This rambunctious comedy had the audience alternately laughing and gasping with shock. Within a pink polka dot proscenium erected on the Lobero stage, all kinds of wedding madness broke loose, from an unplanned and inappropriate pregnancy to drug addiction, adultery, and abrupt sexual advances between characters who had just met. Toilets flushed, syringes were brandished, and roses were plucked, chewed on, proffered, and abandoned. All in a night’s work for composer William Bolcom and his source material, Robert Altman’s film A Wedding. Despite, or perhaps because of, the craziness, this was a very satisfying event. Thanks to a large and talented cast and the composer’s extraordinary facility with the medium and genre, A Wedding was one of the highlights of the year for Santa Barbara music fans.
The title is a bit misleading, as the wedding proper is over before the singing begins, and the action in fact takes place during the reception, which is located in a large home in an upscale Chicago suburb. The groom’s family hosts this affair, and they are a wildly mixed lot, ranging from the much put-upon father of the groom, Luigi Corelli (Bray Wilkins), to his wife Victoria (Jessica Stavros), and his sister- and brother in-law Toni and Jules Goddard (Krista da Silva and Kevin Ray). The matriarch of the bride’s family, Nettie Sloan, lies in her bed upstairs, first refusing to come down to the wedding, then dying right as the party begins. Jennifer Feinstein was wonderful as Nettie, and even more fun when she returned in the second act as Nettie’s eccentric Aunt Bea, a Communist and a painter who produces an embarrassing wedding gift.
The main love story involves the attraction between the mother of the bride, Tulip Brenner (Brenda Rae), and Jules Goddard, the groom’s uncle, who is a modern art dealer and a non-practicing physician. Their plans to meet in Tallahassee are the opera’s equivalent of Brigadoon. Bolcom has taken the worldview and frame of reference of the 20th-century opera-going classes and merged it in a funhouse mirror of such traditional comedies as The Marriage of Figaro.