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.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Mary Ann Stewart as Lady Macbeth (photo by Brian Long)
Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble's "Summer of Shakespeare" is providing an oasis of opera for thirsty opera-lovers in the midst of summer's desert.  We have only good things to say about the production of Verdi's Macbeth which was given some admirable direction by Myra Cordell.  We favor the traditional and Ms. Cordell hewed closely to period, place and dramatic intent.  (The last Macbeth we saw at the Met involved some peculiar artistic choices so we were especially pleased with this production.)  One coup de theatre that we appreciated -- when Banco is murdered, his body is left on the floor, only to rise as his ghost in the banquet scene.

Musical value were excellent all around.  Maestro Christopher Fecteau marshaled the forces of his twenty excellent musicians and from the very first oboe solo we knew that they and we were in good hands.  The strings were situated to our left and the winds and percussion at the rear of the playing area, leading to a most interesting stereophonic effect.  We particularly liked Ellen Hindson's English Horn; Barbara Allen made some interesting sounds for the witches sabbath.

Mary Ann Stewart, a winner of the Osgood/Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble prize. just about stole the show with her riveting performance as Lady Macbeth.  Her sizable soprano was used effectively with notable skill in the coloratura embellishments that lingered from Verdi's bel canto predecessors.  Moreover, her acting was first-rate as she rotated through encouragement, importuning, shaming and manipulation to get Macbeth to do her bidding. Her "Vieni! t'affretta" in Act I was a real show-stopper.

As the eponymous (anti)hero, tenor Jason Plourde was equally convincing as the weak Thane who becomes greedy for power at the behest of his wife.  One could almost feel sorry for him as he was seduced by the predictions of the witches.

The three witches were outstanding. Soprano Monica Niemi's voice rang out in clarion tones with mezzo-sopranos Elizabeth Bouk and Jackie Hayes in fine collaboration.

We are always delighted to hear new voices in small roles that we hope to hear more of in the future.  Tenor Marques Hollie sounded just grand as Malcolm; we noticed his beautiful sound earlier in the evening as part of the ensemble.  Isaac Assor, reviewed twice before at the Manhattan School of Music Summer Voice Festival, also stood out with his fine full sound.

Milica Nikcevic always gets our attention; she won the Osgood/dell'Arte Opera Ensemble prize in 2013.  And bass Hans Tashjian excelled as Banco, sounding better than ever.

With minimal resources, Nina Bova created costumes that were simple but effective.  The three "weird sisters" wore tattered capes over tights and sported wild hair and gruesome makeup.  The men wore sashes of their respective clans and Lady Macbeth a long dun-colored dress with impressive jewelry around her neck.

Karen Tashjian's simple scenic design comprised a low platform upstage, flanked by slender tree trunks.  Lighting designer Scott Schneider cleverly produced a cauldron substitute into which the three witches could throw their nasty bits.

There will be two more performances on 8/22 and 8/24.  We hope there will still be a couple seats available.

(c) meche kroop

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