Stage Director


Verdi’s Rigoletto – Utah Festival Opera (2004) – Salt Lake Tribune

Curse of Rigoletto broken with Triumphant Performance.

Utah Festival Opera’s potent opening night set a new artistic benchmark for the young company. An impressive cast and artistic staff charged the story of the hunchbacked jester with vitality….energetic pacing and purposeful stage direction by James Marvel made the opera’s three hours speed by. A dynamic men’s chorus and lavishly detailed set contributed to the triumphant production.

– Salt Lake Tribune, Robert Coleman

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Verdi’s La Traviata – Boheme Opera (2001) – The Star Ledger

Trenton’s Boheme Opera offered one of its strongest productions yet in a sumptuous performance of Verdi’s La Traviata. Director James Marvel truly caught the flavor of intimacy marred by tragedy in ‘Traviata,’ he coached actors’ performances from these singers.

– The Star Ledger, April 30, 2001, Willa Conrad

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Verdi’s La Traviata – Boheme Opera (2001) – The Trenton Times

La Traviata was not my favorite Verdi opera…until last Friday evening, that is. That was when I saw the first of two performances of Boheme Opera’s production. [This production] may have been Boheme’s finest effort to date. I feel confident that most, if not all, of the members of the two sell-out audiences that saw the production would agree with that assessment. This Traviata had a splendid cast with first rate voices. They were skillfully directed on a stage filled with gorgeous scenery. A word must be said early on about the work of stage director James Marvel, who brought to these familiar characters a humanity that they do not often possess. The production was marked by many small touches that made clear that these were not remote, stock operatic characters but human beings caught up in events beyond their control.

One such touch: In the early moments of Act I, Marvel highlighted Baron Douphol’s jealousy and possessiveness toward Violetta in a revealing way. The final act death scene was heartbreaking.

– The Trenton Times, May 2, 2001, Donald Delany

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Verdi’s La Traviata – Boheme Opera (2001) – Bloomberg News

The ensuing acts were so wonderful that the evening turned into an artistic triumph. The performance took place before an ultimately ecstatic audience of 1,900. Director James Marvel took a traditional approach yet added many little visual touches to give more impact to the action on stage. He resisted the temptation to over-dramatize the confrontation in Act III and the death scene in the finale. In other words, like the leading singers on stage, he got this production just right.”

– Bloomberg News, May 2, 2001, Albert Cohen

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Verdi’s La Traviata – Kentucky Opera (2009) – The Courier-Journal

Kentucky Opera offers superb ‘Traviata’

I’ll make this as direct as possible: If you’re not free, rearrange your schedule – get to the Brown Theatre to hear Kentucky Opera’s season-opening production of Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Directed with clear, shrewdly paced intelligence by James Marvel, this is one of the most compelling versions of “Traviata” you’re likely to encounter these days, a genuinely original interpretation with soprano Elizabeth Futral delivering a luminous, emotionally shattering Violetta.

– Andrew Adler, The Courier-Journal

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Strauss’s Salome – Toledo Opera (2009) – The Blade

Toledo Opera’s new production Salome is magnificent. Set in sections around a central ramp and beneath diagonal scaffolding, James Marvel’s staging is irreverent and fresh. Created right here is the sort of wonderfully bold and artful performance one might expect to see in bigger cities: Chicago, New York, London, Berlin, where innovation is expected. This is a must-see performance.

Sally Vallongo, The Blade

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Rossini’s La Cenerentola – Opera Company of North Carolina – Raleigh Observer

Clever details abound in ‘La Cenerentola’

RALEIGH – Opera fans dream of the rare production in which all elements function as one. That dream is made reality in the Opera Company of North Carolina’s “La Cenerentola.”

There’s so much that’s excellent in this staging of Rossini’s Cinderella story that it’s hard to know where to start. Certainly the keystone is director James Marvel’s cleverly detailed concept, each scene filled with myriad hilarious touches yet never crossing into campy silliness, an affliction prevalent in so many Rossini productions. Marvel keeps the focus on human inter action, allowing Rossini’s astute renderings of greed, arrogance, forgiveness and love to shine through.

The confident singer-actors do full justice to their roles and are willing to perform whatever Marvel throws at them, from weaving themselves into a human chain to crawling on the floor. They project such joy in performing that the production whizzes along despite its nearly three-hour duration.

