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.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


David Blalock, Rod Nelman, and Monica Yunus

It comes as no surprise that the innovative On Site Opera has come up with yet another daring idea--The Figaro Project--presenting all three Beaumarchais-based operas over a period of three years. Forget Rossini, forget Mozart, forget Corigliano. The three "alternates" are Giovanni Paisiello, Marcos Portugal and Darius Milhaud.

Paisiello's librettist for Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Giuseppe Petrosellini, hewed rather more closely than did Rossini's librettist Cesare Sterbini to the Beaumarchais comedy; the love interest between Rosina and "Lindoro" (Count Almaviva in disguise) was given more weight than the cleverness of the famed barber. The work premiered in 1782 and was wildly popular. Rossini's version did not enter the opera stage until 1816 and it took a long time for it to supplant the Paisiello. Today, Rossini's version is preeminent and Paisiello's has faded into obscurity.

Thanks to On Site Opera, this oversight has been remedied and we spent a delightful evening revisiting the story with "new" music at a particularly apt venue that added to the enjoyment.  We began the evening sitting in the courtyard of the Fabbri Mansion which dates back a century and has been landmarked. The singers were finely costumed by Candida K. Nichols in garb of that same period.

The sweet-voiced tenor David Blalock as Count Almaviva is nervously trying to serenade Rosina, the cloistered ward of the controlling Dr. Bartolo. Figaro, portrayed by baritone Andrew Wilkowske, is here a musician who has fallen on hard times and has taken up barbering. He and the Count recognize each other and set the plot in motion.

In Paisiello's version there is no band hired for the serenade but we did not feel at all cheated since the music coming from the chamber orchestra  was so delightful. Newly appointed Music Director Geoffrey McDonald (much enjoyed on prior occasions at the White Box Center's Alcina and Gotham Chamber Opera's El Gato con Botas) led a chamber orchestra comprising a string quartet augmented by woodwinds and a guitar which handled the recitativi better than any harpsichord.

At a balcony overhead, the doors parted and the lovely soprano Monica Yunus stepped out. We felt like part of the action, perhaps a neighbor witnessing the serenade. We love the idea of a site-specific work and the Fabbri Mansion worked perfectly well. One could see into the mansion from which emerged the foolish and controlling Dr. Bartolo who is cutting back on Rosina's fresh air privileges. Rod Nelman's hearty bass-baritone was perfect for the buffo role.

Also emerging from the mansion were two servants who provided plenty of comedy with their snuff-dipping, sneezing, and yawning. Baritone Benjamin Bloomfield portrayed Svegliato and later, lavishly bewigged, the notary who marries Rosina and the Count. In this production, the tenor role of Giovinetto was sung by the adorable soprano Jessica Rose Futran who kept us laughing.

When the action moved inside, the audience was ushered into the library of the mansion and seated along the two long sides of the room. Everyone had a good view of the action and many were involved in the performance to a small extent. We felt grateful to On Site Opera for taking us out of the theater and into a place that felt real.  A few props sufficed and the entire affair was subtly and effectively lit by Shawn Kaufman.

The dapper Don Basilio was portrayed by bass-baritone Isaiah Musik-Ayala who lived up to his name. "La Calunnia" was well sung but not nearly as well-developed as Rossini's version.

The scenes were pretty much the same as in the Rossini version and the melodies were charming. Every voice effectively expressed the character and the Italian was so fine that the projected titles were scarcely necessary. Clearly, leaving the concert hall requires no sacrifice of musical or dramatic values. General and Artistic Director Eric Einhorn has earned our admiration and respect. When we could tear our attention away from the action, we glanced around the room and saw rows of smiling faces.  Does one see that at the Met?

We can scarcely wait for next year's Nozze di Figaro, written by Marcos Portugal in 1800 and never before seen in North America. The following year we will get to see La Mère Coupable, written by Darius Milhaud.

If you move quickly you may be able to snag a seat for one of the three remaining performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Last night there was not a seat to be had. On Site Opera has only been around for a couple years but word has gotten out. We know quality when we see/hear it.

(c) meche kroop

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