|Nick Miller, Louis Riva, Elizabeth Treat, William Remmers, Caroline Tye, and Roman Laba|
Our political votes may not count but our votes for upcoming seasons' performances at Utopia Opera definitely do. Last year we voted for Friedrich von Flotow's Martha because we never had a chance to see it live. Apparently other fans of Utopia Opera shared my wish and we got to hear and see it last night in Lang Recital Hall at Hunter College. What other opera company allows its fans to determine its season!
We were not disappointed. As a matter of fact, we were smiling for a couple of hours and danced our way home, our head filled with delicious melodies. Although the music began as a ballet, von Flotow set this 1847 opera to a German text by Friedrich Wilhelm Reise. The style of it seemed to us more French than German and the setting is in England in the 18th c. We wonder whether there was not a German aristocracy at which to poke fun!
Conductor/Director William Remmers has updated the action to mid-20th c. with nothing lost and perhaps the advantage of getting his cast dressed in period signifiers, like ballet flats, rolled up jeans, and poodle skirts. The story concerns two female British aristocrats who find their lives boring. (Props to anyone who despises empty pursuits and meaningless wealth).
Lady Harriet (winning sung by soprano Elizabeth Treat about whom we are tempted to make a pun) is courted by the pompous Sir Tristan, effectively performed by Roman Laba. Harriet and her friend Nancy (the superb mezzo-soprano Caroline Tye) are amused and envious of the carefree young women who are going to the Market at Richmond to get hired as farm workers. They decide to dress as "commoners" and pull a prank.
They get themselves hired to work on the farm of Plunkett (the captivating Nick Miller) and his adopted brother Lyonel (the silken voiced tenor Louis Riva); the prank backfires when they realize that they are contracted for a year and this will be enforced by the Sheriff of Richmond (the convincing Brian J. Alvarado).
The scene in which the two women are shocked that they are expected to work is hilarious. Just hear the way Ms. Tye rolls the "r" in "arbeit"! They need to be rescued by Sir Tristan--but not before the two women have a chance to bond with the two farmers. The working out of this romantic foursome is always entertaining and we will not spoil it for you by telling you the ending.
But...on the way to the happy ending, we heard gorgeous duets by the two women and by the two men, a charming trio, a beautiful conciliatory quartet "Schlafe wohl! Und mag Dich reuen", a drinking song for the male chorus "Lasst mich euch fragen", the interpolated Irish folk song "Letzte rose" by Thomas Moore, and the memorable tenor aria "Ach! so fromm! Ach! so traut".
Not only were the five leads excellent but there was splendid support from both male and female choruses, who portrayed farmers and courtiers and hired hands. Andrew Jurden stood out as a page and as a farmer. The female hired hands formed an effective ensemble with lots of clever rhymes based upon their names.
The a propos wardrobe was credited to Eric Lamp (also the Second Page) and Angel Betancourt. Mr. Remmers conducted and managed to pull together the orchestra in which there were some unruly winds. Lochlan Brown did his customarily fine work on the keyboard.
We have no idea why this enchanting comedy has fallen out of the repertory but it's a piece that merits production and we are overjoyed to have seen it staged. Worth noting is that it was translated into Italian and Enrico Caruso performed it many times. The key tenor aria in Italian was "M'appari, tutt'amor" and we are quite sure we have heard it sung on its own.
(c) meche kroop