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.
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
Friday, August 25, 2017
|Emily Hughes and Adria Caffaro (photo by Brian Long)|
|Joyce Yin (photo by Brian Long)|
Last night we attended the final performance of Francesco Cavalli's l651 opera La Calisto, presented by Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble and directed most imaginatively by Brittany Goodwin, one of New York's most gifted young directors. We were amazed by the endurance of so many aspects of love that have remained unchanged in nearly four centuries.
The playing area was filled with nymphs and satyrs, gods and goddesses--strange figures to be sure; and yet their concerns are our concerns today. The social media generation did not invent unfulfilled romantic longing, sexual dalliances overcoming chaste intentions, rejection, cross-dressing, lesbian love, romantic deception, nor vengeful wives. There was something particularly thrilling about seeing ourselves onstage in a work dating back nearly four centuries. Not just thrilling but moving as well. Love and sex will always be with us until the robots take over!
It is difficult to believe that this marvelous work lay dormant until 1970. How fortunate we are that it was discovered and revived. It lets us in on what the mid 17th c. Venetians expected from a rather new popular art form. Cavalli was there at the birth of opera.
Impresario/librettist Giovanni Faustini had created many operas with Cavalli; this one was their penultimate production. The story was derived from Ovid's Metamorphosis and recounts the story of Jove pretending to be the goddess Diana in order to seduce the beautiful chaste Calisto. The tale is padded out with the love story between the real Diana and the shepherd Endimione. In every case, chastity falls under the weight of sexual desire.
The wily Mercurio (fine tenor Brady DelVecchio) convinces Giove (authoritative baritone Mason Jarboe) that persuasion is no match for deception when trying to seduce a woman. Their duet was musically gorgeous and also quite humorous.
In the title role, lovely soprano Emily Hughes sang about wanting to lead a chaste life, devoted to the goddess Diana. Giove transforms himself into Diana (beautifully sung by mezzo-soprano Adria Caffaro) and successfully seduces her. The two women had a tender duet before entering a cave to exchange chaste kisses (which led to much more).
When the real Diana appears her voice and gestures are very different and there is no doubt that she is the real thing. When Calisto refers to their makeout session, Diana is outraged by the inference and tosses Calisto out of the virginal sisterhood.
Ms. Caffaro successfully used vocal coloration and altered her gestures and body movements so successfully that, although Calisto was fooled, we in the audience were not.
Diana, on her part, is secretly in love with the shepherd Endimione (counter-tenor Padraic Costello) who expresses his longing for her in the most exquisite aria.
The superb soprano Joyce Yin (Co-Founder of Cantanti Projects) provided comic relief in her portrayal of Linfea, one of Diana's followers, who longs for romance. In spite of her desperation, there is no way Linfea is going to settle for the importuning of Satirino (the fine mezzo-soprano Shawn Palmer, sporting a blue wig, goat horns and hooves), even though he tells her that he is young but his tail is still growing! He is a member of the clutch of satyrs, of which the leader is the god Pane, portrayed by counter-tenor Raymond Storms. As Silvano, one of the satyrs, bass-baritone Angky Budiardjono turned in a fine and physical performance with secure vocalism.
Act II brought on new delights as Giunone, the jealous wife of Giove, appears to expose her husband's infidelity. Mezzo-soprano Sophie Delphis gave her all to the revenge aria in which she instructs women not to put up with philandering husbands but rather to take revenge. Her particular revenge is to transform Calisto into a bear. Giove cannot undo this curse but finds his beloved Calisto a place in the firmament as the constellation Ursa Major, a condition foretold in the Prologue.
Mezzo-soprano Allison Gish portrayed La Natura in the Prologue, with soprano Elyse Kakacek taking the role of L'Eternita and mezzo-soprano Jingye Xu appearing as Il Destino who convinces the other two that Calisto deserves her place in the heavens. The women also appeared as The Furies.
Cavalli's music is very singable and a small chamber orchestra, such as was heard in its own time, did full justice to Cavalli's writing, led by the renowned Early Music specialist Charles Weaver who played theorbo, lute and Baroque guitar. The chamber orchestra also included two violins, a cello, harpsichord and a second theorbo.
Costume Designer Claire Townsend did much with little, relying on creativity rather than a huge budget. The costumes were fanciful and fun. A fur coat with ears on the hood served as a bear costume. Most magnificent of all was Giunone's black and white costume with elaborate red tulle headdress which reminded us of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland.
Satyrs had fur on their boots along with horns and tails. The Furies had big hoop skirts draped with black chiffon. Giove wore a suit and tie with fabric design of white clouds on blue background. Mercurio wore a pink suit with little golden wings on the heels of his shoes. Calisto's final costume was embellished with stars.
