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.
Monday, June 27, 2016
Saturday, June 25, 2016
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
|Sandra Hamaoui and Nenad Ciča in the Balcony Scene (photo by meche)|
In cooperation with The New School Mannes, The International Vocal Arts Institute is winding down their annual New York City training program, which has attracted 80 young artists from 16 countries, all on the brink of major careers, Over the past three decades, Artistic Director Joan Dornemann and Music Director Paul Nadler have been passing the torch and launching international careers with institutes held all over the world. The three-week long NYC Institute is presently winding down after several master classes and performances, all open to the public.
The libretto of Gounod's 1867 masterpiece, adapted by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré from Shakespeare's tragedy, wisely focuses on the plight of the "star-cross'd lovers" with several themes from Shakespeare's play eliminated. Last night's performance trimmed things down still further, eliminating the page Stefano, the favored suitor Paris, and the choruses (although the cast assembled onstage and sang the opening chorus-- and sang it as beautifully as we have ever heard it). The fight scene was replaced by a dramatically affecting narration by the lovely Dietlinde Turban Maazel, holding a bloodied cloth in her hand.
This abridgement brought the titular pair into bold relief and allowed one to concentrate on the gorgeous arias and duets. Gounod lavished all his melodic gifts on this score and gave us memorable tunes that rest in the memory for a long while.
As Juliette, Sandra Hamaoui's clear-voiced instrument was employed with great artistry and adept vocal coloration. Her prodigious acting skills gave us a totally believable teenager, motivated by youthful hormones, abetted by adolescent recklessness. Her flawless French made every word understood, a great advantage in the absence of titles.
As her Romeo, Serbian tenor Nenad Ciča was youthfully ardent and impulsive and fulfilled his role in a similarly convincing fashion. We would like to hear a bit more "center" in his voice but that will come. His voice balanced well with that of Ms. Hamaoui and the harmonization was gorgeous.
Another voice that impressed us was that of baritone Lawson Anderson whose rich full voice was perfect for the role of Count Capulet, Juliette's father. In spite of his youth, he sang with authority and evinced a strong stage presence.
Baritone Evan Henke did a fine job as Roméo's friend Mercutio, with his "Queen Mab" aria--another singer we would like to hear more of.
Mezzo-soprano Michelle Siemens had a lovely sound and connected well with her role as Gertrude, Juliette's nurse, proving that there is no such thing as a "small role".
This was also the case with tenor Pavel Suliandziga who sang the part of Tybalt and sang it with such unique timbre that we were disappointed when he was killed off so early!
As Frère Laurent, bass Christopher Nazarian acted the part well but sang with a somewhat grainy tone.
Conductor Paul Nadler has beautifully expressive hands and we could imagine an entire orchestra responding; only pianist Dura Jun was there but her playing left nothing to be desired. The portentously grim music of the final scene with its arpeggiated diminished chords were effectively brought out. The recapitulation of the music from the bedroom scene added to the tragedy.
Direction by Omer Ben Seadia was as creative as it could be in a black box theater with nothing onstage but a stepladder and a few chairs. The Venetian masks used for the opening scene (the Capulet's ball) were a wonderful touch. Seeing Juliet hugging the pillow after Roméo departs the nuptial bed was a touch any woman in the audience would immediately understand.
No one was credited with the lighting but we found it absolutely instrumental in creating atmosphere, particularly in the absence of sets. For example, the lighting became somber when Juliet learns that the boy she fell for is from the family of her father's enemy.
If you were so unfortunate as to have missed this wonderful performance, you will have an opportunity to hear Puccini's La Bohème tonight, which promises to be as wonderful. And on Thursday night there will be a rare performance of Leoncavallo's version of the same story, a performance which we are already regretting missing. Hopefully, readers, you will not have a prior commitment and can attend. As for us, we wish we could clone ourselves. So much culture, so little time!
(c) meche kroop
Saturday, June 18, 2016
We never knew that he has been a member of the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of New York, which has been around for 80 years; he has been president of this society for the past year. You Savoyards out there would do well to look into this group which meets several times yearly at the Community Church of New York on East 35th St.
