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, July 14, 2012


It is with no small degree of embarrassment that we confess to not appreciating the charms of Verdi's final opera--not until tonight, that is.  Under the stewardship of Artistic Director Martina Arroyo, the program Prelude to Performance once again provided a matchless evening of entertainment, fun and artistic merit to a delighted audience as well as performance opportunities to young singers at the cusp of major careers.  Now how does she do all this????

By doing what the Metropolitan Opera, with all its vast resources, cannot.  She hires the best talent in the business to coach and direct the young performers in a concentrated program; the ensemble feeling is evident from one moment to the next.  We were privileged to attend several master classes and gratified to see how the young artists put their new skills to good use.

Under the astute direction of Matthew Lata, the story made complete sense and every character was well-rounded and believable.  Falstaff, as portrayed by the generously proportioned (voice as well as girth) Robert Kerr (photographed by Jen Joyce Davis and seen above), was not just a self-deluding has-been and a figure of scorn; he became an object for our empathy as well.  His two down-at-the-heels henchmen, ably sung and hilariously performed by tenor Christopher Longo (Bardolfo) and bass Christian Zaremba (Pistola), kept us in stitches with their hijinks. 

Mezzo Nichole Ashley Peyreigne had a marvelously resonant voice and impressive comedic skills as Dame Quickly; we were impressed by the variety of tone she gave to her salutations to Falstaff--"Reverenza" never sounded so good.  We were dazzled by the spine-tingling soprano of Nicole Haslett whom we first heard and enjoyed in The Ghosts of Versailles; she gave an outstanding interpretation of a young woman trying to learn something about life from the older housewives--Dame Quickly, Meg Page (a fine mezzo Kiri Parker) and her mother Alice Ford (an equally fine Allyson Herman whom we remember well from Summer and Smoke at Manhattan School of Music).  Tenor Brandon Snook, belying his youthful good looks, was made up to look like the cranky old fogey Dr. Caius and sang with distinction.  Tenor Youngchul Park, well known to Prelude audiences, was a likable Fenton and did a fine job with one of the very few arias in Falstaff--the meltingly beautiful "Dal labbro il canto".  The other aria, sung by baritone Matthew Gamble as Mr. Ford was equally delightful to hear.

Fortunately, Mr. Lata, unlike some of the new directors hired by the Met, made no self-serving attempts to alter time and place.  This is very much a 16th c. tale and the Elizabethan costumes designed by Charles Caine were dazzling.  See photo of Mr. Kerr's  Falstaff above.  Not much scenery was necessary but Peter Harrison used a few pieces to convey a sense of atmosphere.  We especially enjoyed the laundry hanging out to dry which provided a playground and hiding place for Fenton and Nannetta as they sang their love duet.  The illusion of being alongside the Thames was abetted by the subtle lighting of Traci Klainer Polimeni.  We loved the scene of Falstaff and his page (Natan Mulady) swimming down the river and climbing out which was augmented later by the illusion of Fenton poling his way downstream.

Finally we were most impressed by the fine-tuned conducting of Maestro Willie Anthony Waters who pulled some fine playing from his pickup orchestra.  There is one more performance on Sunday afternoon and one could do no better on a stuffy day in New York City than to drag one's fatigued body up to Hunter College and to fill your ears with Verdi's swan song and your heart with laughter.  If we had one operatic wish (and we have not yet shared this with Ms. Arroyo) it would be to have her productions all year round.  As it is, one must wait for the dog days of summer--but the experience is worth waiting for.  You will see us tonight at Cosi fan Tutte which promises to be equally rewarding.  Come and revel!

(c) meche kroop

1 comment:

  1. 7-29-2012
    Dear Meche Krop

    I appreciated your review of the excellent Martina Arroyo Foundation production of Falstaff at the Kaye Theater at Hunter College on July 13, 2012.

    Verdi’s Falstaff has been standard comic opera fare since the late 19th century. Since 1967, I have attended 11 performances of Falstaff. I have heard many opera greats in these performances, including Tito Gobbi and Bryn Terfel as Falstaff. This was my first performance of Falstaff which was conducted primarily by young students.

    I was favorably impressed by all aspects of the production, including the singing, acting, music and costumes/ scenery. Falstaff himself (Robert Kerr) did a great job of both singing and acting. Falstaff’s antics made the audience laugh many times. The acting and singing by the romantic couple Fenton (Younchul Park) and Nanetta (Nicole Haslett) was probably the best I have ever seen these roles portrayed in my 11 Falstaff performances . The singing of Ford (Matthew Gamble) was absolutely superb. Meg (Kiri Parker), Alice (Allyson Herman) and Dame Quickly (Nichole Peyreigne) set an excellent trap for the hapless Falstaff.

    My only regret is that there are only 2 performances of Falstaff- each with different casts for the main characters. It must be a little frustrating for young opera performers to practice for 6 weeks on their roles and then only get to perform once before an audience.

    I thank the Martina Arroyo Foundation for staging the excellent Falstaff production. I hope many of the performers can go onto long professional opera careers.

    Luke Curtis MD, MS