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.

Sunday, October 15, 2017


Erik Bagger, Barbara Porto, Director Desiree Alejandro, Caroline Tye, and Maestro Whitney George

Don't feel bad if you didn't know the meaning of the title of New Camerata Opera's show--Triskaidekaphilia. We had to look it up ourselves; it means "obsession with the number thirteen". This was quite appropriate since the show opened on Friday the 13th. We regret to inform you that if you weren't there this weekend you missed one helluva show.

The stated mission of New Camerata Opera is "to engage, to excite, and educate through immersive performances that break down barriers and inspire the fans of the future". This goal was achieved 101%. The guest we invited was as new to opera as we are experienced and we both appreciated it equally. Just seeing a house packed with millennials brought joy to our heart. 

What we experienced surely represents the future of opera--an immersive experience, up front and personal, intensely involving, and ultimately satisfying. The enthusiasm of the audience gives proof of the accomplishment of the stated mission.

We have seen Gian Carlo Menotti's one-act opera The Medium several times but found enhanced emotional resonance in this staging by Director Desire Alejandro. We may as well have been one of Madame Flora's deluded clients, so involved were we with the onstage action.

Here's the story in case you don't know it. For years Madame Flora has run phony seances and taken money from believers desperate to contact their dearly departed loved ones.  To this purpose she has enlisted the services of her daughter Monica and a mute Hungarian gypsy boy named Toby whom she rescued from the streets.  While "under the influence" she begins to hallucinate the "ghosts" and blames Toby.  She becomes fearful and then hysterical with tragic results.  

We attributed her fear of ghosts to a combination of guilt and alcohol but our guest believed the story to be one of supernatural revenge in the face of her deceit, exploitation, and greed. A brief chat with Ms. Alejandro was valuable.  She pointed out that Madame Flora had probably survived all kinds of evils in her native Hungary, including the Holocaust. This would explain much about her survivor mentality. Leaving the audience in a state of puzzlement is also a feature of Britten's opera The Turn of the Screw.

As interpreted by mezzo-soprano Caroline Tye, she is a compelling figure--controlling, angry, and manipulative; Ms. Tye inhabited the role like a custom made garment. There was no attempt to create a "pretty" sound but rather to use her substantial instrument to illuminate these aspects of Madame Flora's character. It was a totally committed performance, exactly what was called for. When she unravels, her aria "Afraid, am I afraid" cut to the bone.

Her daughter Monica was beautifully embodied by soprano Barbara Porto. Where her mother was vicious and abusive to the mute Toby, Monica was loving and caring, giving voice to his thoughts. Her gleaming instrument and youthful stage presence were just perfect for the role. She had two fine arias--the well known "Monica's Waltz" and "The Black Swan".

At first we thought it was a waste to cast tenor Erik Bagger in a non-singing role but it gave us an opportunity to take measure of his acting skills. His Toby was a sympathetic character whose tragic end gave us herzschmerz. Fortunately, we got to hear him sing later.

Soprano Alexandra Lang was excellent in the role of Mrs. Gobineau, a client of Madame Flora who had suffered the loss of her infant son; she had visited the medium weekly for years just to hear her lost baby laugh, an effect provided by the hidden Monica. Baritone Scott Lindroth finely portrayed her husband. The new client, Mrs. Nolan, was well performed by mezzo-soprano Eva Parr. Her character was there to connect with her departed teenage daughter Doodley. All three singers conveyed the willing gullibility of bereft parents. We felt for them; and that's good acting and good singing.

Music Director and Conductor Whitney George distinguished herself on the podium with pianist Nora Bartosik creating an almost orchestral sound on her Kawai keyboard. Adding to the wealth of sound was percussionist Joe Tucker who excelled on the vibraphone. Violinist Adam von Housen bowed his violin with a fine tone that contributed to the whole. It is notable that Maestro George arranged much of the transcriptions and arrangements, and did a splendid job of it.

The same musicians were on board for the second half of the evening--a cabaret comprising a wide variety of works dealing with the macabre. The Medium was so satisfying that we could have left in a state of fulfillment, but then we might have missed some excellent performances.

Fortunately, Mr. Bagger returned for the second half, complete with blood-stained shirt, but this time in full possession of his voice. He delivered a fine version of Kurt Weill's "Youkali" and joined the ensemble for a work by Brahms that was new to us--"Wechsellied zum Tanze". All the singers in the cabaret appeared as ghouls in scary makeup by Shannon Mae Mulligan.

We heard Camille Saint-Saens' "Danse macabre" in two forms. The opening featured Mr. von Housen's violin and the closing was sung rapid-fire by Mr. Lindroth. Ms. Lang performed Poulenc's "Mon cadavre est doux comme un gant" and baritone Stan Lacy performed Debussy's "Beau soir". Both artists employed fine French diction.

Mezzo-soprano Julia Tang did a fine job with Britten's "Funeral Blues" and Ms. Parr came on strong in "Yo soy Maria" from Astor Piazzolla's tango opera Maria de Buenos Aires which we reviewed a few years ago. Tenor Victor Khodadad performed the chilling Schubert song "Die Erlkonig" with a woman in red portraying the fantasy figures in a masterstroke of visual design.

We would be remiss not to mention the visual elements contributed by The House of Yes, a most unusual and funky performance space in Bushwick. We have not seen the like of it in Manhattan. Aerialist Roxie Valdez performed on a trapeze and fabric rope. Singers climbed up the walls. Aisles and balconies were put to use. If we weren't so busy documenting the singing we might have had more to share with you.

(c) meche kroop

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