That Mr. Remmers could entertain an audience for a couple hours came as no surprise but the variety of his talent is astonishing. He sings, he acts, he plays piano, and he dances; he is a veritable one man show. We only know one cabaret artist who can keep an audience this spellbound all by himself, and that is Kim David Smith whose talents are different from Mr. Remmers.
Mr. Remmers is unfailingly versatile and endlessly funny. He is an expert with patter songs, of which W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan have created so many. He is a tall drink of water and thin as electrical tape. His body and face seem made of rubber.
Much of the G&S material in last night's performance, waggishly entitled "The First Annual William Remmers Memorial Concert", came from the delightful 1882 Iolanthe, which found G&S at the height of their compositional power. "The Law is the True Embodiment" was a smashing way to open the program and "It May Not Be" brought the enchanting evening to a satisfying close.
There were also selections from the 1887 operetta "Ruddigore", the 1888 "The Yeomen of the Guard" and the 1896 "The Grand Duke". The audience comprised mainly members of the G&S Society who knew all the words and gleefully sang along.
With great versatility, Mr. Remmers included lots of other material. In fine French he sang "Qu'ils Sont Doux" from Gounod's 1858 Le Médécin Malgré Lui and Jaques Brel's 1959 "La Valse à Mille Temps". And what's this? The marvelous "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" from Lerner & Loewe's 1956 musical My Fair Lady! Could anything top Henry Higgins??? Well, yes. What about "I'm Not Getting Married Today" from Sondheim's 1970 Company, usually sung by a woman. Never mind that, Mr. Remmers did it justice.
More surprises dazzled us. We didn't know that Mr. Remmers is also a composer and he entranced us by sitting at the piano and playing a number of compositions from his album Seven Songs for Seven Women. Apparently he is working on another album and played still more compositions; watch out for Shades of Violet!
When Mr. Remmers was not at the piano, the role of accompanist was played by Thomas Z. Shepard who did a fine job.
(c) meche kroop
Friday, June 17, 2016
Wednesday, June 15, 2016
|Jeni Houser as Susanna|
|Jesse Blumberg as Figaro|
It was the social event of the season and we were thrilled to be invited. In keeping with the exclusivity of the event and the size of Count Almaviva's summer residence on Hudson St. in the West Village, it was a small private event, limited to only fifty fortunate guests.
The ceremony was delayed for about two hours and we guests were privy to all the preparations. We got to chat with Figaro himself as he studied the room allotted by the Count, trying to figure out where to place the marital bed. We got to greet his bride Susanna as she made her preparations.
The ceremony, which was delayed due to all kinds of complications, finally took place with the entire household in attendance and guests being treated to glasses of Madeira with which to toast the bridal couple, and some lovely sweetmeats, ensuring that the marriage would be a sweet one.
We are speaking, of course, of The Marriage of Figaro, not the Mozart version, but a relatively unknown version written by Marcos Portugal in 1799 with libretto by Gaetano Rossi, who, like Da Ponte, adapted the work from a play by Beaumarchais. The story was basically the same with a few minor variations.
On Site Opera has made their mark by presenting lesser known operas in site-specific settings. This work marks the centerpiece of their exploration of the Beaumarchais trilogy. Having experienced several of their excellent productions, we count their contributions as crucial to the New York City opera landscape.
The production team is no less than visionary: Executive Director/Producer Jessica Kiger sees her company as complementary to grand opera, not a replacement. Indeed, there is something unique and incredibly special about opera up close and personal.
Stage Director Eric Einhorn has exquisite taste and judgment in each and every production, moving characters around the set and giving them stage business that is meaningful.
Conductor Geoffrey McDonald not only brings out the best in his musicians and singers, but, in this case, collaborated with guitarist José Luis Iglesias to produce a version of the score involving four classical musicians (violin, cello, clarinet, and oboe) with three musicians suggestive of Portuguese fado music (classical guitar, Portuguese guitar, and accordion).
