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, November 3, 2013


Scott Ingham and Kendra Berentsen-photo by Jacob Lopez
In Shakespeare's play, we are moved by the language; in Sir Kenneth MacMillan's ballet, the choreography gives us thrill after thrill; in Charles Gounod's opera Roméo et Juliette, the music goes straight to the heart.  As presented by the New York Opera Exchange this past weekend, we were presented with a modern dress version performed by some superb young artists and the New York Opera Exchange Orchestra, conducted by David Leibowitz.

Gounod's music always relates to the emotions of the scene and serves to augment the feelings.  The overture is portentous and has some interesting fugue-like figures originating with Concertmaster Suxiao Sue Yang.  We want to commend the chorus (comprising singers with smaller roles) for such fine diction.  French is one of the more difficult languages to sing clearly and, in this case, every word was understood.  We wondered who coached them--perhaps Music Director Alden Gatt?

We were very impressed with soprano Kendra Berentsen who made an innocent and vulnerable Juliette, expressing her emotions with a room-filling sound and beautiful phrasing.  The challenging aria "Je veux vivre" is filled with trills, thrills and scales, none of which daunted her; her easeful upper register resonated gloriously.  The harmonies with her Roméo were delightful and emphasized the chemistry between the two.  Tenor Scott Ingham was superb in that role, demonstrating a powerful sound and some top-notes that were free of the strain so often heard in young tenors.  We loved his "Ah! Lève-toi soleil". We eagerly awaited the softer orchestral passages in the final scene in order to hear what he sounded like at reduced volume.

Special mention must be made of baritone Nicholas A. Wiggins who performed the role of Mercutio as well as we have ever heard it.  The "Ballad of Queen Mab" was superb.  Mezzo Rebecca Henry made the most of her role as Gertrude, Juliet's nurse.  Initially she was quite disapproving of her charge's romance but she comes around to a place of empathy.  In the pants role of Stephano, mezzo Sarah Miller gave a spirited performance and sang "Que fais-tu blanche tourtourelle?" with a lovely sound and fine vibrato.

Bass-baritone Colin Whiteman was fine as Frère Laurent, Victor Starsky sang the role of Tybalt, Joseph Palarca performed the role of Benvolio, Joseph Beckwith was a kindly father Capulet and Javier Ortiz was Paris.

We were delighted to observe the youthful nature of the audience; perhaps they related more to the contemporary clothing (costumes?).  We, sadly, did not.  The story is a window into another century and another country.  It could not have happened in the USA in present times.  We did not miss the swordplay but we did miss the authenticity.  For example, a sleeping potion would not be given by a cleric to his parishioner whereas a friar would have known all about herbs and potions.  Similarly we found the bizarre headdresses used to replace the masks at the ball to be a distracting touch; indeed Juiette was obliged to wear a schooner on her head!  But these are minor quibbles when the overall production and musical values were so excellent.  The production was directed by Andreas Hager.  We are looking forward to Die Zauberflöte in February!

© meche kroop

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