We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017


Maestro Douglas Martin, Director Nathan Hull, and cast of Donizetti's La Zingara presented by Amore Opera

Some folks go to the opera to cherish the old standards and revel in their familiarity; others go to the opera to see something new and daring; and still others love to find something old and undiscovered or neglected. The current season of Amore Opera, like prior seasons, pairs two works, one of which is familiar and the other of which is undiscovered. The old warhorse--Bizet's Carmen, recently reviewed, is paired with an early work by Gaetano Donizetti entitled La Zingara, astonishingly never seen before in the USA.

Carmen is a tragedy whilst La Zingara is billed as an opera semiseria. To our eyes and ears it seems more like an opera buffa with plenty of humor and, like Carmen and Die Zauberflote, written with spoken dialogue. We could not stop thinking of zarzuela, a Spanish art form involving crazy plots like this one.

La Zingara premiered in Naples in 1822; it was Donizetti's 7th opera and the first one he created for Naples. In place of recitativi, he incorporated spoken dialogue; the aristocrats spoke in classical Italian whilst the servants spoke in Neapolitan dialect. The opera was a great success; we wondered what the Neapolitans thought about their dialect being employed in such a fashion but cannot find any commentary from that period.

Wisely, Director Nathan Hull (also president of Amore Opera) eliminated the dialogue which was replete with Neapolitan humor that would make no sense to contemporary audiences, and wrote some clever dialogue in idiomatic English which explained the plot and fleshed out the characters. There was a very humorous moment at the beginning when the Amore Orchestra started playing the overture to Carmen and Argila herself (the titular gypsy girl) comes out and tells the orchestra "no, not that one!"

Donizetti's music never fails to delight and the tunes he penned always tickle our ears. We recognized one which he later recycled in L'elisir d'amore; those more familiar than we are with his entire oeuvre might have recognized more. The 24-year-old composer was initiating experiments that would be fulfilled in his long composing career. One absolutely stunning moment occurred at the end of the first act when three couples sang interlocking and overlapping duets, producing a sextet of impressive complexity and thrilling harmonies.

In the title role, mezzo-soprano Melissa Serluco (whom we have enjoyed at Utopia Opera and New Amsterdam Opera) turned in an outstanding performance. Aside from her fine vocal assets, she created the character of Argilla with such skill and charm that the surprise ending seemed quite natural. We would not want to spoil the surprise for our readers but let it be noted that Mr. Hull's dialogue layered on some really clever references to other more familiar operas in the canon. This spunky Gypsy Girl uses her keen intelligence to manipulate all the other characters--not to hurt them but to solve their problems. We are still smiling about her antics.

The story concerns the nasty despotic ruler Don Ranuccio (portrayed by the always wonderful baritone Robert Garner) who is trying to marry off his daughter Ines (soprano Mary Thorne) to his lieutenant Antonio (Michael Celentano). He has unjustly imprisoned Antonio's uncle Don Sebastiano (veteran bass Jay Gould) and plans to murder him so that Antonio will get the inheritance. The jail is guarded by the humorously inept and clumsy Papaccione (Frederic Rice). 

Ines is in love with Fernando (tenor Jeremy Brauner) whose identity is kept secret. Fernando is accompanied by his faithful servant, the very funny Sguiglio (Bennet Pologe).

The finest singing we heard all night was that of tenor Jed Kim who sang the role of the Duca d'Alziras whom Don Ranuccio also wants to murder.  He began a phrase with such exquisite pianissimo and spun it out like a strand of silk. His breath control literally took our breath away. He has an instrument of very sweet color and employs it well. We want to hear him again!

As Ines' companion Amelia, La Toya Lewis sang well, as did the two lovely young ladies portraying Argilla's gypsy friends. Nicole McQuade was Ghita and Heather Boaz was Manuelita. Everyone's Italian was comprehensible, thanks to diction coach Paul Ferrara, himself a former singer.

Mr. Hull wears his director cap well, likely due to his considerable experience as a singer. In so many contemporary productions, directors are brought in from other branches of the arts, directors who do not understand singers.  Mr. Hull always knows where to place his singers and never asks them to sing in ridiculously awkward positions.

Susan Morton's chorus sang well. Maestro Martin pulled the orchestra together after a somewhat ragged beginning.

Richard Cerullo's set design was simple but serviceable. Lauren Bremen lit them well. Cynthia Psoras' costumes worked just fine, readily differentiating the nobles from the servants and from the gypsies.

We do not know whom to credit for the sound design but the loud clanking sound accompanying the locking of the flimsy prison door was a source of humor, as was the huge splashing when several characters dropped down into the well. Although the story had its serious elements we welcomed the emphasis on the moments of comedy. And it did have a very happy ending; we walked out all smiles.

There will be one more performance tonight and, although there are no children onstage, we recommend that you bring your children. We were so happy to have the opportunity to see and hear a long lost work and you will be too.

(c) meche kroop

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