That sounds strange on paper but the music they made seemed totally appropriate and fell fantastically well on the ear. Furthermore, it helped to get the point across that we were hearing an entirely different work and not a "copy of Mozart".
This being an opera, the voices were, shall we say, "instrumental" in the success of this venture. As the eponymous Figaro, lyric baritone Jesse Blumberg soared gracefully through the material and conveyed the wily resourcefulness of his character. As his bride Susanna, soprano Jeni Houser sang warmly and winningly. Their chemistry together was wonderful, not only in their duets but in the dialogue.
(In place of recitativi, we had effective dialogue written by Joan Holden.)
As the beleaguered Countess Almaviva, soprano Camille Zamora was believable and sang with warmth and lovely tone. We particularly enjoyed her duet with Ms. Houser.
Tenor David Blalock made a marvelous Count Almaviva, both dramatically and vocally. He conveyed all of the Count's arrogance and eventual contrition.
Soprano Melissa Wimbish made a perfect Cherubino, totally convincing in her mischievous portrayal, and vocally excellent.
For humor, we had the Marcellina of mezzo-soprano Margaret Lattimore, whom we much enjoyed some years ago and were happy to see back onstage. Bass-baritone David Langan was just right as Don Bartolo.
Bass-baritone Ryan Kuster excelled as the slimy Don Basilio and bass-baritone Antoine Hodge was hilarious as the gardener Antonio and even funnier as the notary Gusmano. He kept falling asleep even as he was reading the documents and we couldn't help noticing that his character was the only person in the room who was. (So unlike sitting at the Met surrounded by snoring audience members.)
So--this production was anything but a snooze. It was incredibly involving and one left feeling as if one was a participant, not an observer.
Had the musical values been any less wonderful, we might have been telling you that the set stole the show. The performance was a multi-storied and elaborately decorated house on Hudson St. which audience members were invited to explore before the opera began. It was great fun to encounter the cast members already in character. One truly felt a part of the proceedings.
Costumes by Haley Lieberman seemed to suggest an indeterminate period in the second half of the 20th c.
The opera was sung in English and, although we would have preferred to hear it in the original Italian, we admit that the translation by Gilly French and Jeremy Gray was exceptionally well done, using some clever rhymes like "marriage/disparage". Contributing to our tolerance for the English was the fact that every cast member had excellent diction, a quality we do not take for granted.
We feel a bit guilty praising so highly a work which few of you will get to see. The four-day run was sold out long ago and we can only hope that it will be presented again in the future so that more people might experience the same thrill that we did.
Obviously the economics of producing such an elaborate work in such intimate quarters for such a small audience to enjoy is an issue. On Site Opera deserves your philanthropy!
© meche kroop
Monday, June 13, 2016
|Suchan Kim, Dina Pruzhansky,Kinneret Ely, Shu-Yu Hsiung|
Regular readers recall how fond we are of bel canto. of duets, and of hearing wonderful songs we've never heard before. All three conditions were experienced last night when versatile soprano Kinneret Ely performed a most enjoyable recital at The National Opera Center.
Let us begin with the new. While singing well in Italian, Russian, German, French and English, Ms. Ely seemed most at home in Hebrew. A 20th c. song by Nachum Nardi took us on a journey into the desert with the lovely melody bringing in the sounds of the camels' bells--beautiful achieved by Dina Pruzhansky. A lullaby by Yehiel Halperin took us to a gentler landscape, whilst Nira Chen's setting of a verse from the Song of Songs was exquisite.
All three songs were performed with simplicity by Ms. Ely who has a most winning stage presence, graciously telling the audience about each song on the program. Her exciting coloratura was saved for other material on the program. We never tire of "Una voce poco fa" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Ms. Ely paid full attention to Rosina's spunky nature.
In the lengthy mad scene from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, Ms. Ely accurately conveyed the many shades of madness experienced by the eponymous heroine. Here, Shu-Yu Hsiung's flute joined Ms. Pruzhansky's piano and the accompaniment left nothing to be desired.
