|Hyesang Park (photo by Ken Howard)|
Of course we are not familiar with every single opera company in the USA but we would be surprised if any of them could put on a better show than Juilliard Opera. If they presented a couple dozen operas each season we would be reviewing every last one. But of course, that is not possible and we must be content with three every year. We consider them major events on the New York opera scene.
Perhaps each one is a gem because such care is taken to hire the very best artistic and musical staff in the field. Perhaps it's because so much care is taken with casting from among a group of singers that are so outstanding, all of whom are singing around the country in operas and recitals as well as winning competitions.
Last night's opening of Rossini's Il Turco in Italia was a resounding success. Composed two centuries ago when Rossini was but 22 years old (but with several successes under his compositional belt), the opera was a bit advanced for the moralistic Milanese population but went over far better in Rome and Naples. The work achieved a second life when Maria Callas sang the lead in Rome in 1950 and hasn't been heard in NYC since Beverly Sills performed the role in 1978 at the New York City Opera.
Scintillating soprano Hyesang Park knocked our socks off last night as the fickle Fiorilla who manages men like a juggler keeping all his balls in the air. First there is her cuckolded husband Geronio, sung by Polish bass Daniel Miroslaw; then there is her steady companion/lover (cavalier-servant) Narciso, sung by tenor Joseph Dennis; and finally the newly arrived Turkish prince Selim, performed by the very funny bass-baritone Michael Sumuel.
The meta-premise is that a Playwright (baritone Szymon Komasa) is stumped for ideas while visiting a spa in Naples and decides to both observe and manipulate the characters to advance the plot of his play. The marvelous mezzo Kara Sainz portrays Zaida, a Turkish woman once in love with Selim, but now working at the spa; Albazar (tenor Nathan Haller) is her landsmann, now managing the spa. Just imagine the complications which ensue as Fiorilla tries to ensnare Selim!
We are delighted to report that the voices--every single one--excelled in their handling of the bel canto style. Furthermore, the comic acting was fine all around; this is not a farce and it's more than an opera buffa. It is a comedy of manners and the final resolution of the romantic adventures and misadventures is a bit shy of happy, even though the lovers and marital pair are reconciled.
In a stroke of luxury casting, we noticed that the chorus comprised several of our favorite singers--including Takaoki Onishi, Avery Amereau, Joe Eletto, Kurt Kanazawa, James Edgar Knight, Tyler Zimmerman and several other. It was fun picking them out.
We hope you will still be able to get tickets to the subsequent performances and that you will notice some of the highlights we particularly enjoyed: the sparkling overture; Fiorella's aria sung with the arriving Turkish sailors singing a minor key chorale; the playwright instigating a catfight between Fiorella and Zaida, the towel fight between Selim and Geronio; the duet between Selim and Fiorella; Albazar's deeply felt aria. Oh well, there were too many outstanding moments to list them all.
A true coup was getting the superstar conductor Speranza Scappucci to lead the Juilliard Orchestra, equal contributors to the evening's success. We hope the term does not sound rude but this beautiful woman is a "podium animal". Rossini's pen never failed to turn out an endless supply of melodies that make our heart sing. And her baton brought out the joy and sparkle of each one.
Director John Giampietro made some minor adjustments to fit the plot into a new time and place. The band of gypsies were converted into spa workers and the work took on the flavor of the films coming out of Italy in the late 1950's and early 1960's. This served the comedy well and did not detract at all. Mr. Giampietro is a superb storyteller.
Scenic Designer Alexis Distler scored with an impressive spa, replete with palm tree, white latticework, rows of chaises longues and several dispensers of mineral waters. Lighting Design by Derek Wright was effective. Costume Designer Sydney Maresca contributed smashing red and white uniforms for the spa staff, throwing in a doctor with a stethoscope. Fiorilla was dressed as perkily as her capricious nature called for.
Our sole quibble was the Turkish-vested fellow wandering around onstage carrying a model of a sailing ship. We never did figure out who he was!
(c) meche kroop