Vocalist - Bass-Baritone
Writing, tenor Anthony Dean Griffey stand out in FW Opera's 'Of Mice and Men'
FORT WORTH - Europe has nothing quite like the American "school" of populist operas that has run virtually unbroken since World War II. While postwar European opera has tended toward the edgy avant-garde, American composers from Samuel Barber and Gian Carlo Menotti to Jake Heggie and Mark Adamo extend a continuum from Puccini and Aaron Copland.

One of the sturdiest contributors to this American repertory is Carlisle Floyd, best known for his 1955 Susannah. Now 81, Mr. Floyd was in the Bass Performance Hall audience Saturday night for the Fort Worth Opera Festival's opening performance of his 1969 opera Of Mice and Men.

The opera's story of Depression-era migrant workers comes, of course, from the John Steinbeck novella.

Developmentally challenged, Lennie Small loves to stroke soft things - animals' fur, a woman's hair - but, dangerously, doesn't know his own strength. His "minder" is George Milton, repeatedly frustrated by Lennie but also genuinely devoted to him.

They land at a farm bossed by a borderline sadist, Curley. His wife, who gave up dreams of Hollywood, seeks attentions from the farmhands - even, disastrously, from Lennie.

Anthony Dean Griffey is riveting as Lennie. Twitching and grimacing, now hopping excitedly, now crouching in dread, he commands a potent brew of sympathy and alarm.

Maybe the multiple colors of his potent tenor fit so unstable a figure, but, as in other roles, Mr. Griffey keeps distorting vowels by dropping his jaw too much. "Nice" becomes "noyce."

Phillip Addis' George delivers first-class singing, his baritone potent, clear and true. But he's almost too handsome for the role, and in costumer Susan Memmott-Allred's unstructured sport coat and jeans he looks like a GQ ad.

Stephen West is the well-grounded Candy, with a sonorous bass-baritone, Steven Mumbert the similarly resonant Slim. Scott Scully delivers the Ballad Singer's tune so exquisitely that one longs to hear him in a far more substantial role. (He and Mr. Addis could make a dream team for Britten's Billy Budd - hint, hint.)

Matt Morgan's Curley overdoes both physical and vocal edge. Brandi Icard is out of her depth as Curley's wife, a role that needs a real Musetta in both voice and, shall we say, moral flexibility.

Those two roles apart, director Richard Kagey has brought the period-piece drama to credible life. Vicki Davis' spare but evocative sets are perfect, especially the opening-and-closing suggestion of a Thomas Hart Benton painting.

Musically, Of Mice and Men's greatest asset is its restless, piquant orchestral writing. But Fort Worth's reduced orchestration drains too much of the aural richness, and leaves timpani too booming in the balance. And the score wants more urgency than music director Joe Illick coaxed from the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.
Scott Cantrell, Dallas Morning News
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