|Ginny Weant, Anna Slate, Zen Wu, Melanie Ashkar, Chloe Schaaf, Eric Alexieff, Kevin Miller, and members of the Chorus|
OperaRox is a company that is new on our radar screen but has achieved a major success in a very short period of time. The black box theater on MacDougal Street was completely sold out last night, seats occupied by a mostly very young and very appreciative audience. The hallway was filled with folks clamoring to get seats but there were none. You are hereby advised to show up early for Sunday's matinee performance wait list, or to attend the covers' performance.
OperaRox, like many other small companies springing up around NYC these days, has a mission that is a win-win all around. Young artists get the opportunity to learn a role that will serve them well when seeking work in the future, and audiences get to hear a fresh take for a modest ticket price.
Director Maayan Voss de Bettancourt has credited Jennifer Choi for a highly original concept which gave us this fresh take on Handel's Alcina, an opera we get to hear about once a year. The opera was Handel's first production for the London stage and premiered in 1735, and then lay dormant for two centuries! The story is based on an episode from Ariosto's 16th c. epic poem Orlando Furioso.
It concerns the knight Ruggiero who has fallen under the spell of the beautiful and seductive sorceress Alcina who turns men into animals and rocks when she tires of them. His fiancee Bradamante who, in the Ariosto poem is always rescuing her fiance from some peril or other, has come to the magic island with Melisso, Ruggiero's former tutor, disguised as her brother Ricciardo. The pair must break Alcina's spell. Of course, they succeed. But not before a lot of deception, betrayal, and some gender bending fun, as Alcina's sister Morgana falls in lust with "Ricciardo".
The unique concept devised by Ms. Choi was to present Alcina's power as a metaphor for addiction. The inhabitants of the island seem to be heavy into alcohol and prescription pharmaceuticals. Bradamante and Melisso have an antidote on hand to destroy Ruggiero's benighted state and restore him to the brave and loyal knight they know him to be. Of course, he has to go through some withdrawal symptoms first! Once the illusions are destroyed, the island's denizens are restored to humanity and Alcina's power is destroyed.
The concept worked well, thanks to some fine acting on the part of the young artists. The dramatic success was equalled by the fine musical values. Music director Dmitry Glivinskiy employed an orchestration devised by himself, Friedrich Chrysander, and Producer Kim Feltkamp. He himself played the keyboard with Katie von Braun on violin and Spencer Shen contributing some fine work on the cello.
Ultimately, of course, the success of an opera rests upon the shoulders of the singers and we found much to like in the performances. As the eponymous Alcina, soprano Zen Wu let out all the stops in a fiery and convincing performance. We got to see her seductive side in several arias and a very angry side in the cabaletta "Io sono regina". The role calls for vocal fireworks and we surely got them.
An interesting feature of the opera is that a pair of lovers comprises two mezzo-sopranos and, in a casting coup, we heard two very different voices in that fach. The role of Ruggiero is a trouser role and was beautifully and lyrically sung by Chloe Schaaf who impressed us with "Verdi prati", arguably the most famous aria of this opera.
Interestingly, it was Melanie Ashkar playing Bradamante who had the weightier mezzo, perhaps signifying that she is the stronger member of the couple. We loved the rich texture of her voice and also her acting as she tried to deal with the seductiveness of the lustful Morgana. We liked her anger when her fiance failed to recognize her.
As Morgana, Anna Slate turned in a fine sexy performance and performed "Credete al mio dolore" with great humility as she tries to win back Oronte whom she threw over for the cross-dressed Bradamante.
The role of Oronte was well sung by Eric Alexieff who has the sweet kind of tenor that we love to hear.
The wise tutor Melisso was sung by bass Kevin Miller.
We particularly enjoyed the sweet soprano of Ginny Weant who portrayed Oberto, a youth trying to get Alcina to release her beloved father from his captivity.
Handel even managed to write a trio for Ruggiero, Bradamante, and Alcina in which the three voice blended beautifully.
Costuming was simple but apropos. There were no sets to speak of but the stage was littered with bottles of booze and pill bottles. Lighting was subtly effective. Titles were accurate and peppered with colloquialisms.
Although the run is sold out, we understand that Sunday evening will offer a performance by the covers. We do hope that some of you can get squeezed in by arriving early for the waitlist. We'd consider it worth your while.
(c) meche kroop