Roy C. Dicks, Correspondent, Raleigh Observer

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Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia – Opera Tampa (2008) – Tampa Tribune

It was a beautiful Friday night in Tampa. I had admittedly great seats… I sat next to James Marvel, the director for this production. I did not know that initially. In retrospect, I hope he didn’t mind me asserting my elbow space on the armrest!

I laughed out loud at several points in the performance due to good comedy! Whether or not you are an opera fan, you MUST go see this. Opera Tampa has put together an impressive production, and an unbeatable night of entertainment and music. Seriously, JUST GO… you will not regret it no matter who you are. For the opera fans, this production provides everything you will need to make you smile. For those who never have attended opera, this production is an excellent introduction to opera of the Italian comic flavor. You don’t need to even be an “opera fan” to enjoy the program but you will be an opera fan once you go. The house was nearly full for opening night, and I am confident that attendance for this season will remain high, based upon the quality of production and performance I saw on Friday.

Dale Johnston, Dec.06, 2008, Tampa Tribune

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Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia – Opera Tampa (2008) – Tampa News Journal

A keen knack for the comic aspects lifts production

TAMPA – It’s not often that you walk out of an opera talking about the great acting, but that was the case Friday after the opening of Opera Tampa’s staging of The Barber of Seville. Not that there was anything wrong with the singing – to act the Rossini score well you must also sing it well – but this cast of singing actors brings marvelous comic flair to a work that can be a terrible bore in the wrong hands. Kudos to director James Marvel and conductor Anton Coppola for whipping the cast into such entertaining shape in a short rehearsal period.

Tampa News Journal

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Puccini’s Madama Butterfly – Piedmont Opera Theatre (2001) – Winston-Salem Journal

Memorable Opera.

The production was wonderful, the voices were beautiful, and everything about it was just great…I have seen this opera over and over, and this was the best I have ever seen it. This praise was echoed many times over among audience members…I think that (director) James Marvel brought each of the leads to an interesting place.

– Winston-Salem Journal, Tuesday, October 9, 2001, K. Bost

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Puccini’s Madama Butterfly – Piedmont Opera Theatre (2001) – Winston-Salem Journal

Blissful: this ‘Butterfly’ is dressed with color and beauty.

Opera doesn’t get much better than this. Piedmont Opera Theatre is presenting a magnificent, take-your-breath-away production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly… [When] Butterfly commits suicide – the way it’s done here is unforgettable. When she thrusts the knife in, bloody red colors fill the white tiles on the wall. It’s downright chilling… Scarcely anything falls short in director James Marvel’s thoughtful and insightful staging. The lead singers…act in a way that tells the story directly and believably. One of this production’s finest musical and dramatic moments happens at the end of Act 1, during Pinkerton’s extended love duet with Butterfly. It covers a lot of ground, becoming one of the most elaborate and convincing seductions in opera.

– Winston-Salem Journal, October 6, 2001, Ken Keuffel

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Puccini’s Madama Butterfly – Virginia Opera (2003) – The Washington Post

The Virginia Opera gave a completely traditional and completely satisfying performance of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” Friday night. The voices were excellent, as they usually are in Virginia Opera productions. What distinguished the performance was the fine acting in the principal roles…under the direction of James Marvel, whose experience in Noh and Kabuki theatre could be sensed in the stage action’s evocative understatement. All were convincing in this drama of love, betrayal, and death. Butterfly is best done, as this performance was, in the time- honored style.

The Washington Post, Monday October 27, 2003, Joseph McLellan

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Puccini’s La Boheme – Opera Santa Barbara (2002) – The Santa Barbara Independent

The third act…of Opera Santa Barbara’s La Boheme had me gasping…with a depth and beauty I can only describe as cinematic – my best compliment. It was strikingly memorable, sung, played, acted, and decorated with all the strength of a big city opera put on by seasoned professionals – and something more. I wish the whole show had kept opening, though I saw many a wet eye leaving the theatre. Opera Santa Barbara has evolved powerfully. With magnificence like that shown in the third act…this could be the artistic troupe to bring our city fame.

