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.

Saturday, September 23, 2023



Chrystal E. Williams and Bernard Holcomb

(Photo by Fadi Kheir, courtesy of Brookfield Properties)

Something special happens when an artistic creation hits all the right notes. At its conclusion we feel satisfied; we may be smiling or we may be tearful, but we have been moved as well as entertained. We want to share the experience with our friends. Sometimes we may be stimulated to learn more about a subject or a time period. Sometimes we go back to the source, be it a play, a novel, or an epic poem.

Such is the case with the charming one-act opera we saw Thursday night, Song of the Nightingale presented by the always wonderful On Site Opera in partnership with Brookfield Properties. We hope you will read this review and reserve a place  next weekend downtown at Brookfield Place. Tickets are free and we consider this a generous and priceless gift to the people of New York City.

First we would like to tell you about the performance and, if you stay with us, we will share with you a bit about the consequences of our attendance. The work is a rather loose adaptation of a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale in which a Chinese emperor hears of a nightingale with a remarkable voice which he manages to get installed in his porcelain palace. The nightingale is displeased with the confinement and escapes. The Japanese emperor sends a mechanical bird which eventually wears out. The emperor is dying and the nightingale returns and sings Death away and sings the emperor back to health. She agrees to keep him informed of what is going on as long as she has her freedom.

Having read the "Spark Notes" and also the original story, we conclude that the moral of the tale is that one cannot confine what is beautiful and meaningful; grasping is destructive and freedom is best. There are other themes, of course, and most notable is the healing property of good music. Another is that true inner beauty may hide beneath external drabness.

In this case, the "good music' was provided by composer Lisa Despain who has dispelled my grumblings about contemporary music with a lively score notable for being melodic and accessible.  Melisa Tien's clever libretto has taken Anderson's folk tale and adapted it to suit modern times. (Unlike current "adaptations" of classic works that make no logical sense, her libretto makes perfect sense).  A wealthy collector, sung by Chrystal E. Williams, substitutes for the Chinese emperor, and, as effectively directed by Katherine M. Carter, demonstrates the obsessive qualities of a person who must possess what she craves.

Substituting for the Emperor's minion we have The Curator, sung by Bernard Holcomb, who is responsible for The Collector's acquisitions.

As The Nightingale, we heard the gorgeous coloratura of Hannah Cho whose fabulous fioritura could bring tears to anyone's eyes, just like in the Anderson fairy tale.

As the mechanical nightingale we heard the lovely voice of Nicole Haslett who furthered the subsidiary theme that what is fancy and artificial can never replace what is natural and pure. Ms. Haslett also portrayed the part of the Frog who interacts with Nightingale, along with Cow, portrayed with good humor by Jonathan R. Green.  

All of the performances were exceptional and were well supported by the chamber orchestra, comprising flute, clarinet, violin and cello, conducted by Cris Frisco. Orchestration was accomplished by Scott Ethier.  The inventive costumes were designed by Kara Harmon. Although we are no fan of amplification we admit that Beth Lake's sound design was effective and did not distort the sound of the voices. 

Although everything worked just fine in the public space of Manhattan West, we would love to see it again in a proscenium situation with subtitles. Performances  in the round carry their own drawbacks with performers often facing away from you. And looking at one's phone to read titles takes attention away from the stage. In spite of these minor inconveniences, the performance amounted to a most well spent hour that flew by. We were particularly delighted to witness such enthusiasm from the audience and by the feel-good conclusion of the work in which all the characters unite in celebration of freedom and nature.

We were inspired to come home and read the original story, the language of which is a bit archaic but possesses a wealth of captivating detail about the life of the emperor and also about his near-death experience. None of the summaries achieved the same satisfaction.

Next we recalled an operatic experience at the Santa Fe Opera in 2014 in which Stravinsky's take on the tale, Le Rossignol, was paired with Mozart's one-act opera The Impressario. The concept was a clever one in which the singers from the Mozart opera performed the Stravinsky piece after an intermission. Our review (still available, if you are interested, by typing the name in the search bar) indicates a not totally successful pairing but some dazzling singing by Erin Morley in the title role. Stravinsky's opera hewed rather closely to the Anderson fairly tale.