It was a great benefit to have such a fine robust baritone as Suchan Kim on hand to perform Rigoletto to Ms. Ely's Gilda in the scene where she confesses and her father consoles. We've heard Verdi's Rigoletto several times in the past couple months and that is another scene of which we never tire.
In the less familiar "Doute de la lumière" from Ambroise Thomas' Hamlet, the couple switched from a paternal relationship to a romantic one and that was so swoon-worthy that we wanted to hear the entire opera.
Ms. Ely also gave us three sets of lieder in her generous program. There was a trio of Tosti songs that we enjoyed, although we would have wished for a little more legato to truly achieve the Italianate style.
A trio of Strauss songs delighted us with Ms. Pruzhansky especially wonderful in Morgen. Ms. Ely clearly knows how to pronounce the difficult "ch" as she demonstrated in the word "glücklichen"; so we hope she will become more consistent as in "Zecher" and "Becher", where more definition was needed. (We confess to being rather nit-picky with our German.)
A pair of Rachmaninov songs rounded out the program and sounded fine. (We confess to knowing very little about Russian diction!) Ms. Pruzhansky nailed the sound of the rushing water in "Spring waters" whilst Ms. Ely nailed the hopefulness engendered by the coming of Spring.
As encore, we heard the delightful "Vanilla Ice Cream" from the Harnick/Bock musical She Loves Me, which Ms. Ely sang in a most charming manner.
At a time when most young sopranos sound identical, it was a pleasure to hear one with a unique tone involving substantial vibrato. Interestingly, in the role of Rosina, there was a rich mezzo-soprano quality in her lower register.
We are sure to be hearing more from this promising young artist.
(c) meche kroop
Friday, June 10, 2016
|Lindell Carter, Madison Marie McIntosh, Steven Herring, Brent Reilly Turner, Maestro Keith Chambers, Kirsten Chambers, Kevin J. Langan, Kian Freitas, and Richard Cross|
Last night we had the privilege of being present at a birth. The birth went smoothly and the newborn is healthy and gave some lusty cries. The birthplace was adequate but this baby needs some growing room! The babe was named....New Amsterdam Opera and was delivered by Maestro Keith Chambers,
We consider it ambitious to have tackled Fidelio, Beethoven's sole opera; thanks to some fine and highly accurate conducting as well as some excellent casting, the night was a huge success. The large church was filled to capacity and the standing ovation impressive. Musical values were so high that sets and costumes were not missed.
Beethoven wrote this opera in 1805 but tinkered with it until its final version was completed in 1814. Two interesting decisions were made by Maestro Chambers: although there were never any recitativi, the opera contained spoken dialogue and Mr. Chambers replaced this with narration by the eminent Richard Cross; although the original overture (thought to be too weighty for the opera) is generally presented as a concert piece, here it was inserted between the two scenes of Act II, not an original idea to be sure but not a treat one can take for granted.
The story is a straightforward one. The wife of a political prisoner disguises herself as a man and gets a job at the prison where her husband has been unfairly incarcerated. She wins the trust of the warden and finally manages to rescue her beloved. She also inadvertently wins the love of the warden's daughter Marzelline who is pursued by Jaquino.
Soprano Kirsten Chambers has a sizable voice with great overtones, one in which musical values are never sacrificed for volume. As the loyal and heroic titular character (first "Fidelio" and later "Leonora" when her gender is disclosed) she was completely believable. We loved her passionate aria in Act I.
We also loved the duet between Ms. Chambers and Madison Marie McIntosh, whose focused voice and youthful appearance perfectly suited the role of the innocent Marzelline. The two very different sopranos sounded brilliant together.
We do not get to hear the voice of the imprisoned aristocrat Florestan until Act II. The character has been starving in a dungeon for two years but tenor Brent Reilly Turner managed to color his robust voice to indicate both hope and faith. His big aria is introduced by a sorrowful theme in the orchestra, with Maestro Chambers' handling of the brass particularly impressive.
As the jailer Rocco, bass Kevin J. Langan was particularly fine, both vocally and dramatically. His German was especially fine, a quality we prize inasmuch as there were no titles. We were sitting to the side and his clarity was evident no matter which side of the stage he occupied.
