|A Brilliant Success for Bare Opera|
Well, the stage wasn't entirely bare; there were three benches and enough newspaper to remind us of our former neighbor "The Hoarder". The staging of Rossini's first opera was unusual with rows of seats on either side of the theater facing inward with the stage at one end and marvelous Maestro Sesto Quatrini and his fine chamber orchestra at the other.
Stage Director Cecilia Ligorio had some fine ideas and utilized both the stage and the central playing area, giving the singers lots of room to tell this humorous story. Maestro Quatrini at one end could conduct in full view of singers, musicians, and audience members. The only problem was that at times one felt as if one were watching a tennis match; if one needed to read the titles at the top of the stage this head swiveling became constant. But there is no denying that the experience was up close and personal, making it very very special and full of impact.
Rossini was only 18 years old when he composed La cambiale di matrimonio, which premiered in 1810 in Venice. (And what's YOUR 18-year-old doing tonight?). The libretto by Gaetano Rossi is a farsa comica, based on an earlier play which was probably based on commedia dell'arte.
There is a mercenary older man, played with bluster by baritone Suchan Kim, who always turns in a great performance. There is a rebellious daughter, portrayed by the superb soprano Liana Guberman. There is her impoverished lover, effectively sung by terrific tenor Sungwook Kim. And there is a wealthy suitor from Canada (!) sung by the fine baritone John Allen Nelson. And of course there are two clever servants--Norton (the fine Colin Whiteman) and Clarina (the very gifted Kirsten Scott).
The successful introduction, written by Assistant Director Elias Markos, was delivered by the spunky mezzo-soprano Ms. Scott (who also happens to be the Executive Producer and Co-Artistic Director). Ms. Scott is not only a superb singer but also made an impressive interlocutor, explaining in English what the opera is about.
A wealthy English merchant wants to arrange a marriage between a wealthy Canadian and his daughter, who is in love with a poor fellow. The servants help the young lovers to defeat the father's plan.
The directorial concept rapidly dealt with any reservations an audience member might have about watching something so old-fashioned as to be based on a man selling his daughter. Cast members read aloud articles from the plenitude of newspapers scattered about, dealing with such issues taking place contemporaneously in several foreign cultures as well as sex-trafficking closer to home. This introduction allowed the audience to experience the work as relevant and also to enjoy the high jinx and the music.
And what music! There is something quite exciting about hearing a composer's earliest works. One could hear the influence of Mozart and one could also hear the origins of Rossini's prodigious gifts. There was a gorgeous romantic duet for Ms. Guberman and Sungwook Kim. There was a face-off duet between Mr. Suchan Kim and Mr. Nelson. And there was a marvelous oppositional duet when Mr. Nelson tries to court the unwilling Ms. Guberman. The two servants also got plenty of stage time for frisky involvement and sang so well together. And there was a terrific ensemble number as well.
Costumes by Laura Kung were modern and suited the characters. Mr. Suchan Kim wore a "grandfather sweater", Mr. Sungwook Kim wore a motorcycle jacket, and Mr. Nelson was dressed like a clueless rube in plaid pants.
Music Director (and pianist) was Laetitia Ruccolo whom we just heard Thursday night at the Classic Lyric Arts Gala. Lighting Design was by Anthony Tornambene.
We are feeling particularly grateful to Bare Opera for bringing this work to our attention and for casting such superb artists; we were given all the best of musical and dramatic values, brought up to date without sacrificing the original intent--to entertain!
(c) meche kroop