Thursday, November 30, 2017
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Saturday, November 18, 2017
|Christine Taylor Price, Marie Engle, Joshua Blue, Tamara Banješević, and Jacob Scharfman (photo by Hiroyuki Ito)|
Mozart was just shy of 19 years of age when he composed La finta giardiniera which premiered in Munich in 1775. In spite of a trivial libretto (insecurely attributed to Calzabigi), one can readily appreciate Mozart's exuberant melodic invention and skills at orchestration. The opera achieved but 3 performances and fell out of the repertory until a copy of the score was rediscovered in the 1970's.
That we have seen the opera three times in two years gives some indication of the many glories of the score and the challenging roles it provides for seven singers. The seven we heard last night at Juilliard Opera seemed to enjoy their performances as much as we in the audience did. What vocal glories!
We love to see romantic foibles onstage--the mismatches, the betrayals, the fights, the reconciliations. We have no need for modern sets or costumes to recognize our own passions and obsessions. The blind child shoots those darts and we are helpless.
The Marchioness Violante Onesti (splendid soprano Tamara Banješević) had been stabbed by her jealous lover Conte Belfiore (terrific tenor Charles Sy) on their wedding day. Left for dead, she recovered, took the name of Sandrina, disguised herself as a gardener, and sought refuge by gaining employment at the estate of the Podesta Don Anchise (tremendous tenor Joshua Blue) who has fallen in love with her.
The Podesta's housekeeper Serpetta, portrayed by the gifted soprano Christine Taylor Price, would like to marry her boss and fights off the courtship of the gardener Nardo, Violante's servant Roberto in disguise--a role delightfully inhabited by Baritone Jacob Scharfman.
Meanwhile, the Podesta's bossy-pants niece Arminda (glorious voiced soprano Kathryn Henry) arrives at the estate to be joined in matrimony with none other than Belfiore. If we could overlook his tendency to commit violence on his brides, we might even feel a tinge of pity for the ambivalent count. He thinks he recognizes Violante in disguise but she denies her identity.
In the role of Cavalier Ramiro, Arminda's rejected suitor, we heard the marvelously convincing mezzo-soprano Marie Engle in travesti.
To make this crazy mixed up story clear, we had the talented young director Mary Birnbaum who has a very special way of getting her cast to work as an ensemble and to interact in believable ways, no matter how preposterous the story.
The first act moved along at a lively clip but there was a scene at the end of the second act that baffled us and our companion. It is the scene in which Belfiore goes mad and Violante gets kidnapped by Arminda (or was it vice versa?). When Tim Albery directed this opera at Santa Fe Opera, it didn't make much sense either and when Eric Einhorn directed it for On Site Opera, he omitted the scene entirely which was probably the best choice!
Both Ms. Henry and Ms. Prize dazzled us with their coloratura but the aria we remember best belonged to Ms. Engle who managed the extensive fioritura while conveying masculinity at the same time in "Va pure ad altri in braccio". Not only does everyone get an aria but there are interesting ensembles that foreshadow Mozart's later works.
Another memorable moment was Nardo's courting of Serpetta in several languages; Mr. Scharfman was irresistible in the role. Mr. Blue pompously strutted around the stage but also conveyed the manner of a kind man. Ms. Henry did a great job creating a real bitch of a character. We loved the moment when she arrived with a horse and her servant Giuseppe (bass William Guanbo Su).
The Juilliard Orchestra performed in their usual exemplary fashion under the baton of Joseph Colaneri who brought subtle understanding to the various and changeable moods of the work. The continuo comprised Michael Biel on the harpsichord and Clara Abel on the cello.
Much favorable comment could be devoted to Amanda Seymour's luscious period costumes and even more to scenic designer Grace Laubacher's witty sets. After a clever prologue in which Joan Hofmeyr and Olivia McMillan portrayed two gossipy housemaids relating the backstory in English (another one of Mary Birnbaum's clever inventions), servants carried in trompe l'oeil set pieces. Even the horse was two dimensional but reared convincingly.
Lighting Designer Anshuman Bhatia spared no effort in changing the mood; one scene takes place in near darkness and the ensuing confusion reminded us of the final act of Nozze di Figaro.
Once again, Juilliard Opera has given us a memorable evening in which superlative production values provide a setting for the splendid singers--the jewels of Juilliard.