Baritone Steven Herring has a powerful voice and created a threatening character in the role of Don Pizarro, the nobleman who was responsible for jailing Florestan. We found ourselves hating the character and loving the singer in equal measure!
Entering at the very end of the opera, announced by offstage trumpet, was the Governor Don Fernando. Bass-baritone Kian Freitas did justice to the role. It was a special moment when he allows the unmasked Leonora to remove her husband's chains. He makes the theme of the opera very clear--story and music both reflect Beethoven's passion for liberty and heroism.
Some special moments that we enjoyed were the quartet in Act I and the prisoner's chorus in Act II. Their placement up high behind and above the orchestra allowed their voices to be heard. Props go to Chorus Master Tony Bellomy.
We cannot comment on tenor Lindell Carter's portrayal of Jaquino because we could not hear him. Part of this can be attributed to his being stage right whilst we were sitting on the other side. Still, singers with larger voices or better focused voices could be heard from wherever.
And that brings us to our one disappointment with the evening. West Park Presbyterian Church does not have great acoustics. The orchestra filled the stage and the singers were placed in front. Our dearest wish for this new company is that they find a home with an orchestra pit or an elevated playing area. They deserve it!
(c) meche kroop
Monday, June 6, 2016
|Hasan Ozcan, Gennadiy Vysotskiy, Violetta Zabbi, Juan Del Bosco, Carlos Jimeno, Noam Katz, Galina Ivannikova, Kofi Hayford, Jeffrey Perez, and Jason Lim|
Last night's search for summertime opera took us to the National Opera Center where the New York Opera Theater presented a concert version of Verdi's masterpiece Rigoletto, of which we never tire--although we have reviewed it several times this year and just recently at Amore Opera.
Verdi's melodies are incomparable and Francesco Maria Piave's libretto does a great job of storytelling. Music and words combine to create well-rounded characterizations that require only good performers to inhabit them. In a piano reduction, one might miss the orchestration but, in the hands of Music Director Violetta Zabbi, we were content. Even the storm scene in Act IV created enough meteorological verisimilitude.
The performers were, for the most part, excellent, especially in their Italian diction. Without titles, it is a great advantage to be understood.
The heartbreaking role of Gilda was beautifully performed by soprano Noam Katz who was assisted by her innocent and beautiful appearance. We admired the way she conveyed various emotional states by means of vocal coloring, facial expression and gesture. Her bright youthful soprano and facile coloratura served her well.
The New York Opera Theater has a mission of role preparation and Ms. Katz' seemed well-prepared to go onstage anywhere with her Gilda; she is solid in her familiarity with the role. Although the program did not include bios, we would think she has sung the role before. And probably several times.
Similar in commitment and preparation, baritone Carlos Jimeno made a very fine Rigoletto--although his tall dignified bearing would have required elaborate costuming to convince us! He exhibited a wide emotional range and his duet with Gilda was superb. He handled his tenderness toward her as effectively as his antipathy toward the courtiers.
In the role of the Duke, the tenor was indisposed and having insurmountable vocal distress. Fortunately, in Act II, Mexican tenor Juan Del Bosco took over. His is a large voice that he might learn to harness and scale down when the performing space is small. Scorca Hall has very lively acoustics! He sounded best when he sang from offstage and one could still hear him loud and clear.
He is a musical singer with fine phrasing and superb Italian diction; but like many tenors he pushes on his high notes when he might do better to float them. The upper reaches of the staff does not mean the upper limits of volume. Although he seemed to know the role well, he turned to the score on the music stand which interfered with his otherwise fine acting.
We loved mezzo-soprano Galina Ivannikova in the role of Maddalena. She has a rich unique sound which one rarely hears in this fach. Her work in the quartet was outstanding. We wish to hear more of her!
Bass roles were well-sung. Kofi Hayford performed Monterone, a role which sat very well on his rich voice. Gennadiy Vysotskiy was truly menacing as Sparafucile and employed the bottom of his register well.
