Monday, November 24, 2014
Sunday, November 23, 2014
Saturday, November 22, 2014
|Jason Stearns, Hugo Vera, and Kian Freitas|
|Stella Zambalis and Jason Stearns|
The Martha Cardona Theater has been in existence for about five years--growing in stature and reach while accumulating a group of singers that deserve to be widely heard.
Finally, Founder and Artistic Director Daniel Cardona was ready to produce a full-length opera with a full orchestra.
For this landmark event he chose one of our favorite operas--Puccini's Tosca--and he chose to present it in a semi-staged production at the mid-sized and acoustically excellent Merkin Concert Hall. By semi-staged we mean that there was minimal scenery but there was no shortage of convincing acting.
To present Tosca, one needs a larger-than-life soprano to play the eponymous heroine who is herself larger-than-life. A true diva, soprano Stella Zambalis exhibited such familiarity with the nuances of the role that she actually became the 19th c. diva in love with the painter Cavaradossi. With a sizable soprano and convincing acting one could not have asked for more. To see her attack the evil Scarpia was to tremble in one's seat.
The role of Scarpia was performed by baritone Jason Stearns who captured our ears (if not our hearts) with his oily menace. He made the perfect villain and we would have been happy to see him die, were it not for the fact that we wouldn't hear his voice in Act III!
Bass Matthew Curran made a fine Angelotti, even though onstage only briefly. His voice had a fine quality and his acting was convincing.
Even more impressive was bass-baritone Kian Freitas who created a most believable Sacristan; he became a real character, a priest who snooped in the basket of food and exhibited a number of other small believable gestures. Previously unknown to us, we wish to hear more of him.
Tenor Hugo Vera sang well but over-acted the part of Spoletta, over-reacting to every nuance of everyone else's lines. We picture Spoletta as more contained, more severe and less sneering. Actually, baritone Samuel McDonald was far more believable as Sciarrone and sang with lovely tone and phrasing.
Lead tenor Ta'u Pupu'a as Cavaradossi was a bit disappointing. We have heard him before and he was not his best for this performance. He seemed to be pushing his upper register and lacked the requisite chemistry with Ms. Zambalis in Act I. He did improve over the course of the evening and was most touching in Act III as he faced death.
No one was credited with Stage Direction and one got the impression that each singer contributed ideas. Most of them worked well. We are quite sure that Mr. Cardona himself had a lot of directorial input. We forgot that there was no church, no Castel San'Angelo. The character's interaction told us everything.
We particularly enjoyed the duet between Mr. Freitas and Mr. Pupu'a in Act I, the end of Act II when Tosca stabs Scarpia, and the interlude before Act III when Cavaradossi stands silently contemplating his anticipated death. Much can be communicated with body language.
There was no problem with diction. Every word was clear such that when the titles disappeared in Act III, we barely noticed.
Maestro Brian Holman's baton brought the onstage orchestra together for Puccini's glorious music; we were particularly fond of Melanie Genin's harp.
It was a fine evening; the house was packed and the entire cast received a lengthy standing ovation which they richly deserved.
We are looking forward to more fine work from The Martha Cardona Theater.
(c) meche kroop
Friday, November 21, 2014
Thursday, November 20, 2014
Saturday, November 15, 2014
Thursday, November 13, 2014
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Monday, November 10, 2014
|Ken Noda, Amanda Majeski, and Ryan McKinny|
Ms. Majeski has had quite a success singing the role of Vitellia in Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito--both at Semperoper Dresden and at Teatro Real in Madrid. Luckily for us, she performed the character's final aria "Ecco il punto, o Vitellia...No piu di fiori" in which the manipulative woman finally examines her conscience and decides to confess her guilt to avoid the death of her loyal friend Sesto. Ms. Majeski threw herself into this role heart and soul.
We heard Ms. Majeski when she won a George London award a few years ago; we heard her again in Santa Fe in 2011 when she sang Ottone in Vivaldi's Griselda, in which she was the highlight of a deplorable production. Yesterday she sang with all the involvement that we missed when she stepped into the role of Countess Almaviva in Mozart's Nozze di Figaro. In this case we found her dramatically moving, tracing Vitellia's evolution from one mood to the next. Her embellishments were as lovely as they were in the Vivaldi. We heard a lot of power in the lower register and a big blooming top.
Equally impressive was her encore--"Song to the Moon" from Dvořak's Russalka. She also sang three songs by Richard Strauss, including our favorite "Die Nacht". Although suffering from some kind of vocal distress, it was barely noticeable as she employed word coloring and dynamic variety to augment the fine resonance of her sizable instrument.