(c) meche kroop
Friday, November 17, 2017
Thursday, November 16, 2017
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Monday, November 13, 2017
|Terina Westmeyer, Maestro Keith Chambers, Maestro Thomas Bagwell, Janara Kellerman, Hyona Kim, Megan Nielson, Kirsten Chambers, Thomas Hall, Melissa Citro, Heather Green, Tyler Smith and Errin Brooks|
Planning a few arias in concert version gave us an opportunity to hear some new singers and to hear some others with whom we are acquainted and who are now essaying the Wagnerian repertory, with some interesting results. But we missed the staging, the costumes, the drama, and the sets. That most of the singers were on the book made attempts at acting look just plain silly. Supposed lovers rarely made eye contact!
At this point, let us give props to dramatic soprano Terina Westmeyer who sang Brunnhilde in "Wotan's Farewell" with dramatic baritone Thomas Hall as her father. The two sang without music stands for which we were grateful. We have favorably reviewed Ms. Westmeyer as Lady Billows in Britten's Albert Herring at the Bronx Opera and as La Badessa in Puccini's Suor Angelica. Three years ago we loved her singing of Verdi.
But we have not been present for her Wagner and we were delighted with the power of her voice and the tonal beauty. We see a lot of Wagner in her future and hope to hear more of it. Mr. Hall did not sound beautiful but he followed this scene with Siegfried's confrontation with Erda in which he sounded far better. Perhaps he just needed to warm up.
Erda was sung by mezzo-soprano Hyona Kim, whose dark chocolate sound was excellent for the role. Ms. Kim first appeared on our radar screen four years ago when she won the Joy of Singing Award. Indeed, she is a superlative lieder recitalist who has been making inroads into the operatic repertory. She is such a fine actress that she dissolves into the part, as she did when she sang Suzuki in Puccini's Madama Butterfly with Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance and Wokli in his Fanciulla del West with New York City Opera.
We are also familiar with the work of mezzo-soprano Janara Kellerman whom we enjoyed greatly in the role of Preziosilla with New Amsterdam Opera's recent production of Verdi's Forza del Destino. Her plush sound was enjoyed and noted in the role of Mamma Lucia in Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana with Martha Cardona Opera and Santuzza with New Amsterdam Opera. It was a thrill to hear her expand her repertory into Wagnerian territory.
Soprano Megan Nielson has delighted us as Tatiana in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin with Utopia Opera and as Nedda in Opera Ithaca's production of Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. We also remember her performance as the eponymous Suor Angelica presented by Chelsea Opera. Yesterday, she showed a lot of promise in Wagnerian territory singing Elsa in a scene from Lohengrin, with Ms. Kellerman adding some interesting texture as the conniving Ortrud and Mr. Hall as fellow conniver Telramund.
Tenor Errin Brooks seems to have gotten his huge instrument under better control and did well as the rejected Erik with soprano Heather Green as Senta in a scene from Der fliegende Hollander.
New to us is tenor Tyler Smith whose sizable instrument was colored with tenderness in the "Liebesnacht" from Tristan und Isolde with the beautiful soprano Kristin Chambers as his scene partner. We liked the way he modulated, successfully employing dynamic variety. We have enjoyed Ms. Chambers more in other roles such as Fidelio. Ms. Kellerman lent gravity to the situation as Brangäne.
Mr. Smith appeared once again in the final scene of the program in which he has awakened the sleeping Brünnhilde, sung by soprano Melissa Citro.
We found no fault with the German. Alles klar!
Accompanists for the evening were beyond superb. Both Maestri Keith Chambers and Thomas Bagwell elicited most of Wagner's orchestral magic on the piano. Often, when the singers fail to connect with us (usually due to flipping pages on the music stand) our attention shifted to the piano and we heard things in the score that we might have missed.
A highlight of the evening was the presentation of New Amsterdam Opera's first Pathfinder Award to Maestra Eve Queler who broke the glass ceiling for female conductors. Ms. Queler is a girl after our own heart, and we are calling her a girl because she has never lost that youthful quality that we so admire.
We have so many memories of hiking up to the highest level of Carnegie Hall, where the sound is best, to be introduced to rarely performed and forgotten operas and new singers--right up until last year's production of Donizetti's Parisina d'Este. Ms. Queler founded Opera Orchestra of New York in 1971 when there were no female conductors. Brava Eve!
She has plenty of European fame that we haven't experienced but we tend to personalize things and the above describes our Eve Queler. Just one more note of interest is that she has shared all of her scores with New Amsterdam Opera. Dare we hope that we will hear repeats of these rarely produced operas? Let us hope!
(c) meche kroop