Diana wore a simple white gown whilst her followers wore funky garments with white knee-high stockings.
The set design by You-Shin Chen was simple, utilizing the same ramp seen in The Cunning Little Vixen. White columns were created with fabric hanging from the ceiling which could also be gathered and hoisted.
This was another fine entry in Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble's Summer Festival. There was a lot of wisdom in their choices of material--lesser known works that flowered under fine direction and casting. The emerging artists selected for this intense program of mentorship are to be applauded for their commitment to the art.
(c) meche kroop
Thursday, August 24, 2017
|Hyungjoo Eom (photo by Brian Long)|
|Rachel Hall (photo by Brian Long)|
At this moment, however, we prefer to focus on this production, which offered new insights, thanks to the thoughtful direction of Ashraf Sewailam. It is auspicious when a singer takes on the job of directing since he seems to know exactly what to do with the singers onstage. Mr. Sewailam is himself a bass-baritone.
We have seen and enjoyed this opera at least four times in the past couple years but were not prepared for the intense emotional impact of this production. Mr. Sewailam's connection with the piece was unmistakable and, consequently, so was ours. In this battle between the world of mankind and the world of nature, our heroine loses her life in a tragically senseless fashion and the hero is transformed by his experience.
Not only is the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth illuminated but also we are allowed to examine the activities of two-legged creatures through the eyes of those with four (or even six) legs. These creatures are anthropomorphized such that we in the audience get the opportunity to examine our own behavior and to raise vital questions about our existence on this planet Earth.
Power and politics also get explored in a new way. The libretto shows evidence of Marxist thought (the wealthy badger has no right to a big home all for himself when there is room for an entire fox family) and proto-feminism (Vixen Sharp-ears tries to liberate the subservient hens from the domination of the entitled rooster).
There are two scenes of marriage--one between the Vixen and her Fox, prompted by her pregnancy and woodland gossip--the other between the poacher Harasta and the gypsy Terynka. The former union is one of mutual respect and caring, taking place after a very human and tender courtship; the latter union involves the groom "buying" his wife with (what else?) a fox pelt and an act so symbolic and so affecting that we will not divulge it here. We want you, dear reader, to see this opera and experience the shocking act for yourself. It may have something to do with Mr. Sewailam's Egyptian background.
Not only is the storytelling way more compelling than usual, but the musical values were of equal quality in every respect. The sixteen-piece Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble Festival Orchestra responded to David Stech's vibrant conducting of Jonathan Dove's score reduction, giving Janacek's music all the right accents of Moravian folk melodies.
It was quite a feat for the young singers to learn the opera in Czech and our gratitude for this labor is boundless. There is nothing like hearing opera in its original language, and especially so in Czech; the marriage between word and music was as well balanced as that between the Vixen and the Fox!
For those of you who don't know the story, a Forester brings home a fox cub who is subjected to disdain from his wife and beatings from his children. In Mr. Sewailam's version, it is evident that his feelings for her are almost romantic. Like a bereft lover, he becomes angry when she runs away and keeps looking for her.
She falls in love and starts a family. She is strong, independent, and defiant. She outwits the poacher Harasta but eventually he shoots her and takes her pelt for his bride. The Forrester grieves for her but consoles himself with nature and his awareness of the life cycle.
We haven't heard soprano Rachel Hall since her apprenticeship at Santa Fe Opera four years ago when we applauded her Norina. Her artistic growth is notable and we enjoyed her warm and rich soprano in the title role. Her phrasing honored the sound of the language and her acting was completely committed.
As the Forrester, we admired bass-baritone Hyungjoo Eom for his affecting portrayal as well as for his substantial sound. We have heard him a number of times in the past couple of years and have been impressed by his versatility.
We enjoyed soprano Stephanie Kim Johnson in the role of the Vixen's mate. Although the role is generally performed by a mezzo, there was still a nice contrast with Ms. Hall's voice and a meaningfully tender portrayal.
Summoned at the last minute as a replacement for the role of the Dragonfly was Brittany Goodwin, director of La Calisto (which we will see tonight). That girl can dance! So much talent in such a petite person!
Tenor Jeremy Brauner made a fine Schoolmaster, garnering laughs as he stumbled home drunkenly with his cane, confusing a sunflower for the lusted-for Terynka. He was even funnier as a mosquito, thanks to some clever use of props.
Soprano Zoe Marie Hart (well known to us from Utopia Opera) did well as the young Vixen. As the family dog Lapak, mezzo-soprano Inbal Milliger created a believable canine and sang with substantial tone.
Harasta, the devious poacher, was sung well by baritone Joshua Miller.