– The Santa Barbara Independent, December 6, 2002, D.J. Palladino

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Puccini’s La Boheme – Opera Santa Barbara (2002) – Santa Barbara News Press

One of the wonders of Puccini’s opera is its unique mix of boisterous comedy with poignant realism. The end of Act III is such a moment. Director James Marvel placed Musetta and Marcello in the center upstage and proposed a series of knockabout actions, including Musetta dumping a glass of champagne on Marcello’s head…It’s a dogfight…violent and dramatic. Meanwhile, he had Mimi and Rodolfo moving very slowly toward one another across the front of the stage, their hearts breaking. The voices rose and one of musical theater’s best scenes sprang to life again…filling the room with soaring, rapturous melody and pure emotion. It was impossible not to be swept away.

– Santa Barbara News Press, November 22, 2002

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Puccini’s La Boheme – Opera Santa Barbara (2002) – Santa Barbara News Press

A Passionate Connection in La Boheme.

Musically, dramatically, and theatrically this may be the company’s best work yet. The love story at the heart of “La Boheme” is particularly affecting in the new production at Opera Santa Barbara. Mimi and Rodolfo have rarely seemed so real, and the other delights of Puccini’s masterpiece fall into place around them with a rousing vitality…There is no mistaking their passionate connection. [Musetta’s] teasing waltz leads into an ensemble of enormous complexity that sends the audience out for intermission exhilarated…Every one of the roles was projected with fine style.

– Santa Barbara News Press, November 26, 2002, Michael Smith

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Puccini’s Turandot – Utah Festival Opera – Salt Lake Tribune

Utah Festival Opera’s heady ‘Turandot’ casts a magical spell in Logan.
Dozens of grisly skulls from wannabe bridegrooms lined the visually stunning set in Utah Festival Opera’s opening production. James Marvel’s stage direction formed a cogent blend of elements incorporating the opera’s old-Italian origins and its Asian location. His wizardry created an unforgettable production. Bottom Line: Rearrange schedules, change plans and run to see this vocally and visually stunning new production.

– Salt Lake Tribune, Robert Coleman

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Puccini’s Tosca – Opera Santa Barbara – The Santa Barbara Independent

Under James Marvel’s brilliant direction…Puccini’s Tosca has never seemed more real and more horrifying. As Tosca, weeping in Scarpia’s office hears Cavaradossi’s cries, a painting on the wall behind her gradually becomes transparent…becoming a window into the next room, where her lover is being tortured. Great art makes human suffering and brutality visible again, and just in time. Still, beauty is the real point of it all…and Opera Santa Barbara’s production gives us real beauty, even as we weep for poor Tosca.

– The Santa Barbara Independent, James Donelan

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Philip Glass’ Galileo Galilei – Boston University (2004) – Boston Herald

The 90-minute work, which premiered in 2002, arrived in Boston last night as part of this year’s Boston University Fall Fringe Festival. And the performance, under the leadership of director James Marvel was nothing short of brilliant. Marvel’s direction was – well, it’s true – a marvel of style and economy, which took Galileo’s once revolutionary idea that the earth revolves around the sun as a basis for staging without being heavy-handed. And Chaffee’s charming choreography was integrated seamlessly, a credit to both artists.

– Boston Herald, Sunday, October 31, 2004

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Mozart’s Zaide – Wolf Trap Opera Company (2010) – Washington Post

Wolf Trap Opera’s “Zaide,” sci-fi but serious

It was rather brilliant of director James Marvel to find a contemporary equivalent in science fiction. A violation of Mozart? Not at all. Anyone staging it has to do significant creative work to make it theatrically viable. With the sci-fi setting, Marvel found a world as familiar and exotic to his audience as Mozart’s harem was to the 18th-century Viennese.
Marvel, who was so commendably concerned with taking “Zaide” seriously enough to make it into a real piece of theater, figured out a way to make it work.

– Washington Post, June 13, 2010, Anne Midgette

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Mozart’s Zaide – Wolf Trap Opera Company (2010) – Baltimore Sun

Director James Marvel’s concept has its logic and integrity. This “Zaide” delivers a vital, visceral experience. The finale certainly fits the often gritty edge in this imaginative production. Wolf Trap Opera has certainly made a provocative case for the piece. One thing’s for sure: You won’t feel neutral about it.

