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.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


All we were expecting was an evening of opera scenes but we got so much more.  Possibly inspired by the Metropolitan Opera's creation of Enchanted Island, a pastiche of arias and ensembles by baroque composers, Director Jennifer Shorstein created her own pastiche of arias and ensembles by 19th c. French composers entitled The Masked Ball.  The setting was a contemporary cocktail party with the men in dinner jackets and the women in multihued satin dresses.  As the young partygoers interacted with one another, arias and duets by Gounod, Massenet and Offenbach were pressed into delightful service.

The other pleasant surprise was the presence of the New York Opera Exchange Orchestra, led by Maestro David Liebowitz.  As the program notes pointed out, a community orchestra in New York City that focuses solely on the operatic repertoire is a rare thing.  The mostly young musicians played with enthusiasm and talent, matched by the enthusiasm and talent of the young singers who seem to be on the cusp of major careers, already singing in companies around the United States and Europe.

Gounod's soprano roles are all exciting ones and thus the women all had opportunities to shine in their respective roles.  Rebecca Shorstein's fioritura in "Je veux vivre" from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette was dazzling in its accuracy.  Kendra Berensten's duets with the fine tenor Aaron Short from the same opera were no less wonderful.  Rebecca Henry's fine mezzo in Siebel's "Faites lui mes aveux" from Gounod's Faust seemed delightfully different since she sang it as a woman.  Emily Lockhart's soprano was perfectly suited to "Ah! Je ris de me voir" as she received a jewel box from her suitor.  Courtney Ross' "N'est-ce-plus ma main?" from Massenet's Manon was performed superbly with lots of seductive moves that left her Des Grieux (wonderful tenor Jonathan Winell) all aquiver.   Their voices blended beautifully and delighted the ear.  Bronwyn White was an adorable Olympia and attacked the stratospheric tessitura fearlessly.  There was a very funny moment when she collapsed (in this case, not as a mechanical doll running down but as a live woman who maybe had drunk to excess) and was given a slap on the derrière and carried offstage.

We heard sturdy baritone Kendrew Heriveaux as Mercutio in "Mab la reine des mensonges"; baritone Joseph Beckwith gave Mephistopheles just the right amount of menace in "Vous qui faites l'endormie"; baritone Alex Boyd made a severe Valentin in "Avant de quitter ces lieux"; tenor Scott Ingham was a most seductive Faust in "Salut! Demeure chaste et pure".

That all the partygoers onstage interacted with one another and came across as real people with different personalities made the evening so much more appealing than a mere succession of arias.  We applaud the innovation and were gratified to see so many young people in the audience, many of them not experienced opera goers, but all enjoying themselves.  We are looking forward to New York Opera Exchange's May presentation of Don Giovani set in our nation's capitol.  What will Artistic Director Justin Werner and General Manager Francesca Reindel think of next???

(c) meche kroop

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