|Errin Brooks and Kelly Griffin in New Amsterdam Opera's production of La Forza del Destino
How long we have yearned to hear Verdi's La Forza del Destino! Is it rarely performed because the roles are difficult to cast? Or does it have something to do with the superstition that surrounds it, much like Shakespeare's so-called "Scottish play" the name of which actors are reluctant to pronounce. We are happy to report that New Amsterdam Opera succeeded without any mishaps of which we are aware. The audience filled The Riverside Theatre and the applause was thunderous.
Artistic Director Keith Chambers conducted a pick-up orchestra which he pulled together quite well with only a few rough patches that were easy to overlook. But we could not overlook the fortuitous "flutery" of Rosa Jang and the happy "harpery"of Melanie Genin. Both were outstanding in their contributions. The overture is a masterpiece with one memorable theme following another. The initial "fate" theme is propulsive and highly rhythmic. Then along comes a sorrowful one, a lyrical one, a heraldic one, and a playful one. Although the 1869 opera is rarely performed, the overture is a concert staple.
New Amsterdam Opera aims to give young singers the opportunity to perform a role before a live audience in concert version. When one hears young singers eight nights a week one gets to recall quite a bit about them and to form a well-rounded picture of where their strengths and weaknesses lay and how they are growing.
For example, Kelly Griffin, the dramatic soprano who sang Leonora was possibly one of Daniel Cardona's "discoveries" about 3 years ago when she bowled us over with....(you guessed it, didn't you?)..."Pace, pace mio Dio". We heard her sing it again a few months ago; she has grown into the entire role and performed it with passion and intensity, well served by her generous instrument, which has an agreeable vibrato.
Her lover Don Alvaro was sung by Errin Brooks whose sizable tenor won him the Wagnerian prize from the George London Foundation. This is one of those huge voices that will take awhile to bring under control and fulfill its promise. In Act I, although we could understand every word of his Italian, he sang the line unmusically, as if it were English. As the evening progressed he did remember his legato and needed only to lighten up. He tends to emphasize volume and thereby squelches the overtones we want to appreciate in the tenor instrument. He would do well to bring his voice forward and to avoid pushing.
We loved the performance of mezzo-soprano Janara Kellerman as the gypsy Preziosilla. We have previously enjoyed her as Santuzza. This is an artist who throws herself into a role and clearly enjoys herself, seeming effortlessly. Her "Rataplan" was a delightfully light moment in a heavy opera; she is urging the Spaniards to throw off the Austrian yoke. How Verdi must have loved that theme!
Leonora's brother Don Carlo was excellently sung by the polished Verdi baritone Stephen Gaertner whom we last heard at Lauren Flanigan's Comfort Ye recital. His duets with Mr. Brooks' were highlights of the evening. He was out to kill Don Alvaro but, unwittingly the two men became military buddies until their true identities were discovered. Uh-oh!
Leonora's father the Marquis was sung by bass Hidenori Inoue whom we greatly enjoyed as Don Pasquale at The Manhattan School of Music this season. His character got killed off in Act I and we were sorry not to hear any more of him! But we will surely hear a lot more of him in the future, since his bass is fully mature and ready for so many roles, needing only costuming and makeup to age him.
We also liked Stefan Szkafarowsky, the bass cast as Padre Guardiano, the abbot of the monastery that gives Leonora a secret dwelling to hide from the cruel world. He sang his role with a nice legato and secure presence. The irritable Fra Melitone was sung by bass-baritone Daniel Klein whose over-the-top acting impressed us more than his grainy voice. It is rare for a singer to show so much acting chops in a concert performance!
Veteran tenor Robert Brubaker sang the role of Trabuco. How well we remember his performance as Anna Nicole's husband in the opera of the same name, and his performance as Herod in Salome at the Santa Fe Opera.
Mezzo-soprano Melissa Serluco appeared briefly as Leonora's maid. We enjoyed her performance not too long ago as Dorothee, one of Cinderella's step-sisters in the Utopia Opera production of Massenet's Cendrillon.
And finally, we were introduced to a new voice, lyric baritone Wil Kellerman who nicely filled the roles of the Alcade (Mayor) and that of the surgeon who decides that the hero will survive his injuries. We hope to hear more of him.
And we hope that some opera company in NYC will decide to produce this outstanding opera in a full production. Hint, hint!
(c) meche kroop