William Joyner’s stalwart tenor voice and dramatic acumen make much of the thankless role of Stiva. 

After five decades on the operatic stages of the world, Rosalind Elias’s opulent voice and theatrical savvy are remarkable (in the role of Agafia Mihailova, Levin’s nurse). Josepha Gayer, Dorothy Byrne, and Corey Crider contribute stellar vocalism and dramatic flair in secondary roles.

Florida Grand Opera’s music director Stewart Robertson is a long time champion of David Carlson’s music. He has led the premieres of the composer’s Cello Concerto and two previous operas – The Midnight Angel and Dreamkeepers. Robertson conducted a vital, intense performance of Carlson’s terrific new score. A great night for opera in South Florida and an inspired creation! 

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