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 15, 2015


New York Lyric Opera Theatre

Last night we attended an Opera Gala at Weill Recital Hall. We heard 32 singers in 16 scenes. Our ears are ringing with so much beautiful music, conducted from the piano by Maestro Richard Cordova, whom we well remember from Little Opera Theater's presentation of Carlisle Floyd's Slow Dusk.  Last night he did not have an orchestra at his disposal but he made the piano sound like one!

If General/Artistic Director Elizabeth Heuermann was responsible for directing, we would like to point out that several of the scenes showed the result of a creative hand. Ms. Heuermann apparently put the show together and also sang the role of Adele in the final scene comprising most of Act II of Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus.

It is this final scene that sticks in our mind.  It was festive; it was well sung; it was gorgeously costumed by Mori Lee with performers wearing masks to match their gem-colored gowns. Not only did Ms. Heuermann make a fine Adele but soprano Jessica Sandige was a standout as Rosalinde, pretending to be an Hungarian Countess.  This "Czárás" was fortuitously and appropriately sung in German--appropriate because of the humorous line "Of course I'm Hungarian, I just sang in German".

The rest of the scene was sung in English, perhaps not our preference, but the translation was a good one and the English was well enunciated, something we do not take for granted. Mezzo soprano Allison Waggener, remembered from Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble, nicely handled the travesti role of Prince Orlofsky, host of the costume ball.

Thinking about the rest of the evening, there were more highlights than we have room to write about but we will try to cover at least a few.

We have previously heard Ms. Sandige only in small roles so it delighted us to hear her twice last night--not only in the Strauss but also as Cio-Cio San singing "Un bel di" from Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Without benefit of costume, wig, makeup, or scenery, her clear bright soprano did the work, expressing all the love, longing, and false hope that we would wish for. Variety of tempi and dynamics contributed to the performance.

Tenor Percy Martinez, whom we have reviewed many times, did justice to every role he took on and managed to color each role differently. He made a fine Rodolfo with Jennifer Smith as his Violetta in "Libiamo" from Verdi's La Traviata. (We might have appreciated her performance more if she had not been holding her score.  It was distracting.)

He portrayed another young lover in Puccini's La Bohéme, trying to break up with the seriously ill Mimi (Beier Zhao) in Act III. In stunning contrast with these tender lovers were Clara Lisle as Musetta and Michael Binkowski as Marcello--one of the scenes in which we admired the direction.

Again Mr. Martinez succeeded in portraying the very different lover Pinkerton, a far more complex character. His Cio-Cio San, Beier Zhao, had the advantage of appearing Asian but somehow looked worried and anxious during the love duet.

Another artist who impressed us was baritone José Pietri-Coimbre who enlivened every scene he was in, not only with his fine voice but with his willingness to inhabit the role.  From Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, his Papageno was pure delight and his Papagena, Holly Sparlin Sargeant, was a perfect match, showing evidence of a music theater background.

He was a perfectly slimy Don Giovani seducing Zerlina. The effect was heightened by the fact that his scene partner, 16-year-old Gwyneth Campbell, was so petite and innocent looking.

In the quartet "Non ti fidar, o misera" he continued his fine performance with excellent contributions from the Donna Anna of Shauna McCarthy, the Donna Elvira of Iris Prcic, and the Don Ottavio of John Ramseyer. It was totally convincing and the voices blended beautifully.

Another very affecting piece was the final scene of Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier. Jennifer Noel's large soprano was just right for the Marschallin. Victoria Graves made a splendid Octavian and Elise Mark was excellent as the young Sophie. Baritone Michael Binkowski appeared briefly as Sophie's father Faninal and it was a bittersweet moment when the Marschallin walked offstage with him. The contributions from Maestro Cordova's piano were extensive.

Elise Mark also made her mark as Manon in "Ce bruit de l'or" in Massenet's opera of the same name.

Coloratura soprano Madison Marie McIntosh lent her finely focused instrument to "Dov 'è Lucia" from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. We have reviewed Ms. McIntosh previously and are watching her professional development with interest. We hope we will soon hear her do the mad scene!

It is quite a challenge to create an opera scene without orchestra, costumes, sets and makeup but most of the scenes succeeded admirably. There were several other singers on board whom we hope to have a chance to review in the future.

(c) meche kroop

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