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, November 22, 2015


The cast of Bare Operas' Goyescas

Enrique Granados' "opera" Goyescas has lain dormant for a century, just like Sleeping Beauty. We put opera in quotes because the way we experienced it was as a dance/ song/ theater piece. The marvelous music pulls it all together. Maestro Sesto Quatrini himself did the arrangement for his 14 piece orchestra which played Granados' music as beautifully as one might hope for.  Music Director Laetitia Ruccolo really knows the piano, the instrument for which the music was originally written.

Granados was inspired by the paintings of Francisco Goya who depicted the bohemians of the 18th c.  --the  majos and majas of Madrid.  Librettist Fernando Periquet y Zuaznabar was obliged to fit the text to the melodies of Granados' previously written suite for piano.

The story is a simple one. One of the majos, the bullfighter Paquito, flirts with Rosario a woman of the upper classes, angering his girlfriend Pepa and enraging Rosario's high-born boyfriend Fernando. Fernando will let Rosario attend their dance but only if he comes as her protector. At the dance, the intrusion is resented and insults are exchanged. Paquito and Fernando fight; Fernando dies in Rosario's arms.

This is not the frothy plot of a zarzuela; it reminded us of how many operas have men killing each other, or at least threatening each other, over a flirtatious woman. Eugene Onegin comes to mind and Cavalleria Rusticana, among several others. We are here dealing with more than simple jealousy, however, since class issues are involved.  We wondered what would happen today if some Wall Street types crashed a party in the projects.

The four leads came across rather well with the standout being tenor Sean Christensen who sang with a full-throated tenor, much enlarged since we last heard him sing. Furthermore he seemed every inch an aristocrat, sneering disdainfully at the punk/majos.

Soprano Lauren Yokabaskas sang the role of Rosario and sang it well; she convinced us that she loved Fernando, even if she didn't convince him!  What was missing was an understanding of why and how she was flirting with Paquito or why she even wanted to attend the party. But the librettist didn't give us anything to go on. She was lovely in the wistful aria about the nightingale in the third scene and the subsequent duet when Fernando arrives, just before the fatal duel.

Hee-Pyoung Oh has a substantial baritone instrument and was quite convincing as the tough majo Paquito. He swaggered and threatened in a menacing manner which was quite different from the subtle threat and menace he portrayed when we heard him a couple months ago, singing the role of Giorgio Germont.

Molly Boggess as Pepa exhibited a fine mezzo-soprano and snarled in jealousy as her relationship with Paquito was threatened.

The work was fortunately sung in Spanish but our Latin American companion had as much trouble as we did understanding the Spanish. He also observed that the translation (by Angela Marroy Boerger) was often inaccurate. But the titles (Briana Hunter and Enrico Lagasca) were essential.

We agree with Bare Opera's goal of instituting innovations that make opera fresh and visceral, achieving intimacy in unorthodox spaces. Their first production took place in an art gallery. This production took place in a long narrow space (Bat Haus in Bushwick). The room was arranged so that everyone had a great view and a sense of intimacy, with the long side of the room providing a very wide but shallow playing space. Characters entered and exited by means of a staircase since there were no "wings". The orchestra was at the far end of the space. It all worked just fine. To our delight, we observed the mostly young audience enjoying themselves. Bare Opera is doing something right, selling out six performances. Tomorrow's matinée will have some of the same cast members and some different ones.
There was a stunning curtain raiser that served to set the mood. Excerpts from Isaac Albéniz' 1886 Suite Española filled the air with rhythm and color and the sounds of a guitar, imitated but not present. Stunningly choreographed by Liz Piccoli, who also served as Assistant Director, three dancers interpreted five of Albéniz' tributes to cities in Spain. Although our taste in dance runs heavily toward classical ballet, we were surprised to find so much to like in the dancing of Sharlane Conner (the girl in white), Tiger Brown (the girl in red) and Vivake Kamsingsavath (the boy in rags).

The dancing was varied and seemed to ride on the surface of the music as if it were being created spontaneously.  Ms. Conner is delicate but intense and uses her hands beautifully.  Ms. Brown is fiery and athletic with great leaps. Mr. Kamsingsavath showed great ease with the moves of hip-hop but made them artistic in "Castilla". There was a tender duet between him and Ms. Conner in "Granada". There was an interesting use of a rope as the three dancers seemed to work out their relationship with one another.  In "Asturia"  (our favorite) they were crowned with headgear made of tiny lights. In "Aragon", the crowns came off and the dancing became frisky and playful.

As much as we liked the dancing in Suite Española, we did not care for the dancers invading the space of Goyescas any more than the majos and majas enjoyed the invasion by the aristocrats.  We found it distracted us from the singing.

We were not pleased by the costuming. Obviously Costume Designer Laura Kung was going for a certain look but the costumes were not especially attractive and required even less attractive undergarments. Neither were we taken by her costumes for the women in Goyescas. According to the program notes, she had in mind the designs of Balenciaga for the aristocrats but we doubt that the audience would have been familiar with his work of that epoch. Fernando's black suit and shirt seemed just about right but Rosario's costume with loose plaid pants looked unflattering.

Stage Director Jonathan Warman elected to set the work in 1980, or at least to be inspired by Pedro Almodóvar's films of that period, when Franco's death in 1975 initiated repercussions of anarchic freedom, individuality, and the new wave of punk.

This is only the second production by Bare Opera which attempts to, and has succeeded at, providing a fresh modern take on the opera experience. Visual arts are put on equal standing with music. That doesn't mean that the set was lavish. There was only a small platform and a large banner proclaiming "Juventud Socialista Unida"...United Socialist Youth, as we translate it.

So yes, it was rather bare in framework but the dancing and singing made it a fine evening!

(c) meche kroop

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