It was during the Strauss that we most appreciated the artistry of collaborative pianist Ken Noda. Always supportive and never overwhelming, he seems to sing along with the singer through his fingers.
Also a George London Foundation winner, bass-baritone Ryan McKinny is a most versatile artist, known in many genres but not heard often enough in New York. He wisely chose to sing "Die Frist ist um" from Richard Wagner's Der fliegende Holländer, a role he succeeded in at the Glimmerglass Festival. We Wagnerphiles in the audience were blown away. His voice has power and nuance in equal measure; he painted the aural picture of a desperate man at the end of his rope.
He also excelled in the opening piece on the program "Bravo, signor padrone!...Se vuol ballare" which he sang with vocal subtlety and dramatic energy, creating the Figaro character we all know and love.
That is why we were puzzled by his duet with Ms M. "Das war sehr gut, Mandryka". This scene is the culmination of a stressed-out courtship and we desperately wanted Mandryka to just look at Arabella; if he wasn't feeling it, we weren't feeling it.
Their encore duet from the close of Act I of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel was nicely sung but Mr. McKinny as Bill again did not relate to Ms. Majeski's Julie. He sang ardently but he sang it to the audience, not to his stage partner. How odd!
His solo performance of three selections from Schubert's Schwanengesang was powerful; the tender but passionate "Ständchen" was followed by the lugubrious "Der Atlas" and the anguished "Der Doppelgänger". We cannot recall ever hearing an American singer with such perfect German diction. He should be teaching a master class! Every umlaut was observed, every final consonant enunciated, every diphthong clear.
Speaking of master classes, we are overjoyed that Mr. Noda supplements his many other duties and accomplishments by giving masterclasses at Juilliard and coaching young singers in the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program.
We are already witnessing the results; anyone under his tutelage bears evidence of his genius. He gives the piano part the same colors as the singer gives the words. We are mystified about how this is achieved but the mystery is part of the magnificence.
ⓒ meche kroop
Sunday, November 9, 2014
Saturday, November 8, 2014
Thursday, November 6, 2014
|Daniel Cardona and cast of I Pagliacci at SOPAC|
The composer claimed that his libretto was based upon the murder of one of his family's servants when he was a child, but a French playwright believed he stole the story and sued him for plagiarism. We may never learn the truth.
The action takes place in Calabria a few decades earlier. Nedda, sung by the exciting soprano Kristin Sampson, is married to Canio, the head of a troupe of traveling actors (sung with ringing tone by Mexican-Italian tenor Mauricio Trejo). The backstory is that he found her starving in the streets and gave her a profession and matrimonial legitimacy.
He is a good-hearted man but jealous and possessive. When he learns from another member of his troupe, the crippled and embittered Tonio (performed with power by baritone Daniel Lickteig) that Nedda has been seen embracing one of the men of the town--Silvio (sung by the romantic lyric baritone Kevin Wetzel), his rage gets the better of him and intrudes upon that night's performance.
The performance, so popular in Southern Italy in that period, is one of commedia del'arte and the stock characters include Columbina, the flirtatious wife--enacted by Nedda; Pagliaccio, the cuckolded husband--enacted by Canio; Arlecchino the lover--enacted by Beppe (interesting young tenor Chaz'men Williams-Ali); and the Servant Taddeo--enacted by Tonio.
Without scenery and with minimal playing area, the artists made the story clear and believable. It was a directorial masterstroke to have Silvio sitting in the offstage audience. When he observes (SPOILER ALERT) Canio losing control and stabbing Nedda he rushes onstage and suffers the same fate. We in the audience feel more involved than usual since we were also subjected to Nedda selling us tickets for the "performance".
Highlights of the performance include Mr. Lickteig's prologue, Canio's heartbreaking "Vesti la giubba", Nedda's aria about freedom "Stridono lassu" and the affecting love duet between Nedda and Silvio as he persuades her to elope with him after the performance. The Italian was so clearly sung and the acting so effective that the occasional problems with the projected titles mattered little.
The production at the South Orange Performing Arts Center was a collaboration between the Martha Cardona Theater, The Mid Atlantic Opera Orchestra, conducted by Jason C. Tramm, and the Seton Hall University Chorus which sang the vesper chorus quite beautifully.
For more information on the upcoming Tosca, see their website.
www.themarthacardonatheater.com. We are familiar with the cast and you won't be disappointed.
(c) meche kroop