The name Giuseppe Verdi provokes thoughts of grand, sweeping tragedies. Un giorno in regno (King for a Day) is precisely the opposite. In this silly story, based loosely on historical events, the King of Poland leaves an impersonator behind in Brittany so that he can reach Warsaw safely incognito. The impersonator, one Cavaliere Belfiore, enjoys his temporary power, using it to help a pair of young lovers (Giulietta and Edoardo) in the castle where he is staying. There’s just one problem: the Cavaliere’s own beloved, the Marchesa del Poggio, is also in the castle. The Cavaliere has sworn not to reveal his true identity, but the Marchesa recognizes him and is infuriated by his mysterious deception. The Cavaliere must remain king long enough to resolve others’ romantic problems but abdicate just in time to resolve his own.

Martin Lewis (Cavaliere di Belfiore) © David Allen
Martin Lewis (Cavaliere di Belfiore)
© David Allen
At Pocket Opera, Donald Pippin’s clever singing translation flows well and provokes laughs. Inevitably, the vowels aren’t as pure or well-matched to the pitches as in the original Italian (which we get a sample of when Edoardo rather inexplicably sings two arias to their original text), but Pippin’s wordplay entertains. Internal rhymes and alliteration abound, as do modern jokes. One particularly Court Jester­-like chorus goes, “For a vassal of the castle, it’s lucky to be a lackey.” Giulietta begs Edoardo to “make love, not war,” and the Cavaliere delivers a verse full of references to yet-to-be-written Verdi operas, warning of the “force of destiny” and “a ball in masquerade” and drawing comparisons to Macbeth, Don Carlo and Il trovatore.

This production’s biggest failing is the uneven cast. As the Marchesa del Poggio, Lindsay Roush displayed a dark-hued tone that is both strong and flexible throughout her wide range. Her beloved Cavaliere (Martin Lewis) was less pleasant to listen to – while he competently met the vocal demands of his role, his voice had a croaky tone and a shake that grated on the ears. As the younger lover Edoardo, Andrew Nickell was sadly mis-cast. He sounded good on his lowest notes, but his voice was weak and reedy at the top, with a crack in his passagio. This role sits too high for him. Carolyn Bacon fared better as his beautiful Giulietta, with sweet, clear top notes. Jonathan Spencer and Lee Strawn rounded out the cast as the treasurer La Rocca (Giulietta’s betrothed) and the Baroen di Kelbar (Giulietta’s father). In these character roles, Spencer and Strawn managed both smooth lyricism and fiery outbursts as they bickered and plotted.

Lee Strawn (Barone di Kelbar) and Martin Lewis (Cavaliere di Belfiore) © David Allen
Lee Strawn (Barone di Kelbar) and Martin Lewis (Cavaliere di Belfiore)
© David Allen

The orchestra and chorus also suffered from inconsistency. The three-person women’s chorus executed harmonies perfectly, but the four-person men’s chorus was often dominated by one flat voice. The orchestra was six pieces but relied heavily on the violin, which Yasushi Ogura sawed on with unfortunate, inaccurate results. With Donald Pippin leading, the rest of the instrumental ensemble supported the singers well, though the textures felt thin, especially for Verdi.

The minimal set – a throne, a table, and two benches – evokes a castle and offers ample room for the singers to move about. Mary Kay Stuvland’s gorgeous Edwardian costumes do much to add to the professional appearance of the production. Director Jane Erwin Hammett encouraged the singers to ham it up, which they gamely did with exaggerated gestures and facial expressions. Because the style choice is consistently acted across the cast, it worked. In combination with ridiculous hand jive-style choreography and the English-language libretto, it made this Verdi feel a lot like Gilbert and Sullivan. Like most G&S shows, Pocket Opera’s King for a Day is frothy and fun. But it would be a lot better with cast and orchestral changes.