Kristi Esch successfully employed her deep voice to portray the Forrester's disagreeable wife. Bass Brian Alvarado doubled as the grumpy Badger and the Greek-quoting Parson who once had a secret love.
Camilo Estrada took the role of Pasek, the tavern keeper; his wife Paskova was sung by Lisa Flanagan who also played the humorous hen Chocholka.
The singers who took on several small roles were also fine, including Samantha Scully, Lauren Glaves, Sarah Daniels, and Lisa Flanagan.
Much credit for the success of the production goes to Costume Designer Claire Townsend who put streetwear to good use by mixing pieces eclectically and cleverly to create costumes that worked well and suited each character. Makeup and Hair Design by Georgina Eberhard completed the illusion.
Scenic Designer You-Shin Chen made much of little--some hedges and a ramp, a table and chairs. It was the clever use of props that put us into a world of make-believe.
Were you waiting for the obligatory quibble? Here it is. Harasta's use of a pistol seemed wrong, as did the one-time use of iPhone and iPad.
There will be two more performances--Friday night and Sunday matinee. You would do well to try to snag a ticket for this illuminating production. You may leave at the end with tears in your eyes (as we did) but they will be blissfully cathartic.
(c) meche kroop
Monday, August 21, 2017
|Stephen Carroll, Devon Guthrie, and Kurt Streit in Santa Fe Opera's production of Die Fledermaus|
Credit for this delight can be shared by the exemplary cast, all of whom possessed impressive comic chops, and a delightful production that emphasized the frivolous French farce nature of the work. The preamble to the story is that Herr Eisenstein (tenor Kurt Streit) once played a nasty prank on his friend Dr. Falke (baritone Joshua Hopkins). abandoning the drunken doctor on a park bench one night in full bat costume.
Dr. Falke has arranged an elaborate revenge, inviting Eisenstein to a fancy masked ball hosted by the eccentric aristocrat Prince Orlovsky (mezzo Susan Graham in travesti and very very funny). Eisenstein is quite a flirt and seizes the invitation, even though he is supposed to report to jail for a brief sentence that has been extended by the supposed stupidity of his lawyer Dr. Blind (Apprentice Singer tenor Stephen Carroll).
Dr. Falke's plot will not only exact revenge but will be a source of "innocent merriment" for the bored Prince. He has invited Eisenstein's wife Rosalinda (the superlative soprano Devon Guthrie) who will pretend to be an Hungarian countess and seduce her clueless husband. He has also invited Adele, the Eisenstein's pretentious chambermaid (splendid soprano Jane Archibald), who will pretend to be a Russian actress.
Ms. Archibald dazzled in her "laughing song" and Ms. Guthrie knocked our socks off with her paean to her "Hungarian homeland". All of the coloratura was finely rendered and as exciting as could be.
Bass-baritone David Govertsen was excellent in the role of Frank, the Warden of the jail. He also is at the party, pretending to be a French Chevalier and speaking ridiculous pidgin French with Eisenstein who was pretending to be a Marquis.
In the role of the jailer Frosch, we had the bass-baritone Kevin Burdette. We have always enjoyed his singing but never knew how totally hilarious he could be. His performance in the final act was filled with pratfalls and sight-gags.
As the Italian Tenor, Dimitri Pittas serenaded Rosalinda in Act I and went to jail in place of her husband.
Adele's sister Ida was finely performed by Apprentice Singer soprano Adelaide Boedecker. Everyone performed as a finely tuned ensemble, giving the work a fine unity.
Maestro Nicholas Carter wielded his baton with panache and the lively waltzes kept us swaying in our seat. Ned Canty's direction kept things moving at break-neck pace. Zack Brown and Christianne Meyers' Costume Design was perfectly suited to late 19th c. Vienna when Waltz was King. Allen Moyer's sets were exactly right. Act I suggested an upper class Viennese home; Act II recreated a splendid palace ballroom with all kinds of hanky-panky going on. The jail of Act III was also true to time and place.
Sean Curran's choreography featured a quartet of ballet dancers performing what resembled a Viennese interpretation of the French Can-Can. Risque for sure but not too risque if you want to bring your youngsters. The young man in the row behind us stayed awake, didn't wriggle, and had a wonderful time, as he told us after the performance.
As we have come to expect, Susanne Sheston's chorus of Apprentice Singers performed admirably and looked sensational in the ballroom scene.
Regular readers know that we always have a little quibble, even when we love a performance. Our quibble for this production is that it was sung in English. We greatly prefer the original German, although we admit that the singers' diction could not be faulted. Our favorite way to hear this operetta is with English dialogue and German singing. The translation and additional dialogue seemed to suit the audience, even when it didn't pass our test!
