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, March 22, 2014


Alex Charlie Boyd, Bryce Smith, Mary Ann Stewart, William Remmers, Shawn Thuris, Sarah Moulton Faux
Most opera lovers have heard of Carl Maria von Weber's opera Der Freischütz; some have heard a recording of it; few have actually seen it performed.  Thanks to Director/Conductor William Remmers and Utopia Opera we can now say that we have seen it performed.  You can as well if you get yourself to Lang Hall at Hunter College tonight at 7:30.  This 1821 work is considered to have launched German Romanticism; it is replete with romance, religion and superstition--both in the text and in the music.

Under the colorful conducting of Mr. Remmers the overture began softly and grew in power.  On the right third of the stage was the orchestra, comprising a string quartet, a bass, a pair of flutes, a pair of clarinets, a pair of oboes, a bassoon, a trumpet, and--this being a work about hunters--a quartet of horns.  The melodies were tuneful and the balance was only somewhat flawed by the cheek-by-jowl arrangement of the musicians.  Still, it was a treat to hear a live orchestra.

The opera concerns a junior hunter named Max (tenor Shawn Thuris) who is in line to inherit the title of Head Huntsman from Cuno (bass Jay Gould) and to marry Cuno's daughter Agathe (the substantial soprano Mary Ann Stewart, who has an impressive vibrato among other assets). 

The frenemy Caspar, another junior huntsman (convincingly evil bass Bryce Smith) has sold his soul to the devil, here called Samiel the Wild Huntsman.  When poor Max loses a shooting match to the pompous wealthy peasant Kilian (baritone Matthew Walsh) he goes into "testosterone failure", losing his confidence and the right to marry Agathe. 

But wait!  Caspar has the solution.  He promises Max a magic bullet to win the shooting match with the nefarious intention of swapping Max's soul for a few years grace for himself from Samiel.  Although some of the cast will be different tonight, Mr. Smith will be on hand delivering some contrasting arias, a drinking song in the tavern and an aria far more dire.

Agathe has been given blessings and white roses from a Hermit (bass Jonathan Dauermann).  She is morose and fearful about some bad omens and is cheered and comforted by her cousin Ännchen (bright-voiced soprano Sarah Moulton Faux) whose light-hearted arias are in delightful contrast with the anxiety ridden state of Agathe's.  They have a lovely duet together in which their voices blend beautifully.And that is all of the plot we are going to share with you except that there is a Prince Ottokar (baritone Alex Charlie Boyd) who appears in the final scene.

Staging was simple for the most part but the scene in the Wolf's Glen involved some highly imaginative effects and ghostly apparitions.  The music was appositely eerie.

German diction was fine throughout; there was some dialogue spoken in English as well. There were no sets and costumes were minimal, although we did get a kick out of Kilian's authentic lederhosen and the Prince's military garb. With fine musical values, we scarcely missed the trimmings.

What distinguishes Utopia Opera is that it is truly an audience-centric institution.  Productions are chosen by vote!  June 27th and 28th Verdi's Falstaff will be presented and next year's programming comprises Carlisle Floyd's Susannah, Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri, a Ravel/Sullivan double bill, and Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos.  Ambitious?  Of course!  We expect nothing less from Utopia Opera in what will be their fourth season. 

© meche kroop

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