|Mezzo-soprano Renee Rapier with Verona String Quartet and Lachlan Glen at the piano|
We have wanted to share M.E.S.S. with our readers for some time but were sworn to secrecy on this innovative and daring project which seems destined for success. Tenor Ben Bliss and pianist Lachlan Glen are not just amazing artists but thoughtful and industrious entrepreneurs. Anyone who attended the year long survey of Franz Schubert's 600-plus song output in one season will know just how dedicated is Mr. Glen and how able to follow through on his ideas.
The idea for M.E.S.S., which stands for Mise-en-Scene Studios, is one which virtually guarantees the further life of opera for the next generation of opera goers and stands a good chance of bringing new life into the art form. The founders are not alone in their goals and several of their ideas have already been put into practice by other companies who are taking opera out of the concert hall and utilizing unusual venues.
What is new about this project is the consideration of every detail within a novel concept that appears to benefit everyone. We all want affordable opera in intimate spaces. We all want to see artists well remunerated for their work. We love the idea of spontaneity of attendance without tying ourselves down a year in advance. We all love the idea of making opera a social event, providing opportunities for artists and their fans to mingle over edibles and libations.
Last night was a great example of what this model will look like. Throngs of young people crowded into a loft, never mind the inclement weather, to enjoy drinks and crepes and music. And oh, what music! For us, the highlight of the evening was being THIS close to top tenor Ben Bliss singing "Una furtiva lagrima". It was our first attempt to make a video with our iPhone and it is posted on our FB page Voce di Meche. (This is the same Ben Bliss who starred in Die Zauberflote at the Met which would have seated you as far away as the length of a football field.) His performance of "Maria" from Bernstein's West Side Story was matchless.
There were no "low-lights". We were introduced to mezzo-soprano Renee Rapier who delighted us with Ernest Chausson's "Chanson Perpetuelle" and also sang some cabaret material with beautifully modulated dusky tone and affecting expression-"My One and Only Love", "Orange Colored Sky" and "Dream a Little Dream of Me". The combination of mezzo and tenor is not all that common (We don't believe that Ferrando and Dorabella ever sing together in Cosi fan tutte) but we loved every moment.
The instrumental entertainment was provided by the Verona Quartet who, among a legion of honors, are enjoying their second year as Graduate Resident String Quartet at The Juilliard School. The quartet comprises violinists Jonathan Ong and Dorothy Ro, violist Abigail Rojansky and cellist Warren Hagerty. They performed two movements from Ravel's String Quartet in F Major and, best of all, the first movement of Dvorak's Piano Quintet #2 in A. We would have killed to hear the rest of the work, a personal favorite. Mr. Glen's piano knitted everything together in a terrific tapestry of sound.
Let us not forget Mr. Bliss' performance of two songs by Vaughn Williams which could absolutely change our mind about singing in English. He is a consummate storyteller and made every word as clear as crystal in "From far, From Eve and Morning" and "Bredon Hill". If he wants to sing an editorial about politics we would still want to listen!
Of course, the purpose of this glamorous Saturday night was not just to wine and dine and entertain us, but to introduce the audience to this novel concept, some elements of which have been borrowed from other successful companies. The business model has been thoroughly worked out. Membership will replace rigid subscription commitments. Adequate endowments will substitute for expensive fundraising efforts. There will be several levels of involvement in M.E.S.S., from free entertainment for students all the way to elite membership for big donors. Everyone will have a place. Venues will shift. Flexibility will be a key word. There will be no attempt to have "a house". But there will be "a home".
We have counted ourselves in and will keep you, dear readers, informed of future events. M.E.S.S. expects to have a full season of opera with a resident ensemble company within three years but there will be more events starting in the Spring.
(c) meche kroop