A musical thriller with humor and tragedy both as sharp as a straight razor, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street has garnered both a Tony and an Olivier, and this afternoon Chautauquans can experience Sondheim’s award-winning music and lyrics in person, as Chautauqua Opera Company continues its mainstage season in Norton Hall.
Sweeney Todd has the second of its four-performance run at 4 p.m. today in Norton, with a cast led by Guest Artists Kevin Burdette, bass, who The New York Times once described as “the Robin Williams of opera” and dramatic mezzo-soprano Eve Gigliotti, lauded as an “incisive actress” by Opera News.
Those are key accolades for artists performing in a work that exists comfortably in both the world of opera and the world of musical theater — exactly what Sweeney Todd does.
“There is a complexity to the layering, the transitions, the setting of the text, the underscoring of action, that — even though there are some quite long sections of dialogue, without music — it still lives and breathes in this very elevated, operatic musical world,” said Steve Osgood, Chautauqua Opera’s general and artistic director.
The compositional language that elevates the text, Osgood said, is not to be taken for granted in American musical theater.
“There is a world of very good, strong musical theater pieces, where the music provides a platform on which the text tells the story,” he said. “The opposite side of this is an operatic musical setting, where the music elevates the text almost to the point where the music is telling the story. … What Sweeney Todd does is marry the two.”
This afternoon’s performance is the first since the Institution announced Wednesday that Chautauqua Opera Company and Conservatory would shift to a workshop model for new pieces in 2025, with significant budget reductions planned in 2024. A community input session is scheduled for 9 a.m. Monday in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, to be held both in-person and on Zoom; it will be recorded and available for viewing for anyone not able to attend.