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, April 20, 2013


Keri Alkema as Amaltea (photo by Carol Rosegg)
We were quite sure that we couldn't take any more bible stories this week but fortunately we changed our mind and had a grand old time at New York City Opera's production of Rossini's Mosè in Egitto.  This 1818 opera tells the same story as Schoenberg's Moses und Aron but it's a lot more fun and a lot more accessible.  Although the master rewrote the opera a decade later with a French text, we are completely in love with this version from the three sustained opening chords.

If you haven't read the bible lately, we shall remind you that there was a big stand-off between Moses and Egypt's Pharoah, as in the spiritual "Let my people go".  Moses threatens the Pharoah with all kinds of plagues which his god will invoke on the recalcitrant Egyptians if the Hebrew people are not freed from slavery.  In this libretto, written by Andrea Leone Tottola, there is a rather unbiblical love story between the Pharoah's son Osiride and one of those nice Jewish girls Elcia.  (Oh, those Italians!  But what's Italian opera without a love story and un sacrifizio?)

In this version, Faraone is a flip-flopper, depending upon whoever is more persuasive at the moment.  His wife (or consort) Amaltea is the voice of reason and urges him to release the Hebrews.  His son Osiride is in love with the Hebrew girl Elcia and doesn't want to lose her.  He is assisted by a rather manipulative priest Mambre who presents all kinds of political arguments in favor of their remaining.  On Mosè's side is his brother Aronne--and, of course, the Hebrew god who produces the plagues that eventually lead to the Exodus.

Rossini's music is melodic and inventive all through the opera.  We loved the quintet and the love duet. We enjoyed the way Rossini has the same melody reflected by various voices and instrumental groups, giving the ear something to hang onto.  Having settled into the run, Conductor Jayce Ogren elicited a fine performance from the orchestra; we heard some mighty fine clarinet solos from Steven Hartman and some shimmering sounds from harpist Victoria Drake.

Still, opera is about the voices and we heard some fine singing as well.  Most admirable was Keri Alkema whose coloratura was accurate and precise; not only does she have an impressive instrument but she created a character with stature.  Just as wonderful was Siǎn Davies, the soprano who sang the role of Elcia and created an abundance of sympathy as she weighed her love against tribal loyalty.  Mezzo Emily Righter sang her small role as Amenofi so well that we are eager to hear more of her.

To our ears, the women somewhat outshone the men.  David Salsbery Fry was fine as Mosè with a pleasant bass-baritone, duking it out with the other bass-baritone Wayne Tigges who sang with a full rich sound in the role of the ambivalent Pharoah.  Tenor Aldo Caputo fulfilled the role of Aronne with distinction and tenor Zachary Finkelstein was weird and chilling as Mambre the manipulative priest.  Tenor Randall Bills was not quite accurate in the fioritura and tended to push his high notes instead of floating them.  He had a stiff and uncomfortable stage presence which made one wonder what Elcia saw in him.

The production itself was just shy of excellent.  Although we have not been a fan of video, in this case the projected images, realized by Ada Whiney of Beehive, were mostly wonderful.  The scene in which the lovers enter a cave was astonishing; the realistic scenes of desert and dunes and the night sky won us over while the abstract scenes turned us off.  Something seemed amiss at the end when the Red Sea parted and the Hebrews walked off into the wings; and the video of the drowning Egyptians was silly if you thought they looked like tadpoles and upsetting if the image recalled the victims of the 9/11 attack who jumped out of windows.

Michael Counts is credited as Director and also Production Designer and we hope to see more of his work in the future.  Costumes by Jessica Jahn seemed appropriate, subdued biblical dress for the Hebrews and dramatic regal garb for the Egyptians; sadly, poor Ms. Davies was peculiarly and unbecomingly gowned.  Lighting by Ryan O'Gara was effective.

We hope that no more will be written about the misfortunes of the NYCO; let us instead applaud the revival and resurrection of "opera for the people".  Next year's season is already in the works.  Stay tuned!

© meche kroop

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