(c) meche kroop
Saturday, August 19, 2017
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Monday, August 14, 2017
Sunday, August 13, 2017
Sunday, August 6, 2017
|John Kim, Conrad Schmechel, Bonnie Frauenthal, Michael Celentano, Melissa Serluco, Paul Khoury, Perri Sussman, and Julia Gmeiner|
Although we generally take a dim view of updating the classics, what Lenora Eve accomplished with Bizet's Carmen was nothing short of miraculous. As President, Founder, and Artistic Director of Opera Breve, Ms. Eve devised an original concept that shed new light on the opera. She gave herself the role of psychoanalyst Dr. Eve Stone, delivering a paper on "Love, Obsession, and Addiction", illustrating the pathology of one Don Jose whom she had interviewed as he was on death row, awaiting execution for the murder of Carmen.
She did an impressive job of presenting the scenes of the opera onstage as illustrations of the points she made from her offstage podium. This concept appealed enormously to our psychoanalytic self and sounded exactly like papers we have heard at psychoanalytic conferences. The amazing thing was that her theorizing was astute and accurate.
One point that we had never considered is that Don Jose saw himself as a victim and was unable to see his role in the tragedy. Carmen was portrayed as an insecure woman, fearful of abandonment, using her wiles to bring men close to her and then dumping them before they could abandon her. We found this interpretation thought provoking.
Moreover, the eight performers cast in the opera seemed to intuit Ms. Eve's analysis or were very well directed by her. The entire cast sang well and their French, if not always perfect, was perfectly understandable. The diction and acting were so on point that titles were unnecessary.
As the eponymous Carmen, mezzo-soprano Melissa Serluco turned in her customary fine performance. As befitting Ms. Eve's concept, there was nothing sinister about her seductions and one could feel considerable empathy for the character. Both the Habanera and the Seguidilla were performed with style and substance. Having enjoyed her performances with Utopia Opera and Amore Opera, we were unsurprised by the rich texture of her voice and fine phrasing.
We felt the same appreciation for soprano Bonnie Frauenthal's Micaela, even though her character was presented in the traditional fashion--shy, innocent, vulnerable, but calling upon faith to give her courage. Ms. Frauenthal has a lovely bright instrument and used it well in the service of the music and the character. Her "Je dis que rien ne m'epouvante" was incredibly moving. We have heard and enjoyed Ms. Frauenthal's performances with Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble and Utopia Opera.
Both of these young artists seem to be in demand by New York's most impressive boutique companies, as is the terrific tenor Michael Celentano, whose performances we have also enjoyed in lots of major tenor roles. As Don Jose, he sang and acted with distinction, seeming to convey the very points made by "Dr. Stone" at the podium. We loved the way he sang "La fleur que tu m'avais jetee" and the abject manner in which he begged Carmen to return to him.
His duets with Carmen and with Micaela were marked by depth of feeling and lovely vocal balance.
Soprano Julia Gmeiner as Frasquita and mezzo-soprano Perri Sussman as Mercedes added a lot of personality to their roles as friends of Carmen who flirted wildly with Escamillo (Paul Khoury, who managed to sing while twirling his cape and engaging in a knife fight with Don Jose) and accepted money for their sexual favors at Lillas Pastia's tavern cum brothel.
Tenor John Kim made a fine El Remendado and also doubled in a very funny turn as a shy reluctant client at the brothel. His facial and bodily expressions were priceless. Baritone Conrad Schmechel was a fine addition as El Dancairo.
We always look forward to the humorous scene of the smugglers planning their next adventure. Here, it was particularly well done.
Replacing Bizet's stunning orchestration with a piano reduction is always hit or miss. In this case, it was clearly a hit. Pianist Matthew Lobaugh has the normal set of ten fingers but we heard the sound of scores of instruments.
Combat Director Joseph Melendez was so effective that we were holding our breath in anxiety for the artists. Not to worry. No one was at risk; it just looked that way.
Kristine Koury's costumes were simple for the most part and contemporary in style. Don Jose wore army fatigues; Escamillo had a fine matador costume with a cape of gold, not red. We like the dresses worn by Frasquita and Mercedes which had a definite flamenco flair. Micaela was dressed like a country girl; it was perfect.
We were delighted to see an old warhorse in a fresh light. If only other directors were similarly original with their concepts and creative in their executions! Unfortunately, most of them seem to come from a place of directorial arrogance and self aggrandizement and have nothing original to say.
The best proof of this production's success was that our companion for the evening had never seen an opera before and has declared himself as an ardent fan, eager for more experiences. If a small and adventuresome company can win converts like that, we must consider them a roaring success!
(c) meche kroop