MISSION

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.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

IT'S ALL BLACK AND WHITE

A very gala Black and White Gala presented by New Camerata Opera


Song, food, and drink in abundance made for a delightful evening in which we celebrated the many fine activities of New Camerata Opera. Survival of small opera companies is a challenge and throwing a party is an effective means of raising funds to support an upcoming season.

Attendees were wined and dined and royally entertained in a well chosen program. What a perfect opening number was sung by mezzo-soprano Julia Tang--"Ah! quel diner!", a spirited song sung by the eponymous La Périchole from Jacques Offenbach's opera bouffe. The closing number was "Intanto Amici, Qua...Viva Il Vino Spumeggiante" from the scene in Mamma Lucia's wine shop--a lively celebration preceding the tragic ending. The entire cast joined voices in song.

In between the beginning and ending, we had ample exposure to the talents of this adventuresome company, just beginning their third season. The program was interrupted by two intermissions so that audience members could feast and socialize--a very agreeable way to spend an evening.

Soprano Barbara Porto was joined by tenor Erik Bagger for "Parigi, o cara" from the final act of Verdi's La Traviata in which Violetta and Alfredo give way to false hopes before her tragic demise. The versatile Ms. Porto then did justice to the role of Mimi in Puccini's La Bohême with tenor Victor Khodadad as her Rodolfo in "Dunque: è proprio finite!", another sad scene in which the two Bohemians plan their breakup.  Meanwhile Musetta (Lily Arbisser) is having a knock down drag out fight with Marcello (Scott Lindroth).

We were more than ready for something lighthearted at that point and enjoyed two baritones singing "Largo al factotum" from Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Stan Lacy and Mr. Lindroth performed this tag team delight, mingling with the audience and even setting up one of the guests for a shave! We are sure that Rossini would have loved it too!

Mr. Khodadad performed "Ella mi fu rapita!...Parmi veder le lagrime" from Verdi's Rigoletto, the aria in which the degenerate Duke laments the kidnapping of his latest conquest, the innocent Gilda, not knowing that he will shortly have access to her.

Again, the intensity was relieved by some humor.  Mr. Khodadad availed himself of music from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte and created an opera for children based on the fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin. He was bound together with Mr. Lacy in another dual performance, with Nicole Leone taking the role of the Princess. It is notable that New Camerata Opera distinguishes itself from the many small opera companies in New York by bringing opera for children into schools and libraries, thus fostering the development of new audiences of the future.

Another interesting project of NCO is commissioning short works for showing on You Tube, one of which we had the pleasure of seeing last night--"Memories" by Charles Ives, featuring Mr. Lacy.

Mezzo-soprano Eva Parr made a fine Carmen with Mr. Bagger as her Don Jose in the final scene from the Bizet opera. Are my readers noticing a theme  here? So many tragic heroines in one night!

All of the scenes were accompanied by the fine pianist Erik Sedgwick. Everyone sang well and we couldn't help noticing how attentive the audience was, in spite of the free-flowing wine and cocktails. The evening didn't end until the results of the silent auction were announced and everyone left with all their senses satisfied.

The upcoming season will include a double bill of Gustav Holst's Sävitri and Blow's Venus and Adonis, offering opera lovers a rare opportunities to expand their taste. Britten's Rape of Lucretia will be directed by Brittany Goodwin whose work we always admire. And readers with children are urged to look for Rumpelstiltskin, since, as we know, listening to Mozart will make your children more intelligent!  Furthermore, you will find some compelling entries on You Tube, produced by NCO's in-house film studio; watch out for The Prince von Pappenschmear!

© meche kroop

Monday, September 17, 2018

NARCISSUS...ISSUS...ISSUS...ISSUS

Matteo Fiorani as Narcissus (photo by Lora Robertson for Satellite Collective)



Satellite Collective’s deconstruction of the myth of Echo and Narcissus, seen Friday night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Fisher Center, lasted barely over an hour. The reconstruction performed by us and our companion lasted at least twice as long. If not totally comprehensible, the performance was engaging and held our attention by means of some lovely dancing. To watch Matteo Fiorani in the role of Narcissus was unadulterated pleasure and the lithe and lovely Michaela Rae Mann made a fine counterpart in the danced role of the nymph Echo. The dancing might accurately be called modern ballet but was informed by hints of modern dance. Kudos to choreographer Norbert De La Cruz III. 