 Next we started thinking about the word itself and how often it comes up in liederwe now know the word for nightingale in many languages and it is always a beautiful word. It is used to symbolize the beauty and power of music.

Then we began to think about the role of birds in music. We will never forget the voice of Dawn Upshaw as the Forest Bird in Wagner's Siegfried. And how about Rimsky-Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel, which we heard at Santa Fe Opera in 2017. The bird warns the Czar of upcoming dangers.

By now, Dear Reader, you may have realized that we are just as obsessive as The Collector in Song of the Nightingale. We love to collect ideas, not things. We hope that you will snag a seat for this lovely work and that it leads to some searching on your part as well.

© meche kroop

Sunday, August 27, 2023


 Dura Jun and Georgina Wu

What a satisfying recital we heard last night at the Bruno Walter Auditorium of Lincoln Center! What makes a recital so satisfying? It isn't just a beautiful voice; it isn't just fine technique; it isn't just a sensitive collaborative pianist; it isn't just a variety of languages and periods; it isn't just rapport with the audience.  It is all of the above added together in a rich stew of musical delights.

Georgina Wu is a fine mezzo-soprano and Dura Jun is an equally fine collaborative pianist; the pair showed evidence of pre-program planning and true collaboration to capture the essence of each aria. Consummate versatility was demonstrated by the inclusion of German, French, Italian, and English. Musical periods ranged from early 18th c. to 21st c. with the fortunate inclusion of bel canto, our favorite period. The program was well curated to show off Ms. 
Wu's unique gifts.

The opening was a strong one--"Wie du warst" from Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier-- with Ms. Wu capturing all of the juvenile passion of  the love-besotted and lusty young Count Rofrano--sung in excellent German. 

Next we enjoyed hearing a thrilling bel canto aria, the opening aria of Donizetti's Roberto Devereux in which Sara, Duchess of Nottingham, tries to hide her sorrow over her adulterous love for the title character.

Poor Charlotte is also suffering from an adulterous love in Jules Massenet's Werther but in "Va! Laisse couler mes larmes" she is releasing all the sorrow that Sara had to hide from the court in the aforementioned "All'afflitto è dolce il pianto".

What a contrast with Dorabella's fiery "Smanie implacabili" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte. What Ms. Wu succeeded in getting across is the histrionics of a young woman who is taking herself very seriously. The wild vocal line did not daunt Ms. Wu!

We know very little about the 21st c. work on the program--"Penelope" by Cecilia Livingston who is composer-in-residence at the Canadian Opera Company. It was far more appealing than the boring 21st c. art songs set to prosy texts.  In this song, Penelope's text is written (by the composer herself) in short phrases that successfully convey the emotions of the woman waiting for Ulysses from Homer's The Odyssey. We actually enjoyed the music, both piano and vocal line, and found the internal rhymes somewhat reminiscent of Sondheim's texts.

In "Ah! Michele don't you know" from Gian Carlo Menotti's The Saint of Bleeker Street, a "fallen woman" is begging her lover to acknowledge her and take her into a local wedding reception attended by neighbors who have scorned her. We enjoyed being introduced to a work we have never heard and hope that we will hear it soon. We were thinking of Santuzza's rejection back in the "old country".

"Come nube che fugge dal vento" from Händel's Agrippina gave Ms. Wu the opportunity to exhibit some vocal fireworks as Nerone decides to abandon love for politics. Turns and trills and leaps and scale passages were all finely executed.

Equally outstanding was "Près des remparts de Séville" from Bizet's Carmen which Ms. Wu sang with enticing seductiveness, toying with the clueless Don Jose.  We have heard this aria countless times but Ms. Wu made it new again with an unusual flair.

From seduction to spirituality? No challenge for Ms. Wu who shifted gears for the musically spare "The Desire for Hermitage" from Barber's Hermit Songs. What was unusual about her delivery was that she conveyed a kind of sensuality within asceticism.

Capping the program was another aria by Donizetti, this one the famous "O, mio Fernando" from La Favorita in which Leonora expresses her complex feeling toward the man she loves who has been ordered to marry her, unaware that she has been the King's mistress. That's a lot of feeling for the singer to pack into one aria but Ms. Wu succeeded as she did with everything else on the program.

We would have problems trying to curate such a fine program with so much variety. The next time a mezzo-soprano complains to us that there is nothing great written for them, we will show them this program!

© meche kroop

Thursday, August 24, 2023


 Antonina Ermolenko, Chris Fecteau, Boris Derow, Matt Mueller, and Jennifer Gliere

Helmed by Maestro Chris Fecteau and his lovely wife Karen Rich, the dell'Arte Opera Ensemble is well known for their training of young opera singers and crowd-pleasing operatic productions.  Last night, in the Harvard Club's magnificently appointed dining room, new ground was broken by means of a tribute to Ukraine.

Feelings for Ukraine run high in New York City and even our Russian friends want Zelensky to succeed. In the midst of such tragic bloodshed, there is a small glimmer of good; that is the recent fostering of interest in Ukrainian music, as several institutions have been presenting concerts highlighting music that we have never heard before--music that merits our attention and admiration.

Last night's concert paid attention to art songs by Reinhold Gliere, Yakiv Stepovyi, Sergei Bortkiewicz, Platon Mayboroda, Mykola Lysenko, Kyrylo Stetsenko, and Anatoliy Kos-Anatolsky. Please don't feel ignorant if these names are unknown to you; they were to us as well. It will take a greater exposure for us to learn to distinguish one from another, just as it took awhile for us to learn the differences between the Rossini sound and the Bellini sound.

That being said, there is much in common in terms of mode and mood. The sound is filled with what we call "Slavic Soul", an undercurrent of sadness not unlike Portuguese fado, but leavened with snippets of joy and pleasure. At times, one is reminded of Brahms' folk songs. 

Singers for the evening comprised sopranos Antonina Ermolenko and Jennifer Gliere (a descendant of the composer), tenor Boris Derow, and bass-baritone Matt Mueller. Accompanying the singers was Artistic Director of dell'Arte, Maestro Chris Fecteau himself who also gifted the audience with intermittent instrumental selections, our favorites of which were the soulful "Languor and Longing" and the more lighthearted "Impressions of a Joyful Day" from Lysenko's Album from the summer of 1902.

Regular readers know how highly we prize duets and we very much enjoyed the two sopranos joining voices for Gliere's "Summer". We wondered what it must feel like to sing works composed by one's ancestor! Ms. Gliere also impressed with "Sweetly Sang my Nightingale".  The stunning Antonina Ermolenko flew in from Toronto to help celebrate Ukarine Independence Day and impressed with her finely wrought soprano. This set pf songs by Reinhold Gliere was particularly lovely with Mr. Mueller audibly enjoying the low tessitura of "Before me the sea is sleeping".

Mr. Derow gave a moving performance of a pair of songs by Stepovyi--"Not All Sorrows Have Died" and "Thought Follows Thought". Although no translations were available, we were dying to know what Gliere was relating in "The Mad Priest" in which Mr. Mueller seemed to be telling a most interesting tale, accompanied by Maestro Fecteau's march rhythm in the piano. Kos-Anatolsky's "White Roses", by contrast, seemed to have a tango rhythm.

It was a most pleasurable evening with guests enjoying a menu of Ukrainian delicacies along with the music!

© meche kroop

Sunday, August 20, 2023


 Chiara Cremaschi, Alessandro Loro, and Maestro Diego Basso

The weather was perfect, the crowd was enthusiastic, and New York City Opera (The People's Opera)  is to be thanked for giving New Yorkers two generous and excellently curated programs in one glorious weekend. Last night's program comprised mostly Italian opera , Neapolitan songs, and some instrumental works for good measure.  It was indeed "A Grand Night for Singing"! 

From the point of view of a true opera lover, the amplification precluded any assessment of the artistry of the singers. What we could observe is stage presence. For all we know, Alessandro Lora may be the tenor of tomorrow; and given good direction on the opera stage he may also be a convincing actor. However, last night he relied completely on exaggerated stock gestures and "money notes" produced at maximum volume. Perhaps the amplification was at fault because he sounded better during the pianissimi passages.

Sound design is a mystery to us but the balance of the excellent New York City Opera Orchestra was mostly way off and the esteemed musicians sounded nothing like they do in a concert hall. The oboe solo in Morricone's "Gabriel's Oboe" sounded more like a harmonica than an oboe.  Perhaps an acoustic engineer could explain this to us.  Nonetheless, we decided that one doesn't need to apologize for "film music" which sounds much better than contemporary "academic music".  As we said in last night's review, in order to succeed, music must be melodic.  Morricone's music fulfilled that requirement.

Co-starring with Mr. Lora was the lovely soprano Chiara Cremaschi who seemed to have the chops to tackle roles as diverse as Queen of the Night from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte and Lauretta in Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. Like her tenor stage companion, she did not know what to do with her arms. Whereas Mr. Lora opened wide and reached for the sky, Ms. Cremaschi kept hers folded over her midsection. We deleted dozens of photos which made her look insecure-- until we found one in which she used her arms. Neither singer looked natural. Overly expansive stock gestures look trite and cocky whereas folded arms not only look insecure but create a hunched over posture. None of the gorgeous gowns worn by Ms. Cremaschi could compensate. We wanted so badly to get her to stand up elegantly and use gesture to create character!

Possibly had we been able to appreciate the voices we might not have noticed this failure of stage presence. We might add that most people were there to have a good time, to sit outdoors in the grass and be entertained. They seemed happy to clap along in the "Libiamo" from Verdi's La Traviata. Perhaps they couldn't see the stage as we could way down front. Perhaps television has "taught" people what to expect from opera singers.  Perhaps subtlety is not possible in an amplified outdoor environment.

As far as the conducting both Maestri seemed in control of the orchestra and, for all we know, standing up there on the podium had no idea of what their musicians sounded like to the audience. Maestro Diego Basso conducted one of his own compositions entitled "Vigneti come Pentagrammi" which we hope we get an opportunity to hear under more sanguine circumstances. He also conducted an arrangement of "Core 'ngrato" sung by Mr. Lora.

Part of the program was conducted by Maestro Maurizio Barbacini and he kept the orchestra full of energy in the "Prelude" from Bizet's Carmen. That and the Mozart were the only two numbers on the generous program which were not Italian.

We are looking forward to Gounod's Romeo et Juliette on September 8th which, we expect, will be performed with sets and costumes. Perhaps the sound will be more acceptable.

© meche kroop

Saturday, August 19, 2023



Sondheim's "A Weekend in the Country" outdoors in Bryant Park presented by New York City Opera

(Matthew Ciufitelli, Kristin Sampson, Drew Seigla, Sami Sallaway, Michael Nansel, and Devony Smith)

It is one thing to have a strong opinion; it is quite another to have your opinion brought to life and validated. We have long held the opinion that the line of inheritance goes from opera to operetta to Broadway, and not to the contemporary works that are called "opera". The public-pleasing works of the 19th c, the charming operettas of Vienna and later Broadway (think Victor Herbert), all morphed into the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Bernstein, and Sondheim.

In a most unfortunate technological advance, sound amplification removed the need for operatically trained voices and much of Broadway became ear crushing. Meanwhile, operatic voices have assumed the role of keeping the classics of the opera canon alive for an unfortunately ever-diminishing audience, whilst managers of opera companies have moved toward presenting contemporary works of dubious merit with "relevant" stories better told at the theater, prosy libretti, and mostly tuneless music.

