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.

Monday, June 24, 2013


Maestro Parodi and cast of L'incoronazione di Poppea
In the prologue to Monteverdi's final work, the prim Virtue (Leeanne Kaufman) and the slatternly Fortuna (Jessica Adkins) argue about which one is the stronger in affecting human behavior.  But it is Amore (Rebecca Wood) who laughs last, although Cupid seems to be more supportive of lust than love. Giovanni Francesco Busenello's libretto has taken literary liberties with history.

The dissolute emperor Nerone (Rahim Mandal) wants to rid himself of his wife Ottavia (Abigail Shapiro) so he can marry the sexy Poppea (Margaret Newcomb).  Ottone (Isaac Assor) the rejected suitor of Poppea is enlisted by Ottavia to murder her, disguising himself in the clothes of his servant Drusilla (Teresa Castillo) who would do anything to gain his love, including taking the rap for him.  Since great liberties were taken with history, Nerone's character has been softened and he graciously allows the perpetrators and his cast-off wife to live in exile.  Are we having fun yet?  Oh, yes, we certainly are!

Premiered in Venice in 1643, the work is relevant today even without contemporary attire; we are still plagued by cheating rulers and ambitious mistresses.  In fact, this opera represents a major moral departure from the standard of wrong-doers being punished. How refreshing!  How cynical!

Isabel Milenski has directed the students of the Manhattan Summer Voice Festival at Manhattan School of Music with a sure hand, keeping the action moving and the arias motivated.  It is difficult to believe that the singers are students; each and every role was beautifully sung and convincingly acted.  Comic relief was provided mostly by Drusilla and the fanciful costumes of the gods.  Amore had red feathered wings, Pallade had helmet and breastplate, Virtue looked like a 1950's church-goer and Fortuna, swilling from a bottle, was decked out in sequins.  Poppea's nurse Arnalta (Jillian Wiley) had fun toward the end when she lords her newly exalted position over the other servant Nuttrice (Ms. Kaufman)--Ottavia's nurse.  Elizabeth Barrett Groth was Costume Designer.

Musical values were splendid in every respect as Maestro Jorge Parodi conducted the Dorian Baroque Orchestra.  Our fascination with the theorbo continues and Kevin Payne's duet with cellist Margalit Cantor just about knocked our socks off.  There is much scholarly argument about whether Monteverdi wrote the entire opera or whether he had ample assistance from students and younger colleagues.  In any event, the music is gorgeously melodic and the young singers did it justice as did the musicians.  Duets were especially lovely as voices blended in perfect harmony.  We particularly enjoyed the love duets between Poppea and Nerone, and the duet between Nerone and the poet Lucano (John Ford) taking place at the baths.  Let it be said that the towels did not slip and there was no wardrobe malfunction Sunday night.  We make no promises for future performances Tuesday and next weekend!

As a stand alone aria, one could not ask for a better one than Ottavia's lament in Act I, describing the plight of women.  We long to hear it again.  In the relatively small role of a soldier (here an FBI-type bodyguard) Michael Papincak evinced an instrument of distinction.  We yearn to hear more of him.

The set design by Jian Jung was simple but effective--no more than a few architectural elements that served as bed, bath, table, whatever--and some columns.  Nothing distracted from the superb music and singing.

The Manhattan Summer Voice Festival seems to have attracted some highly talented young performers and molded them into a splendid ensemble in a few short weeks.  Bravi tutti!

© meche kroop

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