So, Escamillo strides cockily down the center aisle of the ravishing St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn Heights and kisses the critic's hand. "Oh", we think, "this evening had better be good because it would be very difficult to criticize after that winning gesture". Fortunately, it was good. It was very good. The entire evening, presented by the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra and New York Opera Exchange (strangely uncredited in the program) was delightful, comprising scenes from operas you know and love, and will be repeated this Sunday at 3PM. Consider yourself urged to attend and to bring friends who aren't sure they will like opera. They will leave thanking you and looking forward to more opera.
Under the baton of Nicholas Armstrong for the past 14 years, the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra has become known as one of the finest community orchestras in New York; they showed up best in the Prelude to Verdi's La Traviata in which the themes were clearly articulated and well contrasted.
Since we do not have a TV, nor have ever had one, we are not tired of hearing the "Flower Duet" from Lakme. Last night it was beautifully sung by soprano Candace Matthews who has a lovely "ping" (not to mention a glamorous gown) and mezzo Kate Wiswell whose fine vibrato was well-remembered from her performance last season as Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte. The two voices blended well and soared above the sizable orchestra.
Next we heard a rather raucous reading of the Bacchanale from Samson et Dalila by Camille Saint-Saëns, complete with clashing cymbals. The first half of the program ended with the Act I finale of Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri. Who doesn't love Rossini's wild and crazy ensembles! In this case, the embellishments were well-articulated and the voices well balanced across the board. The clever Isabella was performed by mezzo Nichole Peyreigne who left no doubt that she is a true mezzo, not a soprano with a good lower range. Her superb performance was matched by the fine baritone of Joseph Beckwith as Mustafa. In this role, a slim handsome baritone in a dinner jacket must convince us that he is a fat unwholesome pasha; that's a stretch but his singing compensated for it. Tenor Aaron Short made a fine Lindoro; we remember him from several performances at Manhattan School of Music. John Erban sang Taddeo, Haly was sung by Douglas Balkin, Elvira was sung by Alexandra Lang and Zulma by Natasha Nelson; all were excellent and each held his/her own.
The second half of the program was entirely operatic, comprising scenes from Act II of Carmen by Georges Bizet and the Act II finale of Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. The cast of Carmen managed a semi-staged performance without a stage by means of some well-considered acting. Nicholle Bittlingmeyer's Carmen handled the eponymous heroine's initial lovelorn state and her final contempt for Don Jose with equal aplomb. Her sequined red gown and fiery mien made the whole scene believable. The aforementioned Escamillo was sung by Robert Balonek whose finely honed baritone won him a grant from Opera Index. Scott Ingram made an ardent Don Jose and avoided being pitiable. The Dancaire of Paul Khuri-Yakub and the Remendado of Francisco Corredor made an excellent and humorous quartet with Frasquita and Mercedes. The role of Mercedes was sung by Natasha Nelson, well-remembered from
her performance as Despina in last season's Cosi fan Tutte while
Frasquita was sung by soprano Alexandra Lang; the two gals seemed to
have a lot of fun with their roles.
The program closed with the tragic nuptial scene of Lucia. Selfish brother Enrico was sung by the generous-voiced Joseph Beckwith who was not here obliged to convince anyone that he was a fat Pasha. Arturo, the hapless husband, was sung by Justin Werner; Edgardo, the equally hapless lover was sung by Aaron Short; John Erban sang Raimondo. The emotional confrontation was quite affecting. Poor Lucia was sung by Rebecca Shorstein.
We remain impressed by the high quality of the emerging artists who find their way to New York Opera Exchange. Stay tuned for more information on their season.