The critics may rave over the new works, the opera houses fill up, audiences come once but not twice.  Ticket sales are declining with the public unwilling to spend their hard earned dollars on entertainment that isn't entertaining. Meanwhile, tourists come from all over the world to see Broadway shows in which the stories are direct and the music tuneful.  Moreover, many shows in the Broadway canon have become classics and interest is renewed with successive generations wanting to see the shows, or at least films of the shows (think West Side Story). Of course, not every show is a good one. But not every bel canto opera was a hit either.  For every Il barbiere di Siviglia there were dozens of operas that failed or lasted but a season.

We have long wished for a company here in New York City that would present the Broadway canon unamplified with operatic voices. We will never forget New York City Opera's production of Candide.  And last night it was the same institution that gave us a taste of what we wish for--operatic voices singing the best of Viennese operetta and Broadway. 

It was indeed a gift from New York City Opera to New Yorkers who packed  Bryant Park from one end to the other for a picnic performance. In an outdoor environment, voices must be amplified which we fully understand. Often the vibrato of the singers seemed exaggerated and we would be hard put to comment on the individual voices.

That being said, we enjoyed the concept which supported our opinion.  Of course we did! And we enjoyed the performances, many of which were dramatically valid.  The material was well chosen and the audience was enthralled.

The most unforgettable performances were given by Michael Nansel, heretofore unknown to us. He impressed us in the well known aria from Leigh/Darion's Man of La Mancha--"The Impossible Dream", and as Tony in Loesser's The Most Happy Fella  singing a soliloquy addressed to his dead mother. Similarly, Bock/Harnick's Fiddler on the Roof  gave Drew Seigla an opportunity to charm us with Motel's aria "Miracle of Miracles". Matthew Ciuffitelli brought Billy Bigelow to vibrant life in the soliloquy from Rodgers/Hammerstein's Carousel. All of these shows (operas? operettas?) were before our time and we were absolutely thrilled to hear them, having only heard recordings.

Lehár's The Merry Widow  has fortunately stayed in the repertory for well over a century and we were delighted to hear Kristin Sampson singing the beautiful aria "Vilja". We must say, however, that we far prefer to hear it sung in German. Victor Herbert is well known to us from the regular performances by the rapidly growing Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live (known as VHRPL!) which has no trouble attracting an enthusiastic audience. It was a pleasure to hear Sami Salloway sing "Art is Calling for Me" from his The Enchantress.

The music of Borodin is well loved by us and hearing one of his famous tunes (adapted for the show Kismet and entitled "And This is My Beloved") gave us pleasure. We hope Ms. Sampson enjoyed singing it as much as we enjoyed hearing it. Sondheim's Follies gave Devony Smith a great aria to sing as well--"Losing My Mind".

It must have been quite a challenge to select all those goodies from the grand buffet of operettas and Broadway. The evening was nearly two hours long and we could have listened all night. We kept thinking of so many wonderful shows that could have been included.  Let's hope that there will be more evenings like this!

The evening ended on a high note, so to speak, with the cast assembled for the Act I finale of Sondheim's A Little Night Music--"A Weekend in the Country", reminding us of all those wonderful Rossini ensembles from two centuries ago. It's good to know that we are still creating classics!

© meche kroop

Friday, July 21, 2023


 Mattia Venni and Teresa Castillo
(Photo by Steve Pisano)

Last night we reviewed Teatro Nuovo's presentation of Donizetti's tragedy Poliuto; this was well matched with a sparkling comedy by I Fratelli Ricci (Federico and Luigi) entitled Crispino e la Comare with a libretto written by fellow Venetian Francesco Maria Piave. Who would have suspected that the librettist of such serious works as Ernani, Attila, Rigoletto, La traviata, and Simon Boccanegra would show himself to be a master of crowd pleasing comedy.