But this collaborative work also incorporated music by Aaron Severini which was always interesting in its orchestration (violin, double bass, flute, clarinet, bassoon, trombone, and percussion) and well played by Shouthouse, under the baton of Alex Burtzos. At times raucous and dissonant, there were also lovely quiet passages and we particularly admired the percussion of Brandon Ilaw. 

Wasted were the vocal gifts of soprano Christine Taylor Price and baritone Philip Stoddard (who also directed) who were given vocal lines lacking in melodic structure and “lyrics” which were not always intelligible, in spite of, or because of, the amplification.  These two artists have magnificent voices which we have reviewed multiple times; their natural voices can sail over a full symphony orchestra. We urge anyone who thinks that's what opera singers sound like to attend a recital or a traditional opera.

Writer Kevin Draper seems to have interpreted the myth in his own idiosyncratic manner but we were reminded of how common in both literature and opera is the theme of a woman torn apart when her beloved is responsible for the death of a member of her family. Think of Romeo and Juliet and Forza del Destino.

It was not clear how Echo’s brother died or in what manner Narcissus was responsible. Projection designer Simon Harding showed us some cars in the street.  Did Echo’s brother die in a car crash? Was Narcissus driving? We could not answer.

There were projections of mechanical objects and robots. Did this refer to Narcissus being an unfeeling person? We cannot answer that either. What left no doubt in our mind was that two robots with a red spot in the chest area symbolized love, and that streams of light flowing from head to head and pelvis to pelvis symbolized mental and physical attraction.

In Ovid’s Metamorphosis, the goddess Juno curses Echo for her loquaciousness by dooming her to only repeat the words of others. Indeed, Ms. Price in her sparse dialogue did repeat Mr. Stoddard’s words. At the end, however, when Narcissus wants Echo to tell the police he is innocent, she refuses to echo his words. We felt free to interpret that our own way.

There were three other excellent dancers—Timothy Stickney, Joslin Vezeau, and Tara Youngman. In the first scene, they wore capes and seemed to be animals that Narcissus was hunting. Later on, lavender colored long skirts were worn but we could not figure out the meaning. We would have to ask Keiko Voltaire the Costume Designer. We definitely liked the many layered loincloth worn by Mr. Fiorani which highlighted his very fine figure; for this we require no explanation!

Artistic Director Kevin Draper wrote the piece and designed the production.  His Satellite Collective “works at the intersection of dance, visual art, and music” and has been doing so for eight years and garnering awards and citations from the Borough of Brooklyn.

Readers who attended the production are invited to comment below and to attempt to explain the meaning that has eluded us.

© meche kroop



Sunday, September 16, 2018

VIRA AND FRIENDS

Vira Slywotzky, Melanie Dubil, Joshua Sanders, David Sytkowski

Yesterday we got a new look at a familiar singer--something we always enjoy. We have heard soprano Vira Slywotzky many times with Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live! and with Mirror Visions Ensemble, always admiring her rich voice and lively dramatic presence. Hearing her singing Ukrainian songs at the National Opera Center added an entirely new dimension, one which we particularly cherished.

We had never realized how beautiful this language is and never knew how many Ukrainian composers produced such splendid songs in our favorite period, the 19th c. and on into the early 20th c. Ms. Slywotzky curated and organized the recital in excellent fashion, graciously sharing the stage with mezzo-soprano Melanie Dubil and tenor Joshua Sanders who had us believing that he was fluent in Ukrainian, which he is not. Collaborative pianist David Sytkowski matched the variety of moods present in the songs and contributed a cycle he composed to text by Frank O'Hara, songs written for Mr. Sanders' