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.

Sunday, March 22, 2015


Gary Ramsay, Karin Mushegain, and Nicole Haslett (photo by Christopher Ash)

What could make a veteran opera goer happier than seeing a house full of 20-somethings laughing and cheering at the opera?  We have nothing but accolades for the yearling Heartbeat Opera, the members of which put all their heart and soul into presenting Jacques Offenbach's one-act ribald opera Daphnis and Chloe.  It was a wise choice and high in entertainment value. In spite of claims of minimal means, the production appeared rich in imagination, creativity and color.

Even before the opera began, the audience was serenaded by the chamber group Cantata Profana comprising Nathan Lesser violinist, Colin Brookes violist, Samuel Suggs bassist, Joshua Anderson clarinetist and Andrew Parker Oboeist; the graceful strains of the latter teased our ears with the opening theme. Their motley attire added to the fun. The hands-on batonless conductor was the fine Louis Lohraseb and Offenbach's score was arranged for the quintet by Daniel Schlosberg.

The voices were uniformly excellent with winsome soprano Nicole Haslett (well remembered from Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance and from The Ghosts of Versailles at Manhattan School of Music) performing as Chloe, mezzo-soprano Karin Mushegain taking the role of Daphnis, Gary Ramsey (remembered as the lead in Dell'Arte Opera's production of Salieri's Falstaff) playing the raunchy Pan.

The four Bacchantes were excellently sung and acted by Tynan Davis, Kristin Gornstein, Alexandra Loutsion and Molly Netter.  It was a treat for the eye to see the costuming by Beth Goldenberg; the four women were decked out in feather boas, layers of underwear, chains and safety pins and lots of plastic.  Their faces were decorated with paint and their wild hairdos augmented by whatever artistry Jon Carter brought to the table. Perhaps he was also responsible for Pan's goat feet and horns.

The story is a simple one. The shepherd Dafnis and the shepherdess Chloe are sweet on one another but haven't a clue about how to express it.  The god Pan, pretending to be his own statue, is enamored of Chloe and determines to initiate her into the art of love whereas the Bacchantes, all crazy about Dafnis, plot to seduce him with the waters of forgetfulness from the River Lethe.  They succeed and the lovers are then ready to wed.

This silly tale offered the canny Offenbach an opportunity to make lots of rowdy jokes which amused last night's audience as much as they must have amused his 19th c. audience.  You had to be there to appreciate Pan's pipes.

The effective set by Reid Thompson included a backdrop of silver streamers, a floor strewn with flowers and a sequined pedestal to permit Pan to hide his goat feet. Oliver Wason's lighting was effective.  Choreography was by Chloe (sic) Treat (sic).

The entire affair can be attributed to Heartbeat's Co-Artistic Directors Ethan Heard and Louisa Proske who also directed.  The two came out of the Yale School of Drama which has been the source of so many superlative productions and skilled artists.  We love and support their mission to bring opera to youthful audiences in intimate venues.

Our only cavil with the evening was the English translation. Presumably the intent was to make it more accessible but we would have preferred to hear it sung in French with English dialogue.  Some of the singing in English was not clear enough to be understood anyway.  Still, it was not that important since the story was simple and well told by the performers' physicality.  Just sayin'.  We prefer the cadence of French.

(c) meche kroop

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