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.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Marc Molomot and Emalie Savoy (photo courtesy of On Site Opera)

In its short life On Site Opera has been garnering acclaim for their unusual and unusually creative site-specific productions.  Last night, we were dazzled by Artistic and Stage Director Eric Einhorn's stunning production of Jean-Philippe Rameau's one act Pygmalion. This was the sole performance to take place in Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum amidst her collection of freakily realistic statues of the famous and the notorious.

During Rameau's gorgeous overture, a pantomime was presented in which Pygmalion the sculptor is working on one of Madame Tussaud's statues (or pretending to, in any case).  It reminded us of Mario Cavaradossi in Puccini's Tosca. Another statue, beautiful and glamorously gowned, is wheeled in and unloaded, this one being a real girl--superb soprano Camille Zamora who was obliged to stand stock still for a very long time.

Rameau wisely embroidered Ovid's tale of a sculptor who falls in love with his marble creation; in his version, Pygmalion has a devoted lover named Céphise who is threatened by his obsession with the statue.  Soprano Emalie Savoy was NOT obliged to stand still but was given the opportunity to use her gorgeous instrument and astute phrasing to evoke sympathy from the audience.  Casting aside her native glamor, Ms. Savoy, clad in a simple cotton dress, was totally convincing.

In a mournful aria in minor key, Pygmalion addresses the gods, in despair over his divided love.  Céphise protests.  Pygmalion blames the gods and prays for relief from Venus. Unfortunately, it was a bad night for haut-contre Mark Molomot who failed to convince dramatically and was vocally weak.  We do love counter-tenors but his voice was not pleasing and his phrasing was unmusical.

That naughty boy L'Amour arrives on the scene, wittily portrayed by the scintillating soprano Justine Aronson who was just as wittily costumed (by Candida K. Nichols) in a suit and tie looking every inch the mischievous child--sometimes pouty, sometimes petty, sometimes tyrannical.  He uses his arrow on the bowstring as if he were bowing a violin.  He brings La Statue to bewildered life and Ms. Zamora is most convincing in her "what am I doing here" mode.

A chorus of Graces (Lauren Kelleher, Raymond Storms, Christopher Preston Thompson and Seán Kroll) sing the praises of L'Amour in a thrilling ensemble replete with panegyric harmonies.  Eloise DeLuca and Jordan Isadore dance in a variety of styles to Rameau's varied rhythms.  Choreography was by Jordan Isadore.

A marriage ceremony ensues in which Pygmalion and La Statue both hold onto L'Amour's bow.  In Rameau's 1748 production, L'Amour finds another lover for the discarded Céphise but in Mr. Einhorn's production, the latter leaves a letter for Pygmalion and he returns to her.

Rameau's music was played by the New Vintage Baroque Orchestra, conducted from the harpsichord by Jennifer Peterson, and one could not have wanted anything more. 

The entire experience was pure delight in spite of a few problems inherent to the site.  Singers were obliged to compete with the air-conditioning and the titles, projected onto a patterned surface, were nearly illegible.  Sight lines were poor unless one sat on the front row.

Subsequent performances (June 19, 20 and 21) will be at the Lifestyle-Trimco Showroom amidst a flock of mannequins and, hopefully, these glitches may be resolved.  Note that the 6/19 performance will be Google Glass Enabled (bring your own Google Glasses!) which will be a fine opportunity to learn how new technology can be used to serve a centuries old art form.

The story is, of course, a very old one and has inspired a play by G.B. Shaw, the musical My Fair Lady, much literature and many operas.  We even find contemporary resonance in film (Lars and the Real Girl) and in Japanes anime.  Viva Ovid!

© meche kroop

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