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, January 26, 2014


Alexander Charles Boyd, Bryce Smith
We are happy to report that opera is not a dying art as some would have us believe; it is alive and well in the hands of small opera companies which present operas on shoe-string budgets in small venues.  There is no shortage of talent in New York and some fine work can be produced using available performers in the vocal and instrumental areas; only set designers and costume designers are unnecessary.  Imagination can replace big budgets.

This weekend Utopia Opera presented a stage-worthy production of Massenet's  1910 opera Don Quichotte.  This is their third season and our only regret is that of missing the two prior seasons.  An interesting wrinkle is that the company allows its FB  "likers" to vote on which operas to present.  Don Q was an excellent choice, especially because it is rarely performed and we valued the opportunity to make its acquaintance.

The music is typically Massenet with its lovely expansive melodies, beginning with the muscular overture which then yields to a tender lyrical theme.  Maestro William Remmers hosted the evening with some amusing remarks and then conducted the reduced size orchestra, which was sufficient to fill the Lang Recital Hall of Hunter College with just enough sound.  Notably, he also plays the guitar--a true polymath.

The text by Henri Caïn is not based on the Cervantes tale but rather on a 1904 play by Jacques Le Lorrain.  It is a tragedy but not without its moments of humor.  Don Q is a tragic figure, out of tune with the world he lives in and the object of scorn and ridicule.  He lives in a world of dream and illusion with his only support coming from his manservant Sancho Panza who is a realist--a relationship not unlike that of Tamino and Papageno.  Don Q can be thought of as a holy fool or a ridiculous saint, a knight who champions the poor and the oppressed.

Obviously, the success of the opera rests on the shoulders of the man who performs the role of Don Q and, in this case, bass Bryce Smith rose to the occasion and gave us a character who aroused our sympathy, admiration and ultimately tears inn his final moving duet with Sancho Panza.  Sancho Panza was well portrayed by baritone Alexander Charles Boyd whose loyalty to and protection of his master was inspiring.

Kimberly Sogioka made an excellent Dulcinée; she is a flirt but not a cruel one.  Surrounded by admirers, she is bored and wants something else but cannot yield to Don Q's love.  She sends him on a fool's errand to recover her necklace which had been stolen by bandits.  Don Q is ready to do battle with the entire band of thieves and they are ready to hang him; the eloquence of his words and his saintliness cause them to release him and forfeit the necklace.

The work was staged by Maestro William Remmers himself and it was staged with imagination.  Flamenco dancers with castanets (Ami Otero and Angel Betancourt) were on hand to create a Spanish atmosphere.  Don Q and Sancho Panza rode in on hobby horses.  The most imaginative scene involved twirling umbrellas to represent the windmills that Don Q believed to be giants he should attack.  Mr. Smith's acting was so fine that you could see the scene through his eyes.

Our only disappointment was the lack of bios for the singers.  We heard some fine tenor voices (Jacob Agar and Brian Long as Rodriguez and Juan),and some lovely singing from two sopranos in pants roles  (Maggie Finnegan and Sarah Bleasedale).

The wild applause at the end served to confirm our own conviction that this is a company to watch.  How gratifying it is to see an audience comprising mainly young people!  We urge you to "like" Utopia Opera on Facebook so that you too can vote for upcoming productions.  As for us, we already have Die Freischutz on our calendar for the weekend of 3/21 and Falstaff for the weekend of 6/27.

ⓒ meche kroop

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