– Baltimore Sun, June 17, 2010, Tim Smith

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Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro – Westfield Symphony Orchestra (2001) – Classical New Jersey

Printed in Classical New Jersey – June 6, 2001

Marriage of Figaro, Westfield Symphony Orchestra. Director, James Marvel
The Westfield Symphony Orchestra’s presentation of The Marriage of Figaro was a vocal and musical treat as well as a testament to the power of the human imagination. This year featured a minimal and quite successful staging by James Marvel, who showed how a few well placed props and a bit of imagination can carry the show. A final light touch was provided at the end by director Marvel when Suzanna, Figaro, and his long-lost parents all posed for a family snapshot with a flash camera!
– Barbara Tomson

La Traviata, Boheme Opera Company. Director, James Marvel
… But the real story in this production was James Marvel’s stage direction. Frankly, when faced with attending another consumption laden Traviata my cynical attitude is something like “We’ve got drugs for this. Get this girl a shot.” So, imagine how astonishingly touching it was that director Marvel elected to not make any consumption references! Not one cough intruded like a warning flare. And what emerged from this simple decision was the ability of each audience member to make Violetta’s illness be whatever touched them most closely. This was not thrust upon us in some didactic manner, but was allowed to happen by removing a piece of unnecessary tradition.

There was one more surprising and effective bit of staging. In the Act III card scene, most productions wait until Germont’s vocal entrance for his angry entry. Here, Marvel had Germont enter after the Spanish Dance sequence and watch the proceedings from the entry lobby. The effect was to give the audience a point of view. How is Father taking this scene? What must he be thinking? So, when Germont finally came down the steps and confronted his son, it was coming from an emotional place we had all witnessed, even felt a part of, and was astonishingly powerful. We’ve come to trust Boheme Opera to supply good singers. Now we have a standard of acting which was uniformly excellent as well.

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Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro – Westfield Symphony Orchestra (2001) – The Westfield Leader

This past week saw another highly successful production by the Westfield Symphony Orchestra. This rendition of the Marriage of Figaro would have pleased the composer himself- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The overall effect offered an excellent fusion of orchestra, voice and staging. The production was consummated joyfully without a hitch and earned a rousing and well-deserved standing ovation. Exciting and engaging stage directions were created by James Marvel. In such a glorious manner did the 2000-2001 season of the WSO draw to a close.

The Westfield Leader / The Times, David Palladino

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Le Nozze di Figaro – Asheville Lyric Opera (2005)

Lyric Opera’s ‘Figaro’ superbly executed

On Friday evening in the Diana Wortham Theatre, the enthusiastic audience’s many smiles, almost constant laughter and sustained applause in response to the Asheville Lyric Opera’s performance of this great opera were ample that its magic has remained by time. Stage Director James Marvel’s production is the best work of the ALO’s 2004-05 season. The audience approval was expressed through cheers and applause throughout the evening.

– Martha Fawbush

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Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro – Opera Santa Barbara – The Salt Lake Tribune

‘Figaro’: Plot complex, music joyous

LOGAN – BOTTOM LINE: a solid, if not life-changing performance of a cheeky comedy classic.

– The Salt Lake Tribune, Christy Karras

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Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro – Utah Festival Opera – Deseret Morning News

Utah Festival Opera production hits high note

LOGAN — It’s a great year for the Utah Festival Opera. The operas this season are high-watermark productions for this company. The season opened last week with “The Marriage of Figaro.” This production boasts a strong cast in terms of acting, and stage director James Marvel makes the characters realistic and believable.

– Deseret Morning News, Rebecca C. Howard

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Monteverdi’s Return of Ulysses – Wolf Trap Opera Company (2009) – We Love DC

Wolf Trap Opera: Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria

It’s a July evening and Claudio Monteverdi’s 1640 opera Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria is being performed. Everything the modern viewer loves is right there in this evocative and entertaining Ulysses. Throughout the performance the stage backdrop changed fluidly from one weather phenomenon to another. It was powerful and complementary without being obtrusive.

The production was itself hilarious. Director James Marvel has made especial fools out of the three suitors, a highly enjoyable chorus of buffoonery. This 2009 Ulisse resonates and its age is no impediment to its relatability. It had enough vocal talent for ardent opera lovers and enough theater for someone who might otherwise balk at the genre.

