MISSION

We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Friday, January 18, 2019

NYFOS AT JUILLIARD

Shakèd Bar, Jack Kay, Jaylyn Simmons, William Socolof, Anneliese Klenetsky, Chance Jonas-O'Toole, and Gregory Feldmann in Kurt Weill's Berlin

Beloved pianist, raconteur, teacher, and song-miner Steven Blier has a special relationship with students of the Juilliard Vocal Arts Department. Every year his New York Festival of Song presents a special evening at Juilliard starring a group of gifted students, both graduate students and undergraduates. We love to hear students of opera stretch their artistry in new directions; under Maestro Blier's tutelage we hear them shine in new ways. The study of cabaret involves the use of gesture and body movement that can only enhance their operatic performance.

We love Mary Birnbaum's stage direction in everything she does and are thrilled to learn that she will be directing La Bohême in Santa Fe this summer and cannot wait to see what she will bring to one of our favorite operas. For last night's exploration of German cabaret music, she made sure that every movement and gesture was on point.

Still, the success of such an undertaking rests upon the performances themselves and these seven young artists gave their all.  There was never a moment in which we did not experience total commitment to the material and total connection with the audience. The enthusiastic applause was well deserved.

There are so many parallels between our time and Germany in the 20's and 30's that it is frightening. The lyrics written during the Weimar Republic dealt with social and political instability, great gaps between social classes, sexual shifts, and anti-war sentiment. Of course, most artists lean toward the left and we heard a great deal of satire of the ruling class.

Offerings spanned musical theater, operetta, satirical songs, and racy kabarett. The original German was often sung for the opening verse with English translation brought in for subsequent verses. We far preferred listening to the crisp sound of German, so well coached by Marianne Barrett. There was nothing terrible about the English translations but the rhymes were less pungent, less striking to the ear. 

The program notes were extensive and well worth reading. The program also included the lyrics but some of the sense was lost in the translation and one never wants to be reading along instead of paying attention to the performer. We would have preferred to hear the program in German with titles projected above. 

We do acknowledge that even a fluent German speaker might have missed a number of references that an audience contemporaneous with the original performances would have grasped. Perhaps there is no perfect solution to the presentation of material from another century and in another language.

Consequently, it was up to the singers to convey the meaning of the songs and at this, they excelled.  Tenor Chance Jonas-O'Toole with his sweet sound and William Socolof with his rich bass-baritone got the evening off to a fine start with Kurt Weill's "Berlin im Licht", accompanied by Mr. Blier's piano and Jack Gulielmetti's banjo.

Frederick Hollander's "Wenn der alte Motor wieder tackt" was brought to life by Ms. Birnbaum's clever staging and the performances of mezzo-soprano Shakèd Bar and Gregory Feldmann's resonant baritone.

Although written somewhat later (1956), we could really identify with Olaf Bienert's ballad of disconnection "Augen in der Großstadt", given a heartfelt delivery by baritone Jack Kay. We suppose that even prior to cell phones, big city folk suffered from missed connection by virtue of other distractions.

Soprano Anneliese Klenetsky created a humorous portrait of a woman fighting off unwelcome suitors in Hollander's "Tritt mir bloß nicht auf die Schuh". She was joined by all four men in the ensemble who imitated her gestures to hilarious effect.

Songs of sexual politics were particularly resonant and Ms. Bar's performance of Kurt Tucholsky's "Sleepless Lady" stuck in our mind. What woman has not resented a man falling asleep while she lies in bed with insomnia! The message was "Don't sleep in company".  Well, it sounded better in German!

Ms. Bar, Ms. Klenetsky, and soprano Jaylyn Simmons formed a terrific trio for Bienert's "That", a very cute illustration of the timelessness of male focus on sex. We loved the line "It's just that we're fond of some kind of bond, along with That".

Anyone who has regretted discarding a lover could identify with Rudolf Nelson's "Peter, Peter", a ballad beautifully rendered by Mr. Socolof.

Much fun was had at the expense of the greedy financial world in "The Lottery Agent's Tango", performed with accurate irony by Mr. Jonas-O'Toole from Kurt Weill's last work in German--Der Silbersee, written before he fled Germany and banned by the Nazis. Whilst hearing Mr. Feldmann's excellent performance of "Caesar's Death", we could understand why it was banned! Of all the works we heard it seemed most typical of the collaboration between Weill and Bertold Brecht.

Their prior Happy End included a song of gentrification which also resonated with contemporary times--"Bilbao Song". We liked Mr. Blier's honky-tonk piano accompaniment and Mr. Gulielmetti's guitar.

Ms. Simmons was superb in Bienert's "Song of Indifference" which reminded us of our present tendency to "fiddle while Rome burns". "And my purse is slowly swinging" made a good equivalent.

Although Mr. Blier's customary fascinating narration was hampered by some rather poor amplification, we were able to understand a very important point he made about the song "Wie lange noch", sung by Ms. Bar.  This was commissioned during World War II by the Voice of America to be broadcast behind enemy lines. We always thought it was about a romantic betrayal but Mr. Blier pointed out that it was about Hitler betraying the German folk.

One of the best anti-war songs we've ever heard was Eisler's "Der Graben" which really sticks it to the military-industrial complex. Will times never change! Mr. Feldmann gave it a moving interpretation.

The bitter "Denn wie man sich bettet, so liegt man" (from Weill's The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny) closed the program with the entire ensemble joining in. We were glad there was an encore--Eisler's "Peace Song".

There is not room to describe all the performances but we hope we have given you the flavor of the evening--a bit sour, a bit bitter, a bit salty. We were missing something sweet so we came home and had a cookie.

(c) meche kroop



















Sunday, January 13, 2019

MENOTTI'S RELEVANCE

Cast and Production Team for Gian Carlo Menotti's The Consul presented by Bronx Opera

Bronx Opera has been delighting New York audiences for over 50 years. Distance has prevented us from reviewing their productions with any great regularity.  Add to that the fact that they perform everything in English, a language which we do not enjoy hearing sung. We loathe translations and cannot name many operas composed in English for which we can drum up any enthusiasm.

However, we have enjoyed Gian Carlo Menotti's The Medium (with Caroline Nye in the starring role) and decided to take a chance on The Consul, and we are happy we did so. This is a very sad opera, and the saddest part of all is that the totalitarian governments and the consequent refugee situations still exist seven decades after Menotti selected this topic and wrote his own libretto. If only art could promote political change!

It doesn't matter which decade was chosen. Here, Director Rod Gomez chose to set the work in the 1980's.  It could have been today. The direction was excellent and the piece worked well as theater. Meganne George dressed the cast in drab attire and created a bare set out of scaffolding towers which held a door, a window, and....an oven.  If you see a gun in Act I, you are waiting for someone to get shot. When you see an oven...well, we are not going to tell you about baking bread!

The scenes alternate between the poor apartment of the Sorel's in a nameless totalitarian country, and a consulate which will remind audience members of any government agency they have visited in which there are endless forms to be filled out and passive-aggressive people in charge.

Mrs. Sorel's husband is involved in some kind of anti-government resistance and is on the run from the secret police who hound poor Mrs. Sorel into a state of misery. In this role we have the splendid soprano Mary-Hollis Hundley whose fine work we have reviewed on many occasions. We mostly recall her dignified and elegant creation of the Countess Almaviva at the Santa Fe Opera, and some lovely Russian singing at the George London Competition.

Last night will, we hope, be a breakout performance for her. She created a highly sympathetic character with whom it was easy to identify and the enthusiastic applause she received at the end let us know that others shared our opinion. Menotti, like most 20th c. composers, does not give the singers much to work with in terms of melody, and English can never show off the voice the way Italian does; still we were happy with what we heard.

As her mother-in-law, mezzo-soprano Caroline Tye was similarly affecting, especially when singing to the baby in the cradle. Ms. Tye is another artist we have reviewed and enjoyed upon many occasions. We lost count of how many performances she graced at Utopia Opera but our associations ran to another Menotti opera produced by New Camerata Opera in which she took the starring role in the aforementioned The Medium--a performance which encouraged us to attend last night.

Cara Search, who is new to us, had the role of the consul's secretary, the one demanding increasing numbers of forms to be filled out. Chuckles in the audience told us how many of us have had similar experiences with government bureaucracies. It was another fine performance.

Jeremy Moore did well as Mr. Sorel, appearing in the first act and again at the end. We recall his fine performance as Eugene Onegin for Utopia Opera. Joseph Gansert made a scary secret police agent.