In another informative pre-opera lecture by Will Crutchfield, General and Artistic Director of Teatro Nuovo, we learned why multitudes of charming Italian comedies, so popular in their time, have become nearly lost. In the second half of the 19th c. Giuseppi Verdi's operas filled the major opera houses.  Meanwhile, a legion of presently unknown composers delighted their public in the smaller houses with frothy works featuring silly plots and gorgeous Bel Canto music.  In our imagination we see throngs of locals, seeking an entertaining evening, flocking to these venues for a hearty laugh and a head full of tunes on their way home. During the performance we allowed ourself the same pleasures.

The story concerns an impoverished cobbler who, through the good graces of a fairy godmother, becomes an important physician who enrages the local physicians who have failed to achieve such miraculous cures. Piave must have had a grand time skewering that profession in much the same way as Saturday Night Live and South Park satirize some of our present day institutions, and as Gilbert and Sullivan did across the pond in their own time.

The music, replete with waltzes, sparkles with wit and good nature. As was the custom of the time, the superb Teatro Nuovo Orchestra was led from the harpsichord by Jonathan Brandani, listed on the program as Maestro al cembalo e direttore. As we observed last night, there was no formal conductor standing on a podium and instrumentalists were arranged as they were in the 19th c.  Musical values were admirable all around; since this is opera let us spill some ink on the subject of the singers.

One could not have asked for a better Crispino than bass-baritone Mattia Venni whose comedic chops were matched by some superb singing. Whether legato or staccato, whether solo or in duet or trio, his sturdy but flexible vocal production was a standout. Rapid patter presented no problems. We would welcome the opportunity to hear him again.

As Annetta, his wife, we heard the splendid soprano Teresa Castillo about whom we have been writing for ten years. We first heard her as Drusilla at the Manhattan Summer Voice Festival's production of Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea. And then we watched her star on the rise as she appeared thrice with Career Bridges, at galas given by Opera Index and The George London Foundation for their competition winners, with Opera Lafayette, and singing "Carceleras" from Chapi's zarzuela Las Hijas de Zebedeo.  What we most admire about Ms. Castillo is her versatility. Many singers enter competitions and always sing the same aria but this artist always presents us with a new aspect of her vocal gifts.

Mezzo-soprano Liz Culpepper made a most affecting "comare" and is just the kind of fairy godmother one would want. She colored her magnificent mezzo with benevolence. When Crispino got too full of himself (as did Annetta), she found just the right way of teaching him a lesson.

Scott Hetz Clark was too young and handsome to play the unpleasant and miserly Don Asdrubale but was convincing in his heart attack scene, conveniently liberating his ward, the wealthy orphan Lisetta (Abigail Lysinger) who was wasting away for want of love for her suitor Contino del Fiore (Toby Bradford).  Dear Reader, we are sure that you noticed the commedia del'arte roots of 19th c. Italian comedy!

The avaricious doctors were played by Dorian McCall and Vincent Graña who participated in one of the most delightful trios ever heard. The stonemason "cured" by Dr. Crispino who treated him with salame and vino was played by Jeremy Luis Lopez.

The revelations of the past two evenings spent with Teatro Nuovo have left us hungry for more. We hope they will uncover more gems of that epoch and give them the audience they deserve. If you were present at The Rose Theater you would have seen it filled to capacity and you would have heard thunderous applause.

© meche kroop

Thursday, July 20, 2023


     Ricardo José Rivera and Chelsea Lehnea
(photo by Steve Pisano)

We cannot name a better educator in the field of opera than Will Crutchfield, General and Artistic Director of Teatro Nuovo. For many years we traveled up to Caramoor to enjoy his yearly entries into their summer music festival and lately we have come to enjoy his productions right here in New York City at The Rose Theater. His passion for Bel Canto opera fuels our own and his pre-opera lectures always contribute to our appreciation of the work to come. His expertise on Donizetti's advancements in the field of opera opened our ears to new listening discoveries.