AcaciaO, We Love DC

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Monteverdi’s Return of Ulysses – Wolf Trap Opera Company (2009) – ShadowtimeNYC

The Return of Ulysses at Wolf Trap Opera Company

Once again, I am inspired and overwhelmed by the aesthetics of an opera. Director James Marvel‘s spartan yet sumptuous production of Monteverdi’s 1640 telling of The Odyssey hinged on the artful interplay of sound, texture, light, and video imagery. The set was stark muted silver and rusted around the edges providing a post-apocalyptic aura that was expertly juxtaposed with the organic imagery projected upon it throughout the show. The moving images behind the moving players onstage merged to present evocative and entrancing tableau after tableau. This is what the term ‘Rock Opera’ was made for. The execution and aesthetic dynamism of the production was thrilling beyond expectation.

– Kristen Sollee, ShadowtimeNYC

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Monteverdi’s Return of Ulysses – Wolf Trap Opera Company (2009) – Washington Times

OPERA: A triumphant ‘Ulysses’: Four out of Four Star

The Wolf Trap Opera Company’s new production of Monteverdi’s “Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria” (“The Return of Ulysses”) is well worth trekking out to the Vienna woods to see. By the judicious use of scenic projections, this clever production, possibly one of the best we’ve ever seen at Wolf Trap, effortlessly conjures up the epic movement of time and space. A hearty bravo to all who helped make this “Ulysses” a tremendous success.

T.L. Ponick, Washington Times

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Monteverdi’s Return of Ulysses – Wolf Trap Opera Company (2009) – Baltimore Sun

Wolf Trap Opera’s dynamic blast from past: Monteverdi’s ‘Return of Ulysses’

If you harbor any doubts about the ability of early opera to engage your senses, you could get an easy attitude adjustment from a trip to Wolf Trap. There, Monteverdi’s The Return of Ulysses is receiving a dynamic production from the Wolf Trap Opera Company.

Visually hip (but not overbearingly so), the staging, directed with abundant imagination and momentum by James Marvel, provides an engaging vehicle for a cast that treats the opera as if it were written last week, not in 1640. No one held back. No one settled for history lesson primness. Eric Allgeier’s sleek set design was complemented by S. Katy Tucker’s video projections, which introduced often striking imagery without ever getting gimmicky. The total package of engaging musicality and theatricality underlined how much power remains in this absorbing work from the dawn of opera.

– Tim Smith, Baltimore Sun

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Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana – Opera of the Hamptons (2003) – Dan’s Papers Online

The Opera of the Hamptons opened their twelfth season in sparkling style…the audience really felt a part of the action and not like mere spectators. James Marvel, the Stage Director, demonstrated how to make full use of everything available to him. The realism of the settings, the movement of the singers as the plot unfolded added immeasurably to the sheer pleasure of hearing a cast comprised of voices that would grace any major opera house.

– Dan’s Papers Online, Roy Bradbrook

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Gounod’s Faust – Augusta Opera (2002) – Augusta Chronicle

Augusta Opera, Augusta, GA – March, 2002

Named “Best Production of the Year” by the Augusta Chronicle

This post-modern take on grand opera…represents everything I find moving about the performing arts…understanding that the arts must always move forward…audiences were treated to a lively and kinetic reading that pushes the opera envelope. Great, grand stuff.

– Augusta Chronicle, April 4, 2002, Steven Uhles

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Durang’s Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge – Southern Repertory Theatre (2003) – The Gambit Weekly

Wild Binge

A post modern comic tornado is currently wreaking merry havoc at the Southern Repertory Theatre. It resembles a 2 act Saturday Night Live skit, and I think the fans of the perdurable network offering will love seeing that sort of stylish knockabout really “live.” You enjoy being with the cast that Wild Binge Director James Marvel has assembled and put through the paces. They create a confident ensemble mood, and each has memorable moments. In brief, a slapstick deconstruction job, decked with boughs of holly.

– The Gambit Weekly, December 09, 2003, Walt Donk

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Durang’s Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge – Southern Repertory Theatre (2003) – Ambush Magazine

Southern Repertory Theatre, New Orleans, LA – December, 2003

The Southern Repertory Theatre better have a doctor standing by. Their first preview nearly had me choking with laughter, by now people are probably in danger of laughing themselves to death in New Orleans’ funniest comedy of the year. The production’s energy and inventiveness never flag, and carry the script along to its ridiculous conclusion.

Director James Marvel has done, well, a marvelous job of extorting the full comic potential from this silliness. He successfully juggles verbal, visual, and slapstick humor, shapes one brilliant over the top scene after another without letting any go on for too long. And as with ornaments around the tree, he trims it all with knowing, little touches. Marvel is a Native New Orleanian making his local debut. Let’s hope he’s back to stay.