Every tragedy needs some comic relief which was provided by Daniel Foltz-Morrison in the role of the magician/hypnotist Nika Magadoff who entertained the group of supplicants in the consul's office.  His appearance in the final scene was of a different nature but dramatically valid.

Baritone Conrad Schmechel portrayed John Sorel's friend Assan. We have only seen him previously in roles that allowed him to express his personality--we believe it was Papageno one time and El Dancairo another time.

The group waiting for visas comprised Ben Hoyer as Mr. Kofner, Leslie Swanson as a "foreign woman", Francesca Federico as Anna Gomez, and Amy Maude Helfer as Vera Boronel.

The same cast will perform next Saturday night and we recommend them highly. We took a look at the cast for the Sunday matinee performances and recognize some major talents there as well.  In either case you won't be disappointed.

Under the baton of Eric Kramer, the Bronx Opera Orchestra performed Menotti's music as finely as one would wish. We particularly enjoyed the wind section and paid particular attention to the oboe line, so beautifully played by Jacob Slattery. In Act II, he played the English Horn, the sound of which was (LOL) music to our ears. We sat close to the percussionist, Barbara Allen, who was on an elevated platform, and enjoyed that equally.

It seemed to us that Menotti's music was most lyrical during the interludes when no one was singing. We found that strange. We also found it peculiar that the tragic finale was accompanied by grandly heroic music. Was that meant to be ironic? If you, dear reader, can contribute something to our understanding of 20th c. music, please comment below.

(c) meche kroop



Saturday, January 12, 2019

VERY VERY VERDI

Anna Viemeister, Manya Steinkoler, Francisco Miranda, Julianna Milin, Katrin Bulke, Lindell Carter, and Hyung Joo Eom


It isn't every day that we get to hear Verdi arias. Thanks to Vocal Productions NYC and Father Graeme Napier, who warmly welcomed us opera lovers to the gorgeous space of St. John's in the Village, we are replete.  As a matter of fact we have been humming Verdi's memorable tunes all night.

Il Trovatore is a most difficult opera with a near-inscrutable plot and some treacherous pitfalls in the vocal lines. How brave of VPNYC's group of singers to tackle it! If their success was not total we can certainly understand. 

Soprano Julianna Milin did well in lending expressiveness to Leonora's aria of anticipation "Tacea la notte...Di tale amor". We liked the overtones of her voice resounding through the church and the pace of the cabaletta. A little work on the trill should put the finishing touch on her performance.

Mezzo-soprano Anna Viemeister sang "Stride la vampa" and her stylish appearance worked against her.  We were trying to picture her in an ugly wig and makeup but failed. Our biggest complaint was that the notes in the lower register were not in line with the rest of the voice but sounded as if they came from someone else. 

She performed the duet "Non son tuo figlio...Mal reggendo all'aspro" with tenor Lindell Carter. Mr. Carter has improved dramatically since the last time we heard him sing, with much less distracting mugging. But we didn't feel him connecting with the character of Manrico nor was there any mother-son chemistry between the two of them. We would like to see Mr. Carter loosen up onstage since his gestures seem stilted.

Baritone Hyung Joo Eom has a pleasing instrument that is most pleasing at the lower end of the register. He performed "Il balen del suo sorriso" with a nice reduction of volume as the aria itself began. We would like to have heard even more dynamic variety; this was true for every performance in the Il Trovatore part of the program, which mostly suffered from sameness.

Watching a singer trying to emote while turning pages on a music stand gives us no pleasure whatsoever so we decided to withhold judgment of soprano Manya Steinkoler's abilities for later in the evening. Yes, we know "D'amor sull'ali rosee...Miserere...Tu vendrai" is a helluva challenge and, as we understand, this was Ms. Steinkoler's performing debut.

We were glad we waited because we truly enjoyed Lady Macbeth's aria "Una macchia e qui tuttora" which Ms. Steinkoler performed off the book and without glasses, permitting a far better connection with the audience. We liked her Italian, the legato, and the dynamic variety which we so missed in the first half of the program.

We also got another opportunity to hear Ms. Viemeister who put impressive dramatic intensity into Lady Macbeth's "Vieni t'affretta", following Verdi's interesting chord progression played by accompanist Francisco Miranda. We also liked the dramatic commitment in "O don fatale...O mia Regina" from Don Carlo. But we still felt uncomfortable with the disconnection of the low notes from the rest of the vocal register.

Her performance of "Dido's Lament" from the Purcell opera was filled with feeling and performed with crisp English diction, a skill we never take for granted.  We understood every word.

We also enjoyed Mr. Carter's delivery of "Dio, mi potevi" from Verdi's Otello, in which the tenor seemed to connect more with the character in a convincing manner.  He seemed to know what he was singing about, exactly what was lacking in the duet from Il Trovatore. Perhaps he likes being a powerful general more than being a bandit!

He was even better in Mac Duff's aria from Macbeth . "Ah la paterna mano" in which his vibrato served to underscore the character's grief.

He also performed a duet with Mr. Eom "Dio che nell'alma infondere" from Verdi's Don Carlo, which our narrator (substituting for titles) called a "bromance". The presence of the detestable music stand prevented their connecting but the voices did harmonize nicely.

Soprano Katrin Bulke did not tackle any Verdi and we were glad of it. She seems to know what her voice is suited for and gave a lovely performance of "Regnava nel silenzio" from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, a performance invested with lovely legato, flexibility in the fioritura, and dynamic variety. We would like to see a bit more fragility in the character, to foreshadow her decompensation later in this tragic tale.

We loved the bit of "fluff" she brought in, both singing and dancing in the delightful "Heia Heia in den Bergen" from Imre Kalman's Die Csárdásfürstin. We are always ready for some Hungarian fun!

Watch Vocal Productions NYC's Facebook page for some upcoming concerts which you are sure to enjoy.

(c) meche kroop






Wednesday, January 2, 2019

GIVING BACK

Ziwen Xiang, Gloria Kim (accompanist), Hong Kyung Kim, Olga Makarina,  Dina El, Quan Chen,  Daphne Mamoulides, Ephigenia Kastanas, Bin Shang



We love opera singers!  One of the qualities we love the most is their tendency to "pay it forward".  So many of our favorite singers are incredibly generous with their time and effort. By no means is this list complete, but Martina Arroyo comes to mind, and Joyce DiDonato, and Lauren Flanigan.  

Now the beloved soprano Olga Makarina has established Grand Stage International with a mission of establishing a community of young singers. Coachings, performance opportunities, mentoring and guidance will all play a part as young singers get a a chance to try out new material in front of an audience. YOU are invited to become part of this audience and we guarantee a fine listening experience.

Sunday was the initial offering and it just so happened to be Ms. Makarina's birthday, as well as that of one of the cast members. We enjoyed ourself so much it might as well have been a birthday gift for us!

We remembered soprano EphiGenia Kastanas from International Vocal Arts Institute and were very happy to hear her sing once more. We liked the pleading "Signore ascolta" from Puccini's Turandot and we loved "Telephone" by Menotti, due to Ms. Kastanas expressive face and voice which clearly demonstrated reactions to what she was hearing on the telephone.

Soprano Quan Chen charmed us with "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" from Puccini's La Rondine. She also performed the passionate "Zueignung" by Richard Strauss.

Mezzo-soprano Dina El performed an aria unknown to us--"Magdalena's Aria" from Wilhelm Kienzl's Der Evangelimann. We thought she could do a lot more with the "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen but there was a good basis from which to expand, incorporating more of Carmen's personality and intention.

Hong Kyung Kim's innocent appearance worked to her advantage in "Depuis le jour" from Charpentier's Louise. She was lovely in the Act I duet from Puccini's La Bohême (which we have reviewed twice since this recital) with tenor Ziwen Xiang as her Rodolfo.

Mr. Xiang also sang "Ideale" by Tosti; well done and needing only a touch more "garlic".

Baritone Bin Shang gave a muscular performance of "Come dal ciel precipita" from Verdi's Macbeth. Banco is warning his son about the evil doings surrounding Duncan's death and Mr. Shang captured the doom.

Soprano Daphne Mamoulides performed Juliet's aria "Je veux vivre" from the Gounod opera and "Ach ich fuhl's" from Mozart's Zauberflöte.

It was a wonderful recital with everyone singing well with plenty of commitment. We are looking forward to the next recital and hope you will allow these young singers to entertain you.

