Review: LA OPERA’s “The Light in the Piazza”

At center, Renée Fleming as Margaret Johnson and Dove Cameron as Clara in LA Opera's 2019 production of "The Light in the Piazza"

Daniel Evans directs four-time Grammy Award winner, Renée Fleming (La Traviatta, Le Nozze di Figaro) in this enchanting Broadway musical that won six Tony Awards, including Best Original Score. Based on the 1960 novel by Elizabeth Spencer, The Light in the Piazza tells the story of a mother and daughter, Margaret (Flemming) and Clara Johnson (Cameron), on vacation in Florence, Italy, circa 1953. Clara (becomes infatuated with a local boy named Fabrizio, but what starts as a love story takes a darker turn as family secrets and conflicts are slowly revealed.

Dove Cameron, left, as Clara Johnson (with Rob Houchen as Fabrizio in the 2019 London production)

Clara, though pretty and winsome, is mentally challenged as she was kicked in the head by a pony when she was ten years old, but it’s not obvious at the beginning, nor does it prevent the handsome, 20-year-old Fabrizio (Rob Houchen, Les Miserables, Candide) from being struck by Cupid at first sight. She returns his affection almost as quickly, and mother, of course, is not amused.

Fabrizio is happy to share the news of his newfound love with his typical Italian family: his father, Signor Naccarelli (Brian Stokes Mitchell, Kiss Me, Kate, Frazier), his mother (Marie McLaughlin, Don Giovanni, Carmen); his philandering brother, Giuseppi (Liam Tamne, Wicked, Phantom of the Opera) and his sassy wife, Franca (Celinde Schoenmaker, On the Town, Love Story), who is resentful of her husband’s many indiscretions, but remains loving. Meanwhile, Margaret who foresees dire consequences for both Clara and the Naccarellis should a marriage occur, does what she can to discourage the match. And so does her husband, if only by telephone from back home in America.

LA Opera – The Light in the Piazza – Final Dress Rehearsal Photos by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging

The set design by Robert Jones is splendid and astute, and recreates a busy Italian Piazza with uncanny authenticity. Much of the dialogue was delivered entirely in Italian without translations and yet worked effectively because of the inherent charm of its cadence. Rob Houchen’s Fabrizio is worthy of any spinster’s dreams, especially with his adorable attempts to overcome their language barrier. And what pipes he has, superbly wooing us with his “Love to Me.” Brian Stokes Mitchell is commanding as the head of an Italian family, in the type of role Rossano Brazzi often played in the 1950’s. Specially poignant are his conciliatory moments with Ms. Fleming near the end of the evening. Take this trip down to the piazza!

— Victor Riobo

Light at the Piazza is playing at the LA Opera through October 20th. Get tickets HERE.