Sunday, November 13, 2016


Natalie Rose Havens, Janara Kellerman, Ann McMahon Quintero, Ta'u Pupu'a, and SeungHyeon Baek

Our admiration for Daniel Cardona's hard work knows no bounds. He has assembled a group of superb singers and a fine orchestra, led last night by Maestro Gregory Buchalter, and presented a semi-staged performance of Pietro Mascagni's powerful opera Cavalleria Rusticana that is not likely to be equalled.

Since The Metropolitan Opera carelessly and thoughtlessly discarded their gorgeous production of this opera (substituting a sadly stripped down minimalistic production) we had given up hopes of enjoying this 1890 verismo masterpiece. But last night, by dint of powerful voices conveying all that Sicilian passione, we were able to experience the story in a more powerful and intimate manner.

The story is most affecting--it takes place on Easter morning in a small Sicilian village and involves a love triangle. Santuzza, movingly sung by Ann Quintero, is in love with the faithless Turridu, powerfully sung by tenor Ta'u Pupu'a (in better voice than we have ever heard him). He has seduced her and she has been excommunicated because of this "sin". But he has abandoned her and returned to his old love Lola (mezzo-soprano Natalie Rose Havens) who is married to the carter Alfio (the wonderful baritone SeungHyeon Baek).

Turridu's mother, sung magnificently by Janara Kellerman, was here portrayed as quite sympathetic toward Santuzza which contributed to the audience's sympathy toward her. The story plays out in accordance with the customs of that epoch and that part of the world, in which "honor" is everything--leading to a tragic conclusion. No wonder that the judges of the one-act opera competition awarded Mascagni the coveted prize! No wonder that the critics and audience went wild at the Rome premiere.

Merkin Hall at the Kaufman Music Center has great sight-lines but no orchestra pit. Maestro Buchalter and the excellent Martha Cardona Opera Orchestra occupied the stage while the singers used the narrow strip of real estate downstage, as well as the aisles. It all worked out just fine since all the singers are excellent actors and interacted in dramatically valid ways.

There were powerful scenes between Santuzza and Mamma Lucia, between Santuzza and Turridu, between Turridu and Mamma, and between Turridu and Alfio. There was not a wrong "note" anywhere and nothing to criticize. The Italian was so clear and so well projected over the orchestra that nothing got lost, even when the recalcitrant titles failed.

The orchestra played exceptionally well for Maestro Buchalter. The introduction set the scene with its luscious melody and the Maestro achieving impressive clarity. The string section lay down a thick carpet of sound and the harpist (Melanie Genin) achieved a predominance in the introduction. We would like to acknowledge all the fine musicians who contributed to the memorable intermezzo. Jesse Pieper's electronic organ was impressive. Notable solos by flutist Katie Barbo and oboist Mark Sophia were heard, among others.  Apologies to those we haven't mentioned by name!

The chorus of village folk not only sang well but participated in the action.  Kudos to whoever directed the activity but went uncredited in the program.

David O. Roberts was responsible for the simple costuming. Wisely, he put everyone in black as befit the time and place. The men wore hats; the women covered their heads.

The Martha Cardona Opera has come a long way since we have been writing about them. Daniel Cardona always puts on a fine show but last night he outdid himself. Everything came together beautifully. He accomplishes all this at a modest ticket cost and depends upon your tax-deductible contributions to make up the shortfall. 

We would love to see what he could do with a budget large enough to have a theater with an orchestra pit and some scenery.  In the meanwhile, we have no complaints. This performance will stay in our memory as a landmark.

(c) meche kroop

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