The person who calls Chicago "the second city" might call Mannes College for Music "the third school of music". But the performance put on by The Mannes Opera was first-rate. Under the baton of Artistic Director Joseph Colaneri, the Mannes Orchestra played with high energy and skill while the singers--a few undergraduates, a few graduate students and some Professional Studies Diploma candidates--sang and acted with energy, skill and enthusiasm to match.
The December 19th program was entitled "Igor meets Gioachino" and introduced the audience to two rare one-act gems from two different periods, the first by Stravinsky and the second by Rossini. Both were entertaining and delightful under the superb direction of Laura Alley, known to us through her work with New York City Opera and Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance.
The brief curtain raiser, Stravinsky's Mavra, a satire of bourgeois manners, tells the tale of a young woman, apparently a White Russian émigrée in Paris, who smuggles her lover into her mother's home, disguised as a maid. The young lady was sung by soprano Liana Guberman, the mother by mezzo Elizabeth Picker, the neighbor by Kirsten Scott, and the Hussar boyfriend by tenor Christopher Colmenero. The performances were fine on both vocal and dramatic levels. Our only reservation was about the choice to sing the work in English. It seemed as if the rhythm of the words and that of the music were out of sync. We had the same feeling when hearing the Met's "family oriented" production of Il Barbière di Siviglia sung in English. There are probably some good reasons for this choice but...just sayin'.
The libretto was by Boris Kochno, based on a Pushkin story that actually took place in Russia but the change of locale was not a problem.
The second work was Rossini's La Scala di Seta, another opera buffa with stock characters inherited from la commedia del'arte. One easily gets a glimpse here of the young Rossini gaining command of his musical vocabulary with lively music, duets, trios and ensembles, and much frantic behavior. However, the characters are unidimensional. The libretto was written by one Giuseppe Maria Foppa.
Giulia, sung by soprano Boya Wei, is a young woman who was secretly married to Dorvil (tenor Adam Bonanni). Her guardian, tenor Deun Lee, would have her marry Blansac, a friend of Dorvil (bass Enrico Lagasca). Giulia's cousin Lucilla (soprano Lydia Dahling) would love to marry Blansac. Comic relief is provided by the bumbling servant Germano (a very funny Suchan Kim, bass). This was not the clever servant devised by daPonte for Mozart! No, this servant makes several errors of judgment regarding who is climbing the silken ladder by which Dorvil gains access to Giulia. The entire plot is delightfully silly and the music sparkles like champagne.
The single set, a house in Paris (which explains why the action of Mavra was geographically altered) was unfussy and effective. Roger Hanna is credited with the Set Design. The always attractive and suitable costumes were by Helen E. Rodgers; the Lighting Design by Jeff Davis contributed to the overall excellence. Amanda Miller is credited with Makeup and Wig Design. The harpsichord was played by Eunkyung Lee.
The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College makes a fine venue for chamber opera and the choice of these gems was perfect for the fine young cast. Great evening all around!
(c) meche kroop