Within this set-up, what wonders of variety and shadings does this A-List of actors effect. For the rest of us, this might just be the best present of the season, leaving you with memories a-grinning long after the Christmas tree, tinsel, and stockings are gone.

– Ambush Magazine, December 19, 2003, Brian Sands

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Donizetti’s Lucia Di Lammermoor – Opera Company of North Carolina (2008) – Classical Voice of North Carolina

The excellent production of this great work allowed all its tragic circumstances and beauty to reach every member of the audience, from neophyte to seasoned opera lover. The excellent work of James Marvel was evident throughout the performance. I especially note Marvel’s careful touch in staging the encounters of the unfortunate lovers, especially the exchange of glances that suggest the deep feelings they share, and also the superb handling of the deranged Lucia’s movements and gestures in the mad scene and made clear his total understanding of the complexities of opera performance.

– Martha Fawbush, Classical Voice of North Carolina, January 19, 2008

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Donizetti’s Lucia Di Lammermoor – New Orleans Opera (2007) – Times Picayune

With darkly brooding passions, the New Orleans Opera Association took a stab at Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor last weekend, resulting in a bloody good show. James Marvel’s direction was straightforward and effective, using that restraint to make the stronger impact. It was especially adept in capturing the opera’s subtext of smoldering sexuality. The direction showed subdued restraint allowing the audience’s chief focus to remain on the dazzling vocal lines. Jane Redding provided a compelling, splendid performance, hauntingly beautiful and delicately sculpted. Redding’s acting made the production soar and made all the right moves, as this Lucia went off the edge, she didn’t go over the top. Richard Zeller’s acting also brought deeper dimensions to the character, making him less the cardboard villain of the piece and almost sympathetic as a man driven to desperation.

– Theodore Mahne, Times Picayune

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Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers – Opera Boston (2007) –

Visually, the audience at Friday night’s opening performance wasn’t disappointed. Opera Boston bathed the Cutler Majestic stage in magnificent colors and imaginative set design, bringing this story to life with great success.

Before getting to the performances, which were uniformly hypnotic, a word about the staging. Kudos to the stage directing of James Marvel, for making it all seem so natural, especially the opening scene where a lone figure suspended from wire descended gracefully from the rafters, as if swimming to the bottom of the sea to fetch one of the large pearls sitting on the ocean’s floor. The moment was truly mesmerizing and carried out with perfection, giving the impression that the entire scene was seen from outside a large glass-enclosed aquarium. These kinds of moments kept occurring throughout the show and added to the expectation and excitement of the performance as a whole and accounted for so much of its success.

For opera fans this is the ideal opera: colorful, melodic, and resonant with pleasing vocal melody and rich orchestration. This one is a winner, another feather in the cap for Opera Boston!

– Paul Joseph Walkowski,

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Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers – Opera Boston (2007) – Boston Globe

Opera Boston brings rare Bizet to life

The company’s vivid and airy new production, directed by James Marvel, opened last night, and all three performances sold out before the curtain went up. Marvel’s staging, his first for the company, has a fanciful touch and a vibrant look, saturated with bright colors that seem about right for an opera set in ancient Ceylon. The production boasts plenty of dancing and shadow puppetry, put to attractive and poetic ends.

– Jeremy Eichler, Globe Staff, Opera Boston, Saturday, May 5, 2007

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Bizet’s Carmen – Opera Grand Rapids – The Grand Rapids Press

Carmen offers unforeseen depth in character

Opera Grand Rapids opened its 40th anniversary season Friday with a production of Georges Bizet’s “Carmen,” and four decades later, c’est magnifique!

Stage director James Marvel’s production was lush in detail in the crowd scenes, sometimes stylized to emphasize the underlying motivations. His staging made good use of space, each act ending under the glare of an intense spotlight. When Carmen made her entrance, the temperature in the hall rose 10 degrees, charming not only men but women, too. Certainly, she was playful and sexy, but also a force to be reckoned with for the audience of 1,830 in DeVos Performance Hall.

Carmens often are one dimensional, remaining unchanged. This Carmen evolved into genuine love for Escamillo, adding to the depth of her demise. Don Jose developed remarkably as well. Where other Don Jose’s simply are viscious at the end, Springer’s descent into mental instability was gripping and effective.