We will report on tomorrow's production as well but we are too excited about last night's performance of Donizetti's Poliuto to hold our opinions inside. Performed without benefit of costumes and sets, the production went way beyond "concert style". We were not overwhelmed with meaningless and distracting projections; rather we saw each act accompanied by an upstage drawing of the respective settings , surmounted by translation of the libretto. The artists acted with conviction and the story was well told.

In an avalanche of casting glories we thrilled to the unique vocal timbre of soprano Chelsea Lehnea whose voice impressed us greatly at the Premiere Opera Competition earlier this year. She not only captured the emotional conflict of Paolina, a woman loyal to Poliuto (the man she wed after the reported demise of Severo, the man she truly loved), but also the pain of rejecting the latter after he finally reappears, alive and well. Her stunning technique was put into service to make dramatic points. Who could fail to notice the upward leaps followed by descending portamenti! Also well captured was the spiritual uplift of her decision to join Poliuto in Christian martyrdom.

As the eponymous hero, we heard tenorrific Argentinian Santiago Ballerini whose beautiful and unforced tenor added at least a foot to his physical stature. There is a special thrill to the tenor fach which can be destroyed in an instant by a tight throat in the upper register.  Mr. Ballerini suffers no such impediment and allows the listener to bask in his warm tone, even when singing at the top of the register at maximum volume. (We are congratulating ourself for predicting his success when we reviewed him 6 years ago.)

The role of the long lost lover Severo was effectively performed by Puerto Rican baritone Ricardo José Rivera with the artistry to match that of Ms.Lehnea and Mr. Ballerini. He was so persuasive in his Act II courting of Paulina we could only think of how difficult it must have been for her to hold him off. As in many operas of the 19th c., romance is often foregone out of a sense of duty.

In this case, the story came from a 17th c. play by Pierre Corneille based on the martyrdom of St. Polyeuktos in the early Christian Era, adapted into a libretto by Salvatore Cammarano with input from the intended star. Sadly he never got to sing the role since problems with censorship delayed the premiere until 1848, by which time Donizetti had tragically died and the famous tenor had equally tragically jumped to his death.  Now there's a plot for an opera!!!!

The censorship was caused by the Neapolitan censor's unwillingness to depict a Christian martyr as a jealous husband. Actually, the Christian conversion theme is the framework on which this romantic triangle plays out. Poliuto converts and,in solidarity, so does Paulina and both get thrown to the lions, a scene which the audience is fortunately spared. However it does give Poliuto and Paulina an opportunity to color their voices differentially.

The role of Nearco, the one who leads Poliuto to his conversion, was well sung by Robert Kleinertz, and we heard Krishna Roman in the role of Felice, Paulina's father. Jupiter's High Priest Callistene was portrayed by the imposing bass Hans Tashjian who successfully portrayed the vengeful rage of one whose religion has been scorned in favor of another one. With the full orchestra, his tone was often lost and when the orchestra was silent he sounded somewhat gravelly.

Speaking of the orchestra, we appreciated the many changes instituted by Teatro Nuova to respect the performing traditions of the period. Musicians were seated at audience level and instrumentalists were rearranged according to early 19th c. performing tradition. Most noticeably was the Concert Master--Jakob Lehmann-- leading the orchestra in place of a conductor on a podium. We thought he did a splendid job and we enjoyed the separation of the double basses for a delightful. effect in which they often served as percussion might have. The softer sound of gut strings and wooden wind instruments pleased the ear. We particularly enjoyed the woodwinds.

Special kudos to the members of the chorus who at various times portrayed Roman warriors and Armenian citizens willing to be cajoled into bloodthirsty cries for sacrifice.

We invite (urge) you Dear Reader, to enter "Poliuto" in the search bar if you would care to read about a production by Amore Opera from seven years ago which we reviewed.  We never thought we'd have a chance to hear those gorgeous melodies again and we are grateful to Teatro Nuovo for giving us the opportunity.
Their mission is a unique one--continual ongoing discovery and implementation of historically valid elements of Italian opera of the Bel Canto period.

Look for another review tomorrow!

© meche kroop