Friday, September 24, 2021
Saturday, September 18, 2021
Sunday, August 29, 2021
Wednesday, July 28, 2021
Maestro Will Crutchfield and The Teatro Nuovo Cast and Orchestra
Last night's production of Gioacchino Rossini's comic masterpiece Il barbiere di Siviglia at Damrosch Park was a joy to behold and a night to remember. The New York City opera community has been starved for live opera for over 16 months (but who's counting?) and Maestro Will Crutchfield served up a tasty dish that was completely satisfying but also left us eager for the next meal.
There was something for every taste. Those who appreciate scholarship had access to some extensive program notes online which we were glad to have read in advance. Readers who are of the same mind can find them here
It was fun to learn more about the background of the opera, some of which we knew and other facts that were new to us. We never knew, for example, how flexible the composition was in terms of numbers that were created by the singers themselves. We were also unaware of the relative absence of fach in Rossini's operas.
We'd always been told what a departure it was for a soprano to take on the role of Rosina, written for a mezzo-soprano. Not so; categories had yet to be written in stone. Last night's Figaro, for example, was sung by bass Hans Tashjian--and very well sung we might add. We hadn't heard Mr. Tashjian since his multiple appearances with Dell'Arte Opera about seven or eight years ago and were delighted to witness the growth in his artistry.
Maestro Crutchfield devoted a great deal of time and effort in stripping the opera of years of accretions and, truth to tell, we didn't miss the shtick. Thankfully, in spite of a few judicious cuts (necessitated by consideration for the neighbors living around Lincoln Center), all of the scintillating melodies were there, melodies which are still spinning around in our head. Our feet were dancing their way down Broadway, thanks to Rossini's rhythmic gifts.
We can't help wondering where is today's Rossini. He or she is probably writing for Broadway, not for the opera house. We sometimes fail to remember that in the 19th c., opera was a popular art form, an entertainment; it was not about someone grinding a political axe.
Do we care if opera is "relevant"? No we don't. Do we criticize the presence of stock characters and stereotypes? We do not. Do we judge the opera for its sociocultural sensitivity? LOL. We want to have a good time, and last night we did. Pardon our rant but we just had to go there!
As much as we encourage you to read Mr. Crutchfield's exegesis, one didn't need to know a thing about operatic history or scholarship to delight in the wacky story of Cesare Sterbini's libretto. The familiar 19th c. story of a possessive old goat and his subjugated ward has been turned on its head by Sterbini's creation of the subversively rebellious Rosina who outwits the old goat with the help of the wily Figaro, one of opera's most endearing characters.
The role of Rosina was sung by mezzo-soprano Hannah Ludwig who possesses plenty of strength in the lower register and a brilliant upper register, well employed in a spate of highly original embellishments which, as we learned, Rossini encouraged his singers to devise, as did Maestro Crutchfield We hope that Ms. Ludwig's artistic evolution involves knitting the two registers more seamlessly, since the decorations often served to highlight the lack of continuity.
The role of Count Almaviva was portrayed by tenor Nicholas Simpson whom we remember as a superb Charles II in Little Opera Theater of New York's production of Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players and also as having risen above the world's worst production of Wagner's Tannhaüser in the title role. His bright clear tone was perfect for the role; we wanted, however, more clarity in the scale passages and fioritura.
Scott Purcell made a marvelous Doctor Bartolo with first rate singing and acting. The lecherous Doctor is not a likable character but in Mr. Purcell's hands he became a figure of sympathy.
Soprano Alina Tamborini came to our attention just 2 years ago, not only through Teatro Nuovo but also through Talents of the World Competition. We can never forget her performance of "Adele's Audition Aria" from Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus. How happy we were to hear her again in the role of Berta to which she lent her crystal clear soprano and lovely phrasing.
Daniel Fridley made a fine Don Basilio; we just loved the scene in which the other characters tried to get rid of him. It occurred to us that this is a theme of this particular opera. In Act I, Almaviva tries to get rid of the noisy musicians. Later, Dr. Bartolo tries to get rid of Almaviva who is disguised as a drunken soldier.
Wil Kellerman made the most of his role as an officer, singing with clarity and acting with purpose and conviction.
Kyle Oliver was successful as Fiorello trying to control his boisterous band of musicians accompanying Almaviva's serenade.
With the shtick removed from the big arias, we were able to focus more on the beauty of the duets and the elaborate construction of the ensembles which Rossini used to bring each act to a climax-- leaving everyone exhausted.
The Teatro Nuovo Orchestra filled the plaza with a gorgeous carpet of sound. Maestro Crutchfield led from the cembalo, following the tradition of the early 19th c. First violinist Jakob Lehmann made significant contributions, as did Peter Ferretti who handled his contrabass as one of the characters in the drama.
We would hope to see Maestro Crutchfield "version" with sets and costumes some day, although we think the cast did a fine job of getting the drama across in what is called a "semi's staged" production. So delighted were we to hear live opera, we were in no frame of mind to attack the amplification; nonetheless, it did not exactly improve upon the singers' natural voices.
Furthermore, we were feeling rather tolerant of the titles projected behind the orchestra. Lucy T. Yates and Maestro Crutchfield himself were given credit for the titles which rhymed but were not direct translations from the Italian. We dealt with it by ignoring them when we couldn't reconcile them.
Those were our only quibbles with an evening of delights, made even more delightful by sharing the experience in public with fellow opera lovers. We began by describing the opera as having something for everyone. Academics could enjoy the research that went into restoring the opera to something close to its origins. Neophytes could enjoy it for its good humor and tunefulness. Many might not have been aware of the cuts, the eliminations, or the original contributions. But everyone had a good time!
© meche kroop
Friday, May 28, 2021
We would go to the ends of the earth to hear one of our favorite sopranos interpret the role of our favorite female character. Fortunately we only had to go to 112th St. to hear Shaina Martinez show us more about Violette Valery than we had ever realized. Aside from a stunning voice, it is just this sort of insight that keeps us involved and makes us want to hear the same opera repeatedly. It's all in Verdi's music, of course, but most singers fail to delve deeply enough into the role and surrender to stereotypes.
Let us begin by thanking The Lighthouse Opera Company for this live performance of Verdi's masterpiece La Traviata. We can think of no other opera that has such a profound effect. It is the clearly drawn and complex characters of Francesco Maria Piave's libretto (adapted from Alexander Dumas' La dâme aux camellias) and their growth from one act to the next that captivates us.
In Act I, Violetta is a brittle and shallow "party girl", burning the candle at both ends. In Act II, she is a woman who has surrendered to love and softened. She is struck down by some pretty bad news delivered by her lover's father, allowing the provincial papa to see her true feelings but bravely hiding them from her lover.
In Act III, she is a pathetic and desperate dying woman, longing for the support that may never come. Although we were not given an excerpt from Act I (the restrictions of the staging could not have allowed it) Ms. Martinez limned her characters growth in Act II and her fading hopes of Act III.
And here comes the part that was new to us, an aspect that the artist conveyed by the most subtle but effective coloration. Violetta is not just making a sacrifice to help her lover's sister achieve a respectable marriage; she is actually identifying with this pure young woman who has led a respectable life, is accepted by society, and enjoys protection by her devoted father. One could see in the artist's facial expression and hear in her voice how her nobility of character and identification with the other more fortunate woman made this sacrifice possible.
Not only did we thrill to Ms. Martinez' vocal artistry but we were captivated by the depth of her characterization. Who of us has not felt a combination of admiration, identification, and envy of those whose fortunes are far more sanguine than our own.
The vocal artistry was so perfect that it served the character without calling undue attention to itself. This is what we love to see in an opera performance. We think that those who focus on the high notes or other technical aspects are missing the boat. The thrill of opera is in the drama! Do we believe it? Can we identify? Are we moved? Yes, yes, and yes.
The other performances were excellent. Tenor Michael Celentano did a fine job as Alfredo. His "De' miei bollenti spiriti" was as ardent as one would wish and we were pleased to note Mr. Celentano's growth as an artist since we heard him the last time.
Baritone Joseph Gansert was an effective Giorgio Germont, demonstrating all the smugness of a provincial ready to read the riot act to the unacceptable paramour of his wayward son. How effectively he rose to a position of empathy as he realized Violetta's quality! This set the stage for Act III when he comes to her deathbed with respect and affection.
The duet with Violetta "Pura siccome un Angelo" was finely rendered and his pleading with his son "Di Provenza mar e suol" revealed him to be well meaning but manipulative.
Violetta's companion Annina was performed by Ema Mitrovic and the role of Dr. Grenvil was taken by Charles Carter. Matteo Adams portrayed the messenger Giuseppe. These are small roles but were well done.
Conductor and pianist Stephen Francis Vasta stood in for the orchestra and managed to convey the textures of the music as well as a solo piano could. Director John Tedeschi did the best he could within the confines of a tiny stage in a lovely church. All he had to deal with was a couple of chairs and a lectern that stood in the way. Singers were obliged to keep their six feet of distance with exchange of letters merely suggested.
These are indeed strange times for opera and The Lighthouse Opera Company did their best. Exceptional voices and acting can make up for a lot of "lacks". The imagination of the viewer must compensate and what our mind's eye produced was definitely not the "Dr. Death and Big Clock" symbolism of the latest Metropolitan Opera iteration but rather scenes pulled from our memory of more traditional and effective productions.
© meche kroop
Monday, May 24, 2021
Our voce has been silent for these past 15 months due to- you know-Covid. We actually had forgotten how to access our blog and required assistance from Google! To celebrate the return of live music we have chosen a new typeface which we hope will be as easy on the eyes as Saturday night's concert was easy on the ears.
Eurasia Foundation's Aza Sydykov found a lovely and comfortable venue with adequate spacing between chairs and was wise enough to start the new "live season" with the magnificent mezzo-soprano Linda Collazo who, incidentally, has been singing for us at our musicales, garnering wild applause and many new fans from among the guests.
Saturday's recital focused on arias and songs by strong women and about powerful women in all their glory, among whom we count Ms. Collazo who is advancing her career with great care and dedication. A friend of ours, not easily impressed, who always compares young talent to the greats of ages long gone, was similarly dazzled by this gifted young artist. There is an admirable evenness of tone throughout her range, which is a wide one. All of our chakras were vibrating in turn.
Her Carmen brought new roundness to the character that had us visualizing each scene in our mind's eye. Collaborative pianist (and expert on Spanish music) Pablo Zinger let loose with his own jazzy accompaniment to the second verse of the Habanera, a work that we would have enjoyed more as a solo, the better to focus on its inventiveness. Ms. Collazo's seductive Seguidilla was no less exciting. No Don Jose could have resisted!
Bizet is surely not the only composer limning the characters of powerful women. Rossini loved not only mezzo-sopranos but also strong female characters like Isabella in L'Italiana in Algeri. "Cruda sorte" bemoans the character's unhappy fate as she has been shipwrecked, separated from her lover, and threatened with being in a harem. Just listening to the artist's interpretation, you would realize that Isabella is not going to accept her fate and that she would triumph in the end. The contrast between the aria and the cabaletta was stunning and such a show of vocal fireworks!
The same could be said for "Una voce poco fa" from the master's Il barbiere di Siviglia. Ms. Collazo's skills with fioritura were matched by the vivacity of her acting. This was one spunky Rosina who would be sure to get her way. Those of you who love zarzuela as much as we do would have been as enchanted as we were by the lively presto of "Carceleras" from Las hijas de Zebedeo. Oh how we would love to see onstage the entire work, of which this is the hit song.
Is there anyone out there unfamiliar with the songs of the early 20th c. composer Maria Greve? Of course you have heard "Jurame" and "Te quiero dijiste" before but probably not as stirringly sung as by Ms. Collazo, who is just as adept at romantic ballads as she is with vocal fireworks.
"Bésame mucho" is another familiar Mexican song, this one by a young 20th c. composer named Consuelo Velásquez. There is so much wonderful music coming out of Mexico that we wondered what they put in their tortillas.
Not to shortchange North American composers, the program was rounded out by "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man of Mine" from Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's Showboat, the United States' first serious musical. What brought that under the umbrella of powerful women is that it was adapted from a novel by Edna Ferber.
The evening was narrated by Mr. Zinger who is a fount of information about Spanish music, providing anecdotes about the works and the composers. This added a great deal to the evening, especially if you love learning new things as much as we do.
The recital ended far too soon. We had been starved for live music and this was like an exquisite "amuse bouche" whetting our appetite for more. Shall we call it an "amuse oreille"?
© meche kroop