– Jeff Kaczmarczyk, The Grand Rapids Press, Saturday, November 03, 2007

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Bizet’s Carmen – Opera Africa –

Bizet’s Carmen dazzles Gauteng audiences

The Joburg Theatre will be ignited by the passion of Carmen, which has just completed a season at the South African theatre to rave reviews and rapturous audiences. Stage director James Marvel heads up this production of Carmen complete with innovative sets and the cast’s dazzling energy.

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Bizet’s Carmen – Opera Africa – Pretoria News and Star

Temptress near flawlessly rendered

Director James Marvel and set designer Steven Capone provide a lesson in how to be functional and original and preserve the identity of the opera.. The sets and striking lighting matched the lush sensuousness and romantic passion of Bizet’s music.

Marvel instilled living, credible, even raw personalities into a cast that displayed dazzling energy. The interplay of characters possesses lasting qualities of intellectual vitality and real musical beauty. The chorus, giving the director ample opportunity to display his masterly talent for movement and grouping in the massed crowd scenes, sang with verve.

Riek van Rensburg, Pretoria News and Star, March 24 2011

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The Trilogy – Juilliard Opera Center (2008) – Opera News

The Juilliard Opera Center frequently proves a scintillating place to hear opera. The School’s vocal talent, unparalleled access to actors, dancers and other theater artists to participate in productions and its surfeit of wonderful orchestral musicians are all showcased in one of Lincoln Center’s most rewarding and successful auditoriums. In Trilogy: Three One-Act Portraits of Marriage (November 12), an appreciative house witnessed a project spearheaded by one of Juilliard’s distinguished alumni, James Conlon.

Conlon’s concept was “realized” by Darko Tresnjak and James Marvel, the actual staging directed by Marvel. The collaboration — which also brought together admirably interpenetrative visual elements succeeded very well, especially in the second and third works.

Common as video has become in opera production, it’s certainly rare to encounter it so well integrated with the concrete set elements. The show really took off with the jazzy introduction to Schwergewicht, Slapstick yields to the lightness and exhilaration of real comedy; Excellent blocking and design worked ideally for a game cast.

Marvel, Conlon and their forces then segued into Skripka Rotshilda, which emerged far more moving and compelling than I expected from familiarity with CDs (and the source). The whole achieves considerable poignancy, and Shostakovich’s orchestration is brilliant. Projected images and danced rituals combined into a coherent portrait of a bygone life — not only Bronza’s, but that of the shtetl, which perished along with Fleischmann in the horrific wake of Operation Barbarossa.

David Shengold, Opera News

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Bizet’s Carmen – Opera Africa – SA Jewish Report

Opera Africa stages a stupendous Carmen

Opera Africa’s current staging of Carmen is stupendous. There’s a real and continuous synergy on a mission between those extremely diverse elements, which make up what we call opera. It’s quite unlike any production we’ve seen in the past locally, on film or on DVD. This one is strongly character-driven without ever underestimating the often predominant influence of the crowd scenes on the tragic story as a whole. The way in which the characters become instrumental in the outcome of this tragedy is handled with incisive insight and detail through James Marvel’s stage direction. Marvel wanted to break with the preceding extreme realism with a tasteful pinpointing of the “opera comique” elements to create a jerking finale in which he confronts us with a verisimilitude of happenings reflecting extreme obsessions. This is the one Carmen you’ll just have to experience.

Paul Boekkooi, SA Jewish Report

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The Trilogy – Juilliard Opera Center (2008) – The New York Times

One-Act Operas Fashioned Into a Marital Morality Tale

On Wednesday night Mr. Conlon conducted the gifted singers of the Juilliard Opera Center and the dynamic Juilliard Orchestra in the premiere of “Trilogy: 3 One-Act Portraits of Marriage.” This 90-minute entertainment, without an intermission, has been fashioned from little-known one-act works, two Russian and one German.

Rothschild’s Violin, the special discovery of this trilogy, is an affecting tragedy. As conceived by Mr. Conlon and realized by James Marvel, the director who created this production for Juilliard, the trilogy becomes a morality tale about marriage. Cohesion among these stylistically different one-act works was enhanced through the production, which relies on a strikingly simple set: just the framed outline of the corner of a room, with a large, visible video screen on the back wall. By bringing in period furniture, the set allows fluid transitions from one story to the next.