(c) meche kroop

AMORE AND MORE AMORE

Thomas Massey as Rodolfo and Michelle Pretto as Mimi in Amore Opera's La Bohème

We enjoyed Amore Opera's La Bohème so much that we returned for the New Year's Eve Gala, eager to see how the work held up with a different cast. Although vocal artistry is the most important aspect, it certainly doesn't hurt to have a Rodolfo who looks like a young poet. 

Tenor Thomas Massey convincingly portrayed youthful high spirits in Act I, a lovesick poet in Act II, a troubled young man in Act III (breaking up is hard to do) and an anguished sufferer in Act IV. With superlative vocalism and Italianate phrasing, his performance added a great deal to the evening. The one downside to such perfect casting is that his three fellow bohemians seemed to come from a different generation.

As his Mimi, Michelle Pretto's generous soprano and winsome presence made her a fine romantic partner. Elisabeth Slaten did well as the flirtatious Musetta.

Marcello was sung by Gustavo Morales and Brian J. Alvarado made a fine Schaunard. As was the case the prior night, the "Vecchia zimarra" of Colline (Brinson Keeley) did not register the symbolic pathos that we wanted to hear.

Rick Agster made a very funny Benoît and Parpignol was portrayed by Federico Campisano in Santa Claus attire. David Owen made a fine Alcindoro. The passive-agressive customs officials were played by Thomas Geib and Peter Nasonov.

Maestro Scott Jackson Wiley continued his efforts to pull together a somewhat ragged orchestra which suffered from intonation problems and also problems of balance. There was one part which we particularly enjoyed--the beginning of Act III when the lovely sound of the harp (Sonia Bize) played off the delicate percussion. We have never before focused so intently on Act III and again found it truly the turning point for these young bohemians.

It was a most enjoyable evening with dinner served between acts. The audience was having a marvelous time and most audience member elected to remain after the midnight champagne toast for a very special concert.

Cast members and choristers had the opportunity to perform solos and ensembles. Of course we had "Libiamo" from Verdi's La Traviata. After all, it was New Year's Eve and we all needed a good drinking song. The "Champagne Song" from Johan Strauss III's Die Fledermaus added more fuel to the alcoholic fire. The "Czardas" from the same operetta was similarly well performed by Kristina Malinauskaite.

A major highlight was hearing Nathan Hull (President and Stage Director) sing the "Mikado's Aria" from the eponymous Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. Mr. Hull, as we know from his writing for Scrooge, has a real feel for G&S, as do we. His delivery was a source of not-so-innocent merriment.

We enjoyed Elisabeth Slaten's delivery of "Vilja" from Franz Lehár's Die Lustige Witwe and Lindsey Marie Wells' sang the "Italian Street Song" from Victor Herbert's Naughty Marietta, reminding us to check in with Victor Herbert Renaisssance Project Live for their next offering.

Allegra Durante sang "Prendi" from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore. We also had some vocal fireworks from Elizabeth Treat who treated us to some of the Queen of the Night's rage, with some excellent work in the coloratura passages. 

We heard a duet from Verdi's Forza del Destino performed by Michael Celentano and Gustavo Morales, who also sang Agustín Lara's "Granada". Mr. Morales' son Mario sang "Lonely Town" from Bernstein's On the Town. Mr. Celentano's solo piece was "Dein ist mein ganzes herz" from Lehár's Das Land des Lächelns.

Jay Stephenson tackled "Ja vas liubliu" from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame and also a song from Les Miserables by Claude-Michel Schonberg.  "Warm as the Autumn Light" from Douglas Moore's Ballad of Baby Doe was sung by Alan Smullen. From Rodgers & Hammerstein's  The King and I  "My Lord and Master" was sung by Kazue Kazami Kiyono.

The singing went on and on until your intrepid reviewer was "the last one standing"--well actually sitting! Of the Seven Deadly Sins, we own up to Gluttony but the opera/operetta/musical theater banquet was lavish and we wanted to taste it all.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, December 31, 2018

AMORE MEANS LOVE

Act II of La Boheme at Riverside Theater


Our first exposure to Amore Opera was three years ago when we saw their commendable production of Puccini's 1898 opera La Bohème. It is such a charming and intimate production that we wish that President Nathan Hull (who also directed the production with his customary singer-friendly touch) would make it an annual Xmas event, as we hope he will do with his recently reviewed Scrooge.

