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, October 9, 2016


Maestro Israel Gursky and the cast of Vittorio Gnecchi's Cassandra

If ever a neglected work merited unearthing Vittorio Gnecchi's Cassandra fills the bill. Thanks to the efforts of Teatro Trattacielo's Founding Executive and Artistic Director Duane D. Printz, New York City's dedicated opera lovers had the opportunity to hear this work in concert form at the highly suitable Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (part of CUNY).

There was a crime of sorts in the suppression of this magnificent work, the result of a scandal of plagiarism in which those taking the part of Richard Strauss (but not Strauss himself) accused Gnecchi of plagiarizing his 1908 Elektra, in spite of the fact that Cassandra premiered in Bologna in 1905! Significantly, Toscanini himself conducted the premiere. Italian musical politics were really something! They still are.

Luigi Illica's libretto was adapted from Aeschylus' Oresteia and deals with the part of the story of the fall of the House of Atreus in which Agamemnon returns as a hero from the Trojan war, bringing as concubine the seeress Cassandra.  

In Agamemnon's absence, Clytemnestra has been frolicking with her husband's brother Aegisthus. She apparently truly loves her brother-in-law but is also seeking revenge against her husband who had sacrificed their beloved daughter Iphegenia to secure favorable winds to carry him to Troy to fetch the naughty Helen who had run off with Paris.  Sounds like a telenovela, right?

As in Puccini's Turandot (of which we heard echoes in the music), the titular character does not appear until Act II. But she is worth waiting for! This is a superb role for a mezzo-soprano and Alessandra Volpe fulfilled the task with magnificence and a large dusky sound that made her prophesies poignantly terrifying. Her generous tone cut through the orchestration like a warm knife through butter.

The entire cast was well chosen and there wasn't a disappointing voice in the bunch. Soprano Elena O'Connor made a stunning Clitennestra, showing her character's rage in her first aria "No, non propiziarie preci!". We enjoyed the change of colors when she sang of her love for Egisto.

Her romantic duets with baritone Shea Owens as Egisto involved overlapping voices and thrilling harmonies.  And we loved Mr. Owens' aria "Il Fato volge in suo turbine". When Agamennone returns in triumph the crowd welcomes him but Egisto sneers in "Udir cantare Agamennone, e ridere!"  The subsequent confrontation between the two brothers is powerful and dynamic.

The role of Agamennone is a difficult one and veteran tenor Arnold Rawls tackled the punishingly high tessitura with aplomb. His return to Argolis is marked by the sweetest sound, as if he is totally unaware of the tragedy to come. 

Baritone Stefanos Koroneos has never sounded better than he did singing ll Prologo with superb diction, making every word count and elucidating the story, which is more than we can say for the choruses. The New Jersey Choral Society and The Connecticut Choral Society, along with the Festival Youth Chorus, lay down a lovely carpet of sound but did not have the crisp diction to which we are accustomed.

In several roles, soprano Meredith Mecum made a fine forceful showing with a brilliant tone; we particularly enjoyed her brief solo as Una Co√®fora "Placato mare ed aera placato!"  Baritone Joseph Flaxman excelled as Il Fazionario (The Guard). Baritone Peter Kendall Clark came across well as Il Navarca as did Jon Tetelman in a tenor solo. Young Nicholas Newman piped up as the child Orestes, requesting his father's sword.

One could consider the star of the evening to be conductor Israel Gursky who brought out the many nuances of this impressive score.  There is nothing shocking about the chromatic harmonies but there was ample lyricism to satisfy our 19th c. ears. One could identify Puccini-esque elements in the opening Prologue.

The introduction to Act I was particularly lyrical when a lovely melody floated through the sections of the orchestra on gossamer wings. We loved the portentous sound at the end of Clitennestra's rage aria, not to mention the use of the harp when Egisto sings of leaving Clitennestra.

As Agamennone approaches by ship, Maestro Gursky guided the orchestra into a recreation of the surging sea.  Upon his arrival at Argosy the music is triumphant with brass. The orchestra gives us the full monty at the bloody conclusion.

Whew!! This powerful story was given the exactly right music by Signor Gnecchi and the opera was given the exactly right production by Teatro Grattacielo.

It's too bad we must wait another year for more of Grattacielo's discoveries.

(c) meche kroop

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