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, April 12, 2015


Thor Abjornsson, Katie Andrews, Ashley Galvani Bell, Augusta Caso, Luigi Rizzo, and Lucy Yates

The life of Isabella Colbran would make a wonderful opera, if only we had a Rossini-equivalent composer to do her justice! Born in Madrid in 1785 she achieved fame as a singer by the age of 20 and became the prima donna of Il Teatro di San Carlo in Naples where she inspired Gioacchino Rossini to create several operas that are still being performed today. They were married for several years.

Sergio Ragni's book, Isabella Colbran, Isabella Rossini (which we have not read) was used as the basis for an enthralling musical performance presented by Divaria Productions at the perfectly sized auditorium of the Sheen Center.

The speaking part of the impressario of Il Teatro di San Carlo, one Domenico Barbaia, was played by Luigi Rizzo, who narrated the events. The arias were finely sung by soprano Ashley Galvani Bell and mezzo-soprano Augusta Caso. It was said that Ms. Colbran's voice could not be replaced by just one singer; she was said to be a soprano sfogato, a mezzo soprano with a very high extension. Tenor Thor Abjornsson sang the male roles and we enjoyed everything about his voice with one exception. He tended to push his voice when going for volume at the upper register.

Not only did we get to hear arias and duets from operas by Rossini, but arias from operas by Carafa and songs composed by Ms. Colbran herself which were quite lovely. Accompanying on the piano was the multi-talented Lucy Yates and the extraordinary harpist Katie Andrews.  We found ourselves in bel canto heaven.

Ms. Caso evinced great skill in this genre in her performance of "Quanto è grato all'alma mia...questo core" from Elisabetta Regina D'Inghilterra, with its fireworks of fioritura. We half expected the company of firefighters to return! (The start of the evening was delayed due to an evacuation of the building relating to a gas leak. We consider the artists to be real troopers, one and all.  The show must go on and it did!) We are sure no one in the audience failed to notice the similarity of the cabaletta to that of Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia--"Una voce poco fa".

From the same opera, Ms. Caso sang a lovely duet with Mr. Abjornsson--"Perché mai destin crudel".  Ms. Bell joined her later for an exciting duet from La Donna del Lago with Ms. Caso performing the pants role of Malcolm. Ms. Bell and Mr. Abjornsson sang a lovely duet from Armida.

From Carafa's opera Gabriella di Vergy, Ms. Bell sang the sad "Perché non chiusu al di". From Carafa's Medea, Mr. Abjornsson sang "I dolci contenti".

Ms. Colbran's compositions delighted the ear and Ms. Andrews harp brought out all the pathos she wrote into them. One hears a great deal of romantic suffering in the text and in the music. Ms. Caso shone in "T'intendo si mio core".  Ms. Bell delighted in "Quel cor che mi prometti" accompanied by the piano and in "Povero cor tu palpiti" accompanied by the harp.

The musical values were high all around and the storytelling was effective. The set was simple--a velvet settee, two bentwood chairs and a table, with harp and piano in full view. Costuming was simple. The work was directed by Ignacio Garcia-Bustelo.

It was a most enjoyable evening that left us wanting more. Should a reader know a good old-fashioned composer, do propose this interesting woman as a subject for an opera. She deserves one!

(c) meche kroop

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