Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Friday, August 26, 2016
|Sean Christensen as Des Grieux and Nick Webb as his father in Massenet's Manon|
(photo by Mark Baker)
Bonnie Frauenthal as Violetta embraced by Jose Heredia as Alfredo in Verdi's La Traviata (photo by Mark Baker)
|Scene from Leoncavallo's La Bohème (photo by Mark Baker)|
|Scene from Puccini's La Rondine (photo by Mark Baker)|
Every August we hurry back from Santa Fe to enjoy Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble's season, which always offers fresh delights. The theme of this year's season was "Violetta and her Sisters", comprising a selection of operas, the heroines of which were members of the demimonde. A very fine program note by Director Victoria Crutchfield provided new insights into the subculture of these women. It is happily left to the audience to ponder whether such women exist in 21st c. America.
Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble serves young artists by bridging the gap between academic training and a successful career; participants receive coaching, master classes, and performance opportunities. They serve the opera loving public by providing low cost high quality performances. One gets to see the stars of tomorrow at the early stages of their careers.
Verdi's La Traviata was given a highly moving production, thanks to some wonderful performances. As Violetta, soprano Bonnie Frauenthal sang and acted as beautifully as one might wish; right from the "Sempre libera" of Act I, we knew she was right for the part.
As her young respectable lover, tenor Jose Heredia pulled his performance from a very deep place. He seemed to live the role, rather than act it; his pure voice has a lovely tonal quality. We particularly enjoyed his "De', miei bollenti spiriti".
Mezzo-soprano Hillary Grobe was an impressive Flora and soprano Ileana Santamaria made a fine Annina. Violetta's patron Barone Douphol was portrayed by the versatile baritone Nobuki Momma with Boris Teodoro as the Marchese d'Obigny and Kofi Hayford as the good Dottor Grenvil.
Christopher Lilley sang the role of Gastone who sets the plot moving by introducing Alfredo to Violetta. Jeremiah Johnson brought very little to the role of Giorgio Germont, Alfredo's father, delivering an unattractive sound and no variation of color.
Famous baritone Kyle Pfortmiller directed; we especially enjoyed his staging of the party scenes. John Spencer IV conducted the Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble Festival Orchestra in a fine reduction suitable for the score of musicians. We appreciated Mary Ellen Stebbins lighting design in the final act when imaginary drapes are opened and dawn lights up the set.
Violetta happens to be one of our favorite characters in opera and Manon is one of our least favorite. Violetta has character and dignity. Manon is just a selfish manipulative tramp who destroys those around her. In this production, directed by Victoria Crutchfield, we see her as the materialistic slut she really is.
Even in Act I, as portrayed by soprano Olivia Betzen, she does not seem to be all that innocent. Apparently her family is shipping her off to a convent for some very good reasons.
Her admiration of the three glamorous "kept women" and her flirtation with the arrogant Guillot Montfortaine (superbly portrayed by Andrew Surrena) plus her stealing of the coach give us ample indication of her lack of character. One can dislike the character and admire the performance, which we did, especially her "Adieu, notre petite table".
As the foolish Des Grieux, Sean Christensen handed in a stellar performance. The tessitura is high but he rose to the challenge, singing with pure tone, lovely phrasing, and impeccable French diction. The sincerity of his acting had us feeling very sorry for the character.
Baritone Nick Webb was superb as his severe father who was just as critical of his involvement with the church as he was of his son's involvement with Manon.
We did not care for the Lescaut of baritone Stan Lacy whose harsh voice lacked variety of color. The versatile Mr. Momma made a slimy Brétigny who joined forces with Lescaut to pry the all-too-willing Manon from the arms of Des Grieux.
We very much enjoyed the performances of the three "actresses"--Kristina Malinauskaite as Poussette, Perri Sussman as Javotte, and Hillary Grobe as Rosette.