Mr. Hull changes the casting from one performance to the next but the singers are always fine. At last night's performance, one cast member was remembered from the performance we saw three years ago. The role of the painter Marcello was sung and enacted beautifully by baritone Robert Garner with soprano Cassandra Douglas wowing both the onstage "audience" at Café Momus and the audience at Riverside Theater with her over-the-top performance of an histrionic vain woman who also is the possessor of a generous heart.

As the doomed Mimi, soprano Rachel Hippert superbly conveyed a real young woman, not just a cliché. Amore regular José Heredia used his full-throated tenor to show us a Rodolfo who is love-struck in Act I and II, but in over his head by Act III and in denial in Act IV.

We are quite sure that everyone knows the story and there isn't much new to say. We perceive it as more than a tragic love story; it is also a story of "adulting", part of which is facing reality. 

Four feckless young men share a garret in Paris, eking out a barely sustainable living but still full of high spirits and horseplay. We love the scene in which they "prank" their landlord and the way they attack Schaunard's bountiful Xmas basket with no interest in the amazing story of how he earned the funds to supply it.

Rodolfo is very human and acts like many people do when they face a situation with which they cannot cope; they blame someone else. He cannot face the fact that Mimi is dying and he cannot keep her warm or restore her health so he invents petty jealousies. Marcello, who cannot keep his own love life straight, is the one everyone turns to for advice. Before he knows the entire story, he counsels Mimi to separate. The fact that Mr. Garner is somewhat older than the other "bohemians" lends verisimilitude to his position as advisor.

Mimi has also been in denial about her illness until she overhears Rodolfo being forced by Marcello to reveal the reason for his bad behavior toward her. Now that the facts are on the table, Mimi and Rodolfo decide to stay together until Spring.

Because of the episodic nature of the libretto (by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa) we do not know what happened between Acts III and IV but Mimi is found wandering the streets in extreme physical distress and is brought to the garret by Musetta so she can die surrounded by beloved friends (accompanied by Puccini's most gorgeous music.)  It was difficult to stanch our tears.

We in the audience know that none of the survivors will ever be the same again.

Colline was sung by bass Virdell Williams who sounded fine throughout but failed to move us to tears with "Vecchia zimarra". Colline is not just saying goodbye to his overcoat but to his youth; we wanted more poignancy.

Schaunard was sung by Charles Gray whose tale of the poisoned parsley went by so unnoticed by his greedy flatmates.

Benoît was performed by bass Gennadiy Vysotskiy, whose humor was effective. If we are not mistaken, he performed Colline three years ago.

Rick Agster, whom we just enjoyed in Scrooge, was funny as Musetta's wealthy and much put-upon "patron".

Andrew Watt played the toy vendor Parpignol who captivated all the children like the Pied Piper.

We liked the directorial touch (by Mr. Hull and Iris Karlin, who portrayed Musetta three years ago) of having the customs officials (Thomas Geib and David Owen) behaving rather passive-aggressively at the city gates toward the waiting merchants and street sweepers.

Richard Cerullo's clever sets worked well with the stage of the Riverside Theater and Cynthia's Psoras' costumes were perfect. Gone were the awful wigs of three years ago!

We hear probably 360 performances a year and we have never witnessed a more enthusiastic audience. Even the Café Momus waitress (Nyah Williams) got lavish applause which she surely deserved for putting an individual spin on the role.

Directed by Susan Morton, the chorus was excellent. Maestro Scott Jackson Wiley did his best with a rather deficient orchestra, beginning the evening with intonation problems. As the evening progressed, he pulled them together but this is the only sub-par feature of a wonderful evening.

The final performance is tonight, New Year's Eve, and we plan to see it again with a different cast.  And so should you!

(c) meche kroop

Friday, December 28, 2018

SCROOGE

Joyful concluding scene from Nathan Hull's "Scrooge" at Riverside Theater

We think of creativity as the ability to take things that are known and to combine them in a new way to produce something novel. That concept can be applied accurately to the work of art created by Nathan Hull, Artistic Director of Amore Opera.