Anthony Tommassini, The New York Times

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The Trilogy – Juilliard Opera Center (2008) –

A Triple Hitter at Juilliard Opera Center

The blanket title for the evening was “Trilogy: One-Act Portraits of Marriage.” The sheer musical variety that these works provided hardly needed an apology, nor did the clever unit set devised by James Marvel, who also directed the three casts with imaginative precision. The correctly styled and polished realization of each score was impeccable.

Peter G. Davis,

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The Trilogy – Juilliard Opera Center (2008) –

Intriguing Operatic Trilogy at Juilliard Takes Dim View of Marriage

One musician who has been behind many efforts to recover lost or forgotten music of this era has been James Conlon, who conceived and conducted this intense and intermissionless trilogy.

Chinese bass-baritone Shenyang persuasively took principal roles of Podkolyosin and Bronza with the full cast of the trilogy joining him in seeing the light in James Marvel’s realization.

Kudos for making this unusual trilogy a satisfying experience goes principally to Conlon, director James Marvel and the rest of the production team.

Bruce-Michael Gelbert,

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The Trilogy – Juilliard Opera Center (2008) –

Tricks of a Titillating Triptych

November 2008

The production team of the Metropolitan Opera’s The Damnation of Faust has the duty to walk across the street and see how video projection should be done. The trio of operas by the Juilliard School is hardly as famous at the Berlioz conception at the Met, and the Juilliard budget is probably pocket change for Gelb Incorporated. But the Juilliard production possess one asset which the Met staff never took into consideration: They have respect for the operas they are presenting. And the graphics, video, special effects, and lighting actually enhance and do not distract from the music and stories.

Each of the three operas has a distinct character, yet the single set, with only minor furniture changes but some very, very beautiful holographic changes-was magnetic. The direction meant a lot of people falling on their derrières, and one character doing a John Cleese-like “funny walk,” but the absurdity was part of the triumph. The stories were simple, emotional, well sung, and the diversity showed taste, understanding, and, most of all, fun.

The third piece-everybody’s favorite-left nothing to be desired. It was never maudlin or sentimental, but had an honest depth. The video projections in the back were sometimes illustrative, sometimes dominating, sometimes almost unseen. Almost unconsciously, we went from pastoral village scenery to the most beautiful forest of Russian poplars. And at the climax….well it was done with taste and emotion.

The singers, who appeared in several roles, were top-rate, all under that most experienced conductor James Conlon. It was his idea to play the operas one after the other. His rationale was not quite convincing. However, the production was-and is-most convincing. These are three operas, and the inventiveness to make them come vibrantly alive.

Harry Rolnick,

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Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress – San Francisco Opera Merola Program – San Francisco Chronicle

Tricky Stravinsky piece beautifully rendered.

Most performances of Stravinsky’s opera emphasize its pitiless, pasteboard side…but there is much more to this piece, and it all came through in this incisive and breathtakingly beautiful production.

Friday night’s opening gleamed and glittered in all the right places, but it also paid tribute to the tender heart that beats below the surface of the opera’s elegant symmetries. The result was a magnificent theatrical and musical experience, balancing emotion and wit in perfect proportion.

Director James Marvel allowed himself the liberty to go in whatever direction intrigued him, and the results were a tribute to his instincts. The staging abounded in small, finely observed moments (Anne’s instinctive revulsion when Shadow first appears was a lovely touch), and Marvel seems to have worked carefully with the members of the ensemble to create stage tableaux that were both kinetic and visually striking.

San Francisco Chronicle, Joshua Kosman

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Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress – Toledo Opera (2011) – OPERA Magazine (London, UK)

April 2011

James Marvel’s production proved engaging and lively, with the characters well-delineated. Marvel worked very effectively with three of his leading players, gifted singing actors who put across the text superbly.

David Shengold

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Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress – Toledo Opera (2011) – American Record Guide Vol. 74, No. 2

March/April 2011

Toledo Opera has entered a brave new world. Now the name of the game is not popularity but quality. Even more daring was this season’s The Rake’s Progress. James Marvel’s staging was indeed (forgive me) marvelous. It was reserved and clear-headed, creating living versions of Hogarth’s etching. Marvel emphasized the tragedy of the story while retaining the comedy of Mother Goose and Baba the Turk.

Charles H. Parsons

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