Chris Fecteau himself wielded the baton, guiding the Festival Orchestra through Massenet's gorgeous melodic score. Anyone possessing a pair of ears could not help but leave humming the several tunes that wove the score together.
A third evening paired Act I from Puccini's reasonably well known La Rondine with Act I and Act IV of Leoncavallo's forgotten La Bohème. Director Brittany Goodwin staged the Puccini work in the 1960's, which worked surprisingly well.
Soprano Rebecca Richardson sang the role of Magda, a woman supported in high style by the grumpy but generous Rambaldo (Mr. Momma again!) but eager for a new experience with the young Ruggero (Mr. Christensen again). We enjoyed her recapitulation of the aria "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta", introduced by the poet Prunier (Douglas Sabo).
Emily Hughes shone in the role of Lisette, Magda's personal maid, who amusingly helps herself to Magda's attire. Her scene with the contemptuous Prunier criticizing her taste was amusing.
Magda's three friends, in full hippie regalia, were pure delight. Yvette was sung by Zoe Hart, Bianca by Taylor Kirk, and Suzy by Sophia Mortensen.
The surprise of the season was Leoncavallo's version of the same Henri Murger stories we know from the Puccini work. Leoncavallo wrote his own libretto whereas Puccini employed the services of Illica and Giacosa. Although the music is wonderful, the libretto may have been responsible for the failure of the Leoncavallo work to survive.
The characters are pretty much the same, although Marcello has been assigned the lead role in the tenor fach. In Act II, Marcello gets a wonderful aria "Io non ho che una povera stanzetta" which was recorded by Enrico Caruso but not heard on this particular night.
Jose Heredia made a fine Marcello with the lovely Magda Gartner as his girlfriend Musetta. Jay Chacon sang the baritone role of Rodolfo with soprano Ileana Santamaria singing beautifully as Mimi. Mr. Momma portrayed Schaunard who, in this version, has a clingy girlfriend Eufemia (mezzo-soprano Nicholle Bittlingmeyer) whom he treats dismissively. Colline was sung by Bert Boone.
Direction was by Joule Voelz. This is the first season for the Opera Leaders Mentorship Program in which young stage directors, designers, conductors and pianists get expert guidance on the job.
All participants in the program leave with something of value. The singers have at least one new role "under their belt" and many of them have several. This surely enhances their employability.
And members of the audience appear to be enjoying themselves enormously as evidenced by the standing ovations. These were evenings well spent!
(c) meche kroop
Saturday, August 20, 2016
Friday, August 19, 2016
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Tuesday, August 16, 2016
|Mary-Hollis Hundley and Jacquelyn Stucker in a scene from Mozart's Nozze di Figaro (photo by Bobby Gutierrez)|
Sunday, August 14, 2016
Jessica Doolan has a lovely soprano and an engaging manner that made her a fine childlike Gretel. Jessica Gonzales-Rodriguez' mezzo-soprano made a satisfactory Hansel but we hope that she will do some work on mastering masculine mannerisms, in order to be more believable in a pants role.
We particularly enjoyed baritone Louis Ong as a forceful father appropriately concerned about his children. Mezzo-soprano Rachael Gomes portrayed the Mother. As the cannibalistic Wicked Witch, Isabella Stollenmeier needed a big dose of nastiness to be convincing, whereas Yen Yu Chen was all sunshine as the Dew Fairy. Rebekah Hartie did well as the Sandman.
The major pleasure of the evening lay in Maestro Chambers' effective conducting of the reduced orchestra in which the horn and clarinet played major parts. Humperdinck made liberal use of folk melodies which he orchestrated with fine harmonies reflective of Wagner. There were moments in the overture when we thought of Parsifal. The prayer is familiar, as is the sibling dancing song. But it is always a treat to hear the entire score.
We were not thrilled with Lisa Nava's direction. Many of the instructions in the libretto were ignored and the characters rarely faced one another. It appeared as if they were directed to face the audience. The four singers never seemed to form a family. We wanted more menace from the witch.
