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, December 6, 2015


Eva Giorgi, Bonnie Frauenthal, and Martin Everall

How often does one have unmitigated fun at the opera?  If you can't remember the last time, get yourself to Hunter College (Lang Recital Hall) for Utopia Opera's production of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan's Princess Ida.  You will hear great music, laugh at funny dialogue, witness an episode of cross-dressing (gasp!) and laugh yourself silly.  And why not!!!

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote a narrative poem in 1847 which inspired William Gilbert to adapt it as a play in 1870, utilizing music by Rossini and Offenbach. But the operetta we enjoyed last night, directed and conducted by that OTHER William (Remmers), required all new music by Arthur Sullivan. It was written at the midpoint of their Savoy partnership and is the only one of this oeuvre that is written in iambic pentameter.

Tennyson's poem, the play, and the operetta all satirize themes that were important in the second half of the 19th c. --Darwinian evolution, feminism, and the radical idea of educating women! Indeed, Tennyson wrote "The Princess" just when Queens College was opened to educate  women.

The play involves the lovely Princess Ida (beautifully sung by Bonnie Frauenthal) who refuses to go through with the marriage contracted for her when she was a year old. She has established a university for women from which men are barred.  She is adamant.  (The alternative name for the operetta is Castle Adamant.)

Her intended husband, Prince Hilarion (sweet-voiced tenor Mitchell Roe), along with his two companions-- Cyril (tenor Matthew Hughes who has the comedic style of Nathan Lane) and Florian (baritone Matthew Walsh)--must infiltrate the university dressed as women.

Princess Ida's father King Gama (played hilariously by comic baritone Martin Everall) is being held hostage by Hilarion's father King Hildebrand (bass-baritone Jack Anderson White), along with King Gama's three apelike sons Arac (Ben Cohen), Scynthius (Jonathan Dauermann), and Guron (Spencer Leopold-Cohen)--to ensure fulfillment of the contract.

The funniest lines of the libretto belong to King Gama and Mr. Everall's delivery of patter was sensational as he tries to describe why no one likes him.  (We LOVED him!).  Great amusement was provided by Lady Blanche (mezzo-soprano Eva Giorgi) who is the very strict Professor of Abstract Sciences. Her song "Come Mighty Must" was a real show-stopper. She is a most unpleasant character who wants to take control of the university.

We also enjoyed soprano Mary Langston as Lady Psyche, Professor of Humanities, and Melissa Serluco whose character falls in love with Florian, just as Lady Psyche falls for Cyril.  There is plenty of lyric romanticism along with the funny patter and it was difficult to keep a straight face.

The best part of the performance was that every role was well cast and the entire cast seemed to be having major fun.  Although the level of artistry was professional all around, the enthusiasm and involvement made us think of a school or camp performance. And we mean that in the best possible way.

Mr. Remmers conducted his chamber orchestra and wardrobe was attributed to Eric Lamp and Angel Betancourt. There was no scenery and none was needed.  The evening was all about performance.

If you cannot make today's 3:00 matinée, you will have two chances next weekend. It would be a sad thing, a VERY sad thing to miss this rarely produced operetta.

(c) meche kroop

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