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, October 4, 2017


Maestro David Moody, Kirsten Scott, Renate Rohlfing, Boya Wei, Marco Cammarota, and Katherine Whyte

We believe a work of art should speak for itself and require no explanation from the playwright, painter, director, choreographer, or composer.  However, in the case of Bare Opera's reduction/expansion/ psychological illumination/distillation of Mozart's 1780 opera seria Idomeneo, we would like to quote Director David Paul, whose eloquence we could not equal.

"afterWARds is an opera about the emotional battles that continue to rage after war is long over.  It's an opera about displaced refugees, and the lingering post-traumatic effects of war. But most of all, it's an opera about love, healing, and the resilience of the human spirit."

Until last night, we had sat through this opera several times--three plus hours of gorgeous writing for massive choruses, elaborate late 18th c. costuming, gods and monsters and shipwrecks--without ever being emotionally moved. What Mr. Paul has done is to strip away everything except the four main characters, to focus on their psychological struggles. The music by Mozart and libretto by Giambattista Varesco remained intact. Like us, the characters struggle to find love and peace in a world gone mad with the carnage of war.

War is often waged for the most trivial of reasons. King Menelaus of Greece wanted his wife back after Paris, Prince of Troy, "abducted" her (we know not whether or not she went willingly). Menelaus enlisted the services of his brother Agamemnon and Agamemnon enlisted his ally Idomeneo, King of Crete. We all know how Agamemnon and his family fared--badly! And his daughter Electra appears in this opera enduring her own grief--unrequited love for Prince Idamante, Idomeneo's son.

During the Prologue we were treated to the piano reduction performed by Renate Rohlfing whilst films of war and shipwrecks were projected (Projection Design by Caite Hevner) along with a narrative of the backstory. Princess Ilia of Troy (King Priam's daughter and Paris' sister, now one of the spoils of war) was rescued from drowning by none other than Prince Idamante.

Poor Ilia is torn between her growing love for Idamante and her hatred for the Greeks who slew her entire family. How can love invade the territory of revenge? Soprano Boya Wei used her elegant instrument well in conveying the emotional ambivalence which tormented her. She eventually finds peace in accepting her enemy as a substitute father.

The role of Idamante was performed by mezzo-soprano Kirsten Scott in travesti ; this character has a different kind of emotional roller coaster to ride and she rode it so intensely that we had goosebumps.  Her character is secretly in love with Ilia but is dealing with a far larger issue. The father he loves whom he hasn't seen in some years had sworn to sacrifice him and, to protect his son from this fate, tries to send him away with a ruse of escorting Elettra back to Argos.

Elettra, powerfully sung by soprano Katherine Whyte, is living in despair due to the loss of her family (recall that her brother Orestes murdered their faithless mother who was betraying her husband Agamemnon with his brother Aegisthus) and also due to her unrequited longing for Idamante and jealousy of Ilia.

Her rage aria is chilling, with wild flights of coloratura, but she also has moments of tenderness and beauty when she begs Idamante for his love.  And that's her roller coaster.

In the title role we heard tenor Marco Cammarota who sang with a rich full tone and successfully conveyed the despair a father must feel in denying his own son and the horror of perceiving the need to sacrifice this dear son. Mr. Cammarota evinced great skill in his dynamics. He returns home with joy, but also guilt over all the deaths caused by the war.

The ending was a bit different than that to which we are accustomed but it worked. A peaceful resolution is found with Idamante and Ilia taking over the throne of Crete.  Poor Elettra is left with her demons but that's another opera, written by Richard Strauss.  

Come to think of it Mozart's masterpiece has been tinkered with before, and by that very composer! In 1931, whilst Munich commissioned Ermanno Wolf-Ferarri to revise the opera, the Vienna State Opera commissioned Richard Strauss who did a complete revision, employing a German libretto. We have heard neither revision.

We were pleased with the vocal performances overall but found several moments that were outstanding. The Act III quartet did full justice to Mozart's artistry with voices perfectly balanced. The love duet between Ilia and Idamante allowed the voices of Ms. Wei and Ms. Scott to melt together. Ms. Whyte's expression of rage was stunning as was her despair at the end in "D'Oreste, d'Ajace ho in seno i tormenti".  No happy ending for her!

"Vedrommi intorno" was given a stirring performance by Mr. Cammarota with the aforementioned attention to dynamics and a beautiful resonance.

It was particularly rewarding to witness the artistic development of Ms. Wei and Ms. Scott whom we began reviewing about five years ago when they were students at Mannes. Ms. Scott has appeared frequently in our reviews but the only time we saw the two together was in Nozze di Figaro, in which Ms. Wei sang the role of Susanna and Ms. Scott performed the role of Cherubino.

Once more, Bare Opera has succeeded in their mission to provide an intimate experience of opera-- minus the pomp and circumstance--that is very 21st c., filling an important niche on Planet Opera. There are many dwellings on Planet Opera and there is room for all, from the palatial mansion of the Metropolitan Opera to the intimate dwellings of flexible companies like Bare Opera.  We are all smiles thinking of the nomads of Central Asia who pull up their yurts and move on. Bare Opera is on the move.  We have reviewed every one of their events and have no intention of missing the next.

More on that later but it has something to do with a barber turned personal valet.

(c) meche kroop

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