The setting comprised a couple of tree stumps and some brooms made of twigs. Nothing more was needed. Costumes were cleverly improvised with the Dew Fairy making quite an impression with her sunny yellow dress and parasol.
On the whole, Manhattan Opera Studio provided a delightful exposure to this wonderful opera. We were able to hear a single cast but would gladly have heard it twice.
© meche kroop
Wednesday, August 10, 2016
|Jason Graae, Michael Pilafian, Veronica Loiacono, Edgar Jaramillo, Jodi Karem, Elena Heimur, Roberto Borgatti|
Judith Fredricks, Artistic Director of Opera New York, came up with the perfect theme for last night's Opera/Cabaret at The Metropolitan Room--it was all about operas ending in death. But she also came up with a compensatory final scene illustrated above--the "Libiamo" from Act I of Giuseppi Verdi's masterpiece La Traviata--a celebration of life. This masterstroke ensured that the audience would leave smiling, not weeping over the sad fates of Violetta, Cio-Cio San, Turridu, Carmen, and Tosca.
Scenes from each opera were extracted and presented with narration by host Jason Graae (who plays a mean oboe). The major focus seemed to be on Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Soprano Veronica Loiacono made a touching Cio-Cio San with her intense acting matching the glories of her voice. As Suzuki, mezzo-soprano Jodi Karem made a fine supporting presence and tenor Edgar Jaramillo excelled as Lt. Pinkerton. We enjoyed the love scene, the flower duet which was performed in perfect harmony, and Cio-Cio San's lamentable suicide sung with heartbreaking intensity.
Scenes from Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana followed with a curious twist. Ms. Loiacono performed the role of the seductive Lola which is normally given to a mezzo, and Ms. Karem took the lead as Santuzza, a role generally sung by a soprano! That they both were extraordinarily effective is evidence of their versatility. Mr. Jaramillo took off his jacket and dug deep into the role of the fickle and ill-fated Turridu who gets stabbed offstage, in contrast with Cio-Cio San who committed hara-kiri in full view of the audience, leaving the ladies at our table gasping for breath.
Ms. Karem returned to her usual fach for the death scene from Georges Bizet's Carmen with Mr. Jaramillo as her murderously jealous lover Don José. Ms. Loiacono jumped to her death as Tosca.
After these two brief numbers, a number of scenes from Verdi's La Traviata served to whet the appetite for the missing bits. Our tubercular courtesan Violetta was passionately performed by soprano Elena Heimur who had to negotiate three very different stages in Violetta's sadly truncated life. In her Act I scene, performed with Mr. Jaramillo as her Alfredo, she is about to fall in love. In Act II, after Mr. Jaramillo did justice to Alfredo's joy in "De' miei bollenti spiriti", she must face Alfredo's father with dignity. And in Act III, she is on her death bed, exhausted by her illness, and collapses into Alfredo's arms.
Baritone Roberto Borgatti made a fine Germont Père, who has come to Violetta's country retreat to get her to make the ultimate sacrifice--to give up Alfredo whose scandalous affair is about to ruin his daughter's chance to make a favorable marriage. (Autre temps, autre moeurs!) Here, Ms. Heimur was called upon to show her nobility of character.
And Germont is required to begin with severity towards a woman of whom he disapproves and to end with some compassion for her. Mr. Borgatti handled this beautifully, as well as his subsequent "Di provenza il mar, il suol", in which he must console his devastated son. We recall well Mr. Borgatti performing the entire opera a couple years ago with New York Opera Exchange. He was superb then and even better now.
The versatile accompanist for the evening was pianist and Artistic Director Michael Pilafian. Significant contributions came from Mr. Graae's oboe.
This program will be repeated Sunday night at 7:00. It is not to be missed! It's a fine way to introduce people to opera in a relaxed setting and minus the longueurs.
Additionally, there will be two nights of operetta at the same venue on Thursday at 7 and Friday at 9:30.
(c) meche kroop