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, March 13, 2016


Jamilyn Manning-White (photo by Russ Rowland)

There is a very fine line between bringing new insights to a work from the 19th c. and trashing it. We are pleased to report that Heartbeat Opera, one of our favorite small opera companies,  belongs to the former category.  Last night we marveled at the insightful adaptation of Donizetti's masterpiece Lucia di Lammermoor. More than an adaptation, we consider it a distillation of the essence of Salvadore Cammarano's libretto and a superb introduction to the opera.

The house was packed for opening night of the festival which includes lots of goodies, as you may learn on their website, www.heartbeatopera.org. It did our heart good to see an audience of 20-somethings thrilling to Donizetti's score in a unique arrangement by Daniel Schlosberg featuring a string quartet, guitar, clarinet, and some dazzling percussion by wizard Bill Solomon.

As directed by Louisa Proske (Co-Artistic Director of Heartbeat Opera), crucial scenes of the story are presented as flashbacks or fantasies of the poor heroine who appears in a hospital bed, struggling against her restraints.  Her reality appears upstage behind a sheer curtain with the memories taking place downstage.

All the crucial scenes were there. We loved the scene taking place at the fountain between Lucia and her friend Alisa in which Lucia frightens Alisa with her ghost story.  One can already see the unbalanced nature that will be pushed over the edge by the manipulations of her brother Enrico; he has been alerted by his captain of the guard Normanno of her secret rendez-vous with Enrico's enemy Edgardo.  Her only supporter is Raimondo, the family confessor, but he too has been deceived and abandons her to a forced marriage with Arturo, chosen for political reasons.

As the eponymous heroine, one could not ask for a better interpreter than Jamilyn Manning-White whose prodigious skills with the fioritura of the bel canto period were matched by her dramatic artistry. Our heart broke for this victim of male privilege.

Tenor David Guzman made a fine romantic partner as Edgardo; baritone Matthew Singer conveyed all the brutality of a selfish brother whose deviousness was informed by political desperation. John Taylor Ward was effective as Raimondo and Monica Soto-Gil made an excellent impression as Lucia's friend Alisa.

Maestro Schlosberg conducted from the piano and his arrangement brought out many interesting voices in the score. We were particularly taken by the wizardry of percussionist Bill Solomon who created sounds to rival that of the glass harmonica one never gets to hear.

Scenic Designer Reid Thompson did much with little.  Costumes by Beth Goldenberg were contemporary.

Although the two operas of the festival were presented sequentially on opening night, the rest of the week permits one to see just one at a time. We wish we could be as enthusiastic about Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas but we cannot. The baroque music was gorgeous. Carla Jablonski's Dido sang beautifully. John Taylor Ward's Aeneas fulfilled the promise of his smaller role in Lucia.

However, the English diction was so poor, especially on the part of the women singers, that we felt we were hearing an opera in a language with which we were only slightly familiar.  It was like listening to Russian and recognizing a word here and there.

Nothing about the story was illuminated and the bizarre movements made no sense to us. We sat there totally baffled by the storytelling. There were so-called witches and sorceresses waving branches, occupying a bathtub and masturbating against push-brooms.  This didn't add up to anything meaningful.  Only "Dido's Lament" at the conclusion was meaningful.  We just couldn't figure out what director Ethan Heard (Co-Artistic Director) was going for.

So...we give an unqualified YEA to Lucia and a NAY to Dido. See it at your own risk!

(c) meche kroop

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