As Marullo, Borsa, and Ceprano, we heard Hasan Ozcan, Jason Lim, and Jeffrey Perez respectively. Their voices harmonized well and when they stepped away from their music stands they sounded even better. Regular readers will recall how we feel about singers being "on the book".
The performance came in at two hours, with a few judicious cuts in dialogue. We didn't miss Countess Ceprano at all. In terms of a concert version, this one was just the way we wanted to hear it, minus the music stands. We never missed the sets and costumes. We were happy to hear new singers showcased.
(c) meche kroop
Saturday, June 4, 2016
|Zen Wu, Melissa Serlluco, Ryan Slone, Jeff Goble, Caroline Tye, Alison Cheeseman, and Hayden DeWitt|
When thinking about operatic versions of Cinderella, most people think of Rossini's La Cenerentola. But Massenet's 1899 opera Cendrillon offers many delights, including a luscious score with many fine arias and ensembles and a libretto (by Henri Caïn) that hews more closely to the original Perrault story which was already two centuries old. It can be taken as a tale of a highly dysfunctional family.
Papa Pandolfe (warmly portrayed by Jeff Goble) has taken as his second wife the harridan Madame de la Haltière (the over-the-top Caroline Tye) who has brought with her two spoiled daughters Noémie (Zen Wu) and Dorothée (Melissa Serluco). Pandolfe's daughter Lucette (Alison Cheeseman) is adored by her father, who feels guilty for neglecting her, and barely tolerated by her step-family. This feels so relevant today when "blended families" are quite common.
William Remmers' Utopia Opera operates under a rather unique concept. Audience members vote online for the operas they want to hear the following season. We are consistently amazed by how Maestro Remmers rises to every challenge and comes up with a solution to the problem of combining entertainment and professionalism on a miniscule budget.
Although we always enjoy ourselves and admire the creativity, last night we were wildly impressed by the superlative performances of every performer and the innovative direction of Mr. Remmers who truly knows how to tell a story and to tell it well. We were engrossed and enchanted.
Although there is no scenery and barely any props, the story is told and told well. Costumes are of the "let's put on a show" variety. We imagine cast members rummaging through closets and coming up with something to express the characters they are portraying. Most original of all was the black tie, top hat , white silk scarf, and cigarette holder of The Fairy Godmother. The description sounds odd but, trust us, it worked incredibly well. Her fairy spirits dressed completely in white.
Lucette appears first in dowdy clothes of nondescript color and later in a shimmery garment with sparkly shoes. The henpecked Pandolfe wears a velvet jacket. Member of Lucette's step-family wear lavish ball gowns.
We first saw Cendrillon at the Santa Fe Opera ten years ago in a beautiful Laurent Pelly production with Joyce Di Donato in the title role-- and again two year ago at Juilliard with Julia Bullock. We were delighted both times but there was something about the intimacy of the Utopia Opera production that will stay in our mind.
There are a number of unforgettable scenes that one is not likely to forget! You must see for yourself.
Massenet's music is deliciously romantic; Remmers' 19-member orchestra did the score justice once Mr. Remmers' baton brought them all together and achieved balance between the strings and the winds. We were particularly taken by the English horn solos of Zachary Rosalinsky which accompanied the love duets. The love duet between Pandolfe and Lucette was just as fine as that between her and Prince Charming.
Ms. Cheeseman made a winsome Lucette, one we could care about. We could feel compassion for Mr. Goble's Pandolfe who just made a bad marital decision. We could laugh at the domineering step-mother and the ridiculously entitled and sulky step-sisters. But we were most enthralled by the otherwordly magic of Angela Dinkelman's Fairy Godmother whose costume played so strongly against our expectations. Massenet gave her the best music and she didn't let him down!
Even the chorus was well-rehearsed. The fine direction led to camera-perfect stage pictures such that we have spent hours editing down the multiplicity of shots. And we must mention the fine French diction that was totally understandable. Our companion told us that the titles were down for a period and we never noticed!
If you have been tempted to share our joy by attending, you will find the Lang Recital Hall at Hunter College to have superb sight lines and you will be amazed at the ridiculously low ticket prices. This same cast will perform next Saturday night, with a (likely just as fine) second cast performing tonight and next Friday night. You won't be disappointed!
