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.

Monday, July 10, 2017


Hyungjoo Eom, Sigal Chen, Roselin Osser, Alyson Sheehan, Aaron Halevy, Christian Kas, Rocky Sellers, Cassie Machamer, Matias Moncada, and Lisa Parente
We have cherished Mozart's Nozze di Figaro perhaps more than any other opera. We have probably seen and heard it more than any other opera. Do we care if the production says anything new about the opera?  No, we don't! We are totally content to hear the music afresh each time, to hear the care Mozart lavished on limning each character and the humanity expressed in Lorenzo Da Ponte's libretto.  Each character is flawed but loveable.

Last night's iteration was presented by Manhattan Opera Studio which we were introduced to last summer in a performance of Hansel und Gretl (review archived and found through the search function). This summer training program for young artists has grown rapidly from performing at Scorca Hall to the much larger and more comfortable theater that was formerly occupied by DiCapo Opera. The small orchestra which was squeezed into Scorca Hall now numbers 19 and occupies a proper pit, giving conductor Keith Chambers plenty of room to conduct an orchestra comprising many instrumentalists that play under his baton at New Amsterdam Opera.

Once upon a time we asked a famous symphony conductor where was the best place to sit.  He replied, "As close to the conductor as possible". So it was that we decided to sit just behind Maestro Chambers on the front row, getting a first rate view of him and the musicians in the pit. This provided new revelations of just how marvelous Mozart's orchestration is and just how effective Maestro Chambers' conducting is. His style is restrained and not at all theatrical and there is a terrific rapport with the instrumentalists.

Kudos to Leesa Dahl for the harpsichord accompaniment to the recitativi.

The singing was excellent and gave evidence of some fine coaching. The acting revealed the fine hand of Stage Director Walker Lewis. We always appreciate the bits of stage business that make the characters seem like people we know personally rather than caricatures.

Pride of place goes to the eponymous Figaro, brought to vivid life by Matias Moncada. His characterization was so astute that we almost neglected to note his fine singing.  His fine rich sound was differentially colored since Figaro has different feelings for his bride Susanna than he does for his arrogant boss. Just listen to how the color changes when Marcellina is known to be his mother and not an unwelcome creditor!

As Susanna, Lisa Parente created a sweet spunky character, smart enough to help her Figaro to foil those who would block their marriage. With blond braids and a petite figure, she looked absolutely perfect for the part. Her voice is a bit on the smallish side, but Maestro Chambers kept the orchestra down and her Act IV aria "Deh vieni, non tardar" was well done.

As Count Almaviva, Hyungjoo Eom made a fine foil, an arrogant and entitled aristocrat with designs on Susanna. He gets baffled and outwitted a lot. Mr. Eom used dynamic variation and vocal coloration to express his many moods. His arrogance and lechery made us think of Trump; this self-induced connection was far more valuable than if the director had placed him in a red wig! We object when directors try to spoon feed us!

As the neglected Countess, Sigal Chen sang with a rich full soprano that was notable for some impressive legato and beautiful phrasing. For most of the opera she is either depressed or disgusted with her husband's philandering and her two major arias ("Porgi amor" and "Dove sono") were appropriately colored. It was lovely to hear her voice change at the end when she forgives her wayward husband.

Mozart ensured that each major character got at least two arias and so we heard Roselin Osser as Cherubino perform "Non so piu" and "Voi che sapete". The acting she did with her body truly amplified the character but we wish she had not mugged quite that much.

We enjoyed the Marcellina of Cassie Machamer and were absolutely thrilled to hear her Act IV aria "Il capro e la capretta" which is very rarely included these days. This would make a fine stand-alone audition piece for her.

Rocky Sellers' Bartolo made a fine impression and he created a character not as stuffy as he is usually made out to be. He too has an Act IV aria that is rarely heard and we were glad for the opportunity to appreciate his fine voice. He showed special skills in the patter singing.

Aaron Halevy made good use of his tenor and mobile body to create a Don Basilio that was more colorful and humorous than loathsome in his gossiping. We barely recognized him in the role of the sober notary Don Curzio.

Alyson Sheehan made a sweet Barbarina and Christian Kas was very funny in the role of the bibulous gardener Antonio who unwittingly nearly foils the elaborate plot of Figaro, Susanna, and the Countess.

The singers performed exceptionally well in the ensembles, particularly the quartet in Act II.  Ms. Chen and Ms. Parente sounded exquisite together with their two very different timbres.

The singing and acting were so impressive that we scarcely missed the lavish sets that are generally employed.  A few packing cartons indicated the room Figaro was measuring for the marital bed (and, in a cute directorial touch, measuring Susanna). The Countess' room needed only a desk and a chair for Cherubino to hide behind. The garden was represented by some tall poles standing in for trees.

That the costumes were contemporary streetwear was disjunctive since aristocracy and the custom of droit de seigneur belonged to the 18th c. We can understand the decision made for budgetary reasons and overlook the issue. It would appear that the singers chose clothes from their own closets that would best express their character's station in life.

Susanna's simple white blouse and skirt were a good choice. The Count's suit and tie seemed right, with Figaro's more casual attire illustrating the difference in their station. Bartolo's outfit fell in the middle but we couldn't understand what was intended by the white lines painted under his eyes and across his scalp.

Basilio's get-up was sufficiently "rainbow" and Antonio's garb was perfect for a working man. Cherubino's outfit just seemed wrong with a particularly unflattering hat. And we wished that the Countess' cocktail dress had been more on the elegant side.  No big deal, just sayin'.

The Italian was so well sung and the acting so effective that the lack of titles was not at all distressing, although we imagine that some people in the audience felt the absence.

All in all, it was a terrific evening; we would have been happy to see it once again the weekend of August 11th, along with The Magic Flute, which will alternate.  But we will be reviewing opera in Santa Fe.

If you love Mozart, put it on your calendar!

(c) meche kroop

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