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C R I T I C A L   A C C L A I M

Rigoletto, Salt Marsh Opera


Director Nathaniel Merchant... used the hall's peculiar space expertly. The two-story set, rising high where the Chorus of Westerly is usually arrayed, was both detailed and darkly atmospheric, and Merchant spread courtiers and dramatic moments out into the wide aisle judiciously. At times, an enraged Loyd would claw his way through the hall as the very embodiment of rage. Singing exits and entrances spread the action, none better than when bass Michael Reder, in the role of the assassin Sparafucile, walked down the center aisle and out of the hall while holding that famous low F as he sang "Sparafucile."It all added up to a searing evening of opera theater... the darkly ominous production and well-paced, mounting horror, and the musical thrills of the final act not only conveyed the full weight of this most dramatic of operas but was also another step forward for Salt Marsh Opera.

--Milton Moore @

Wow! That blandishly unoperatic word captures what happened at the Katherine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center last Friday night in two and a half brilliant hours in the Salt Marsh Opera’s riveting production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Rigoletto.”…The lavish costumes, staging, lighting and super titles were worthy of this truly remarkable production…The standing ovations that followed were a tribute to Director Nathaniel Merchant and the entire cast and orchestra, which transformed one of Verdi’s most challenging and difficult to perform operas into a triumph of teamwork and talent…The production, performed twice at the George Kent Performance Hall in Westerly, Rhode Island, and repeated at the Kate on Sunday afternoon, was the product of just 12 days of rehearsals. Bravo.

-- By Robert C. Pollack

Special to the Shoreline Times,

Try not to miss it, for it’s some of the finest opera you are apt to find in these parts...

This is a fully staged production that had to be shoe-horned into the former Immaculate Conception Church. Nathaniel Merchant’s stage direction had singers trooping up and down the aisles and wandering among the audience, while Scott Aronow’s elaborate double-decker set with spiral staircase more than fills the back of the building…But even with cramped quarters, the production packs a punch…This is a pretty traditional staging of the opera, with sumptuous period costumes from Trinity Rep’s Marilyn Salvatore. But for standard treatment, the product is as good, if not better, than anything I’ve seen locally. Catch it if you can.

-- Channing Gray, Journal Arts Writer, Providence Journal

L'elisir d'amore, Salt Marsh Opera


The opening opera of the company's 10th season, staged at the George Kent Performance Hall, had just about everything you'd hope for: strong principal voices, a fine 27-piece orchestra led by Music Director Simon Holt, engaging acting and stagecraft (crucial in the intimate setting) and lively action, brimming with witty details conjured by director Nathaniel Merchant…All of this is propelled by fast-paced ensembles that boil up again and again from duets, the cast swarming in and out of the theater, set in the round in the converted church. The Performance Hall, with its booming and resonant acoustic, poses a challenge to opera production: It has no pit for the orchestra and no stage.

Director Merchant placed the action far out into the hall's floor, bringing the audience into the action (in the Act 2 wedding feast, the audience surrounding the dining table must have felt like guests themselves) and giving very close contact to some very fine singing.

Sharing the star billing for the success of this production... was director Merchant, who salted the ensembles with action in every corner:


flirting girls, leering soldiers and four principals all very full of themselves - at least after Nemorino drinks his bottle of wine. In the tradition of leave 'em laughing, both acts ended with the cast racing through the audience to exit at the rear of the hall, and both exits showed Merchant's comic touches. As the first act ends, with everyone heading to the wedding feast for Adina and Belcore, Loyd's Dulcamara jumps in late, racing to catch up as he tucks a napkin over his shirt. At the happy ending, bringing up the rear are the four soldiers, carrying a wailing, scorned Burchett as Belcore... Salt Marsh Opera's clever and high-spirited staging, combined with spotless singing... brings this well-known piece to life once again.

--Milton Moore @

La Sonnambula, Salt Marsh Opera


La Sonnambula—heard on October 23 at Old Saybrook’s 250-seat KATHERINE HEPBURN CULTURAL ARTS CENTER—marked something of a gamble by the London-trained general and music director Simon Holt. It paid off nicely, and Nathaniel Merchant’s staging was bare-bones but neither condescending nor trivial…

--David Shengold, OPERA

Il Corsaro, Sarasota Opera


The season's final production was a splashy, colorful version of Verdi's 12th opera, "Il Corsaro." 

--Albert H. Cohen, Home News Tribune

Verdi's pirate soars in Sarasota..."Lighting a fire"

--Lawrence A. Johnson, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

The Importance of Being Earnest, American Globe Theater 


...director Nathaniel Merchant had a keen understanding of the script as well as complete confidence in his cast. How delightful to watch high-spirited actors cheerfully chew the scenery. How refreshing to hear them taste the words rather than merely recite the lines.

Merchant allowed the actors to savor each scene, and such trust rewarded both the cast and the audience.

--Ken Jaworowski,

Don Pasquale, Bronx Opera 


This humane, sophisticated comedy of character often suffers from sledgehammer productions in large houses, and it was a pleasure to see it presented with well-chosen and accomplished simplicity of gesture (Nathaniel Merchant directed) and staging...

--David Shengold

H.M.S. Pinafore, Troupers Light Opera


To say that Director Nate Merchant gave us a mostly no-nonsense performance is certainly not to say that the evening was without belly laughs and guffaws. Indeed Merchant divined bits of humor in unexpected places and had everyone smiling. His characters were well developed and movement on stage was fluid and musical.  All in all, nicely done.

--Jerome R. Sehulster, Special Correspondent

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