|Joseph Brent and Nian Wang in Les Contes d'Hoffman (photo by Jen Joyce Davis)|
|Maggie Sczekan and Javier Bernardo in L'Elisir d'Amore||(photo by Jen Joyce Davis)|
On Saturday night we greatly enjoyed a second performance of Les Contes d'Hoffman. In the starring role, Joseph Brent used his fine tenor to great advantage and held our attention with his commanding stage presence. Nian Wang was a rather different Muse; she had a more "masculine" presence than Kirsten Scott on Thursday; it was clear that she held sway over Hoffman without any cajoling. She was forceful in her singing and acting and showed an ill temper when he didn't follow her lead. Not a "better" interpretation but different and interesting.
Eui Jin Kim took on the role of the villains; he was rather scary and reminded one of a vampire with his resonant singing and menacing manner. Marcos Cuevas performed all the servant roles in a satisfying manner and Richard Bozic was a less jolly Luther and a more tender father to Antonia. Spalanzani was portrayed by Esteban Cordero.
As Olympia, Sharon Cheng handled the fioritura with aplomb and clarity of sound; Janani Sridhar sang Antonia and Brandie Sutton was the seductive and wily Giulietta. Not a single performance fell short of the excellence we have come to expect from Prelude to Performance and we look forward to hearing about the future successes of these artists on the verge of major breakthroughs.
So...was anything different about Saturday night's performance? We noticed that the chorus, under the direction of Nicholas Fox, was even tighter. We had the luxury of paying more attention to the costumes, admiring the elegant silver and black fin de siecle gowns on the women and the carnevale masks in the Venice scene. We observed how clear the French diction was and learned from the French diction coach Susan Stout how she began with the program participants long before the six-week rehearsal and coaching period started, emphasizing the communicative aspects over precise French pronunciation. We were able to appreciate the blocking of the tavern scene with its boisterous student horseplay. We realized the contribution of the lighting (uncredited) which changed when Hoffman entered a trance state and when his nemeses appeared. Second viewings have immense value!
Sunday's L'Elisir d'Amore also offered new delights. Tenor Javier Bernardo not only sang Nemorino with beautiful tone and phrasing but created a character who was not as goofy and awkward as James Edgar Knight but intensely shy and the prototype of a man who just tries too hard. He succeeded in getting the audience to really want him to "get the girl". And he, of course, did. His Adina, Maggie Sczekan, with her adorable presence and beautiful fioritura, dropped ample hints of Adina's fickleness which gave way to an awareness of her affection for Nemorino. She gave every evidence of her disdain for Belcore (well sung and acted in wonderfully arrogant style by Carlos Saenz) so that we knew she was only using him to get Nemorino to "man up" and court her appropriately.
The colorful role of Dulcamara was sung by the handsome slim Stephen K. Foster who slipped into the role so effectively that we were sure there was an error in the program. Shelbey Snyder made a delightful Giannetta. Again, the chorus, under the direction of Noby Ishida, seemed even better than on Friday. The maidens of the village seemed to each have her own identity but joined in song and action as a unit. As excellent as was the French diction in Hoffman, the Italian, coached by Sergio Stefani, was crystal clear, making the words understandable to anyone with a minimal knowledge of the language.
Four operas in four days and we are intoxicated-- but could easily down another flute!
© meche kroop