(c) meche kroop
Friday, June 3, 2016
|Little Opera Theatre of New York|
In celebration of Carlisle Floyd's 90th birthday, LOTNY presented an evening of scenes from several of his works at the DiMenna Center last night; this presentation was part of New York Opera Fest's two-month-long festival featuring members of the New York Opera Alliance.
Although our 19th c. ears may never be completely able to wrap themselves around Mr. Floyd's 20th c. musical idiom, it would have taken a hurricane to keep us from hearing some of our favorite young singers make musical sense out of his work. Although his operas have been called accessible, our ears are often left hungry for melody. We had enjoyed a double feature of his operas last season and had loved the way they were staged and performed by LOTNY.
That the capacious performing space was packed is testament to the fact that there are many New Yorkers who find substantial nourishment in Floyd's music.
A special treat, one for which we were unprepared, was the presentation of scenes from his freshly composed opera Prince of Players in which he tackles the tale of the secret love affair between Villiers, Duke of Buckingham (tenor John Kaneklides) and actor Edward Kynaston (baritone Michael Kelly). The action takes place during the Restoration, when Charles II sat on the English throne and ended the careers of actors who had customarily portrayed women onstage. Good for women, bad for the guys.
If we have heard two singers creating more electricity together than Mr. Kelly and Mr. Kaneklides we can not recall it. The scene in which Villiers ends the relationship with Kynaston was heartbreaking and so was the scene in which Kynaston's dresser (soprano Sarah Beckham-Turner) comforts the injured actor. All three voices were excellent and the music seemed more lyrical than that of Mr. Floyd's previous operas.
The choice of material resonated more with us than that of Mr. Floyd's post-WWII opera Slow Dusk because somehow there seems to be a disjunction between the genre of opera and the plain home-spun country dialect of the libretto. Puccini, Mascagni, and Leoncavallo got away with verismo; perhaps everything just sounds better in Italian.
Which brings us to that old bugaboo-- English diction. The higher the tessitura in English, the more difficult it seems to understand the language, putting sopranos and tenors at a distinct disadvantage, although the tenors on the program were perfectly understandable.
Ms. Beckham-Turner shared the role of young Sadie in Slow Dusk with Carolina Castells. Both sopranos sounded just fine, diction aside, with the bright focused voice of the former best suited to the ingenue quality of the first selection and the wider richer tone of the latter best suited to the tragic dimension.
Mezzo-sopranos Janice Meyerson and Jennifer Roderer shared the role of Aunt Sue with tenor Bray Wilkins performing Micah and baritone Robert Balonek reprising his role as Jess. Director Philip Shneidman, founder of LOTNY, did an excellent job of creating theatrical meaning without benefit of sets or costumes.
Also recalled from the double bill was Floyd's Markheim (1966), another good choice of theatrical material--a battle of wills between a desperate wastrel (bass Tyler Putnam, whom we admired so much in Santa Fe) and a steadfast pawnbroker (tenor Scott Six) that one just knows will not end well. The second scene was even more riveting when tenor Marc Schreiner appeared as the Stranger (maybe the devil?).
There were also selections from Floyd's 1980 political opera Willie Stark with baritone Ron Loyd delivering a powerful and persuasive aria about the law which is "like a single bed blanket".
The program closed with a selection from Of Mice and Men from 1969 with Mr. Balonek portraying the much put-upon but tolerant George with fine resonance and lucidity, and Mr. Six giving a convincing and moving performance as the mentally handicapped Lennie. They had a fine rapport in this moving scene.
Accompaniment was provided by Music Director Richard Cordova and Associate Music Director Catherine Miller. The performing space, while generous in size, suffers from overly active acoustics and the piano sounded louder than it should have, at times threatening to drown out the singers.
Mr. Lloyd's most famous opera Susannah was not represented. Nonetheless, we left the performance feeling a bit more at ease with Mr. Lloyd's music than we felt when we arrived, thanks to the excellent work of the singers.
(c) meche kroop