The multi-talented Mr. Hull has directed his own creation for the second of what will be an annual event, and directed it with his customary skill and inventiveness. We loved last year's production so much that we returned this year, bringing a friend who was new to Amore Opera and not (yet) particularly a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan. Sharing it with a friend who was absolutely enchanted gave us great pleasure. New York Village Light Opera presented it a decade ago and it has been performed around the country many times since then.

Judging by the quality of the work, Mr. Hull must have labored long and diligently, adapting Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" for the stage and curating over 20 songs from 11 operettas by Gilbert and Sullivan. The greatest part of the task would seem to have been writing the lyrics for Sullivan's music, retaining the wittiness, the meter, and the rhyme scheme established by Gilbert. Clearly the selections had to be chosen to fit the characters singing them and to advance the drama of the scene. We consider the work a complete success but Mr. Hull tells us he is still tweaking it.

The work opened with the fine chorus singing "Christmas Season"an adaptation of "Welcome, Gentry" from Ruddigore. This bustling joyful scene set the stage for Scrooge's negativity. The closing number was borrowed from The Gondoliers-- "Now Let the Loyal Lieges" and utilized Gilbert's own lyrics.

In between we enjoyed some excellent voices illuminating the dramatic arc of the enlightenment of a very unpleasant man, the selfish and miserly Scrooge, effectively enacted by Ray Calderon. Who doesn't enjoy seeing the transformation of the wicked into the lovable!

The transformation is effected by the ghost of Scrooge's deceased partner Jacob Morley (scarily portrayed by Jay Stephenson). He introduces Scrooge to three spirits who guide him through this transformation.

The Ghost of Christmas Past was portrayed by Alexa Rosenberg, a wraith in a white gown who danced gracefully through her role. The Ghost of Christmas Present was superbly sung by Alexis Cregger whose "Come in and Know Me Better" was a fine iteration of  "Pirate King" from The Pirates of Penzance. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was performed by Kristina Malinauskaite, unrecognizable in a scary long black gown. (She was perfectly recognizable as one of the "charity ladies").

There was so much delight in the evening that it is difficult to pick out special moments but we will make an effort. There was a lovely duet between the young Ebenezer (tenor Ramon Gabriel Tenefrancia) and Belle Fezziwig (soprano Laura Soto-Bayomi), the woman he lost because of his materialism. There was a sprightly dance by Fezziwig, Tom, Dick, and Harry (Thomas Geib, Patrick Valdes-Dapena, Sean Biopcik, and Brett Murphy) trying to loosen up young Ebenezer--"Soon as We May" adapted from Iolanthe's  "If You Go In".

The Cratchit children sang "We Won't Eat Just Any Old Thing" adapted from  "The Flowers That Bloom in the Spring" from The Mikado; note the scanning similarities!  The young Leo Kogan made a most appealing Tiny Tim and sang "Were I to Walk" adapted from "Were I Thy Bride" from The Yeomen of the Guard.

Do you remember the very funny "A Paradox" from The Pirates of Penzance? Here it was sung by Scrooge's nephew Fred (Michael Celentano), his wife Celeste (Christa Dalmazio) and their dinner guests Julia (Sarah Adams) and Topper (James Stephen Longo). The four had terrific chemistry together.

Do you remember "Things are Seldom What They Seem" from H.M.S. Pinafore? Here it was sung by a cockney-accented pair (Evelyn Thatcher and Richard Agster) trading old Scrooge's belongings after his (future) death. They provided excellent comic relief.

Brendon Gallagher made a sympathetic Bob Cratchit with Perri Sussman doing her usual fine work as his wife and mother of their six children.

This might be a good time to mention how successful Mr. Hull is at getting children onstage in every production and to also mention that he is auditioning children for an all-children production of Iolanthe.

Aside from the fine direction, we enjoyed the effective sets which were provided by The Village Light Opera, and based upon David Jones' original design. Cynthia Psoras designed the excellent period costumes.

One very important addition for this 2018 version was the addition of surtitles so not one of Mr. Hull's clever words were lost.

We do, however, have one quibble. The orchestra, under the baton of Elizabeth Hastings, was occasionally faulty in their tuning. We noticed this predominantly in the overture but as soon as the excellent singing began we were able to overlook the problem.

There are three more performances and it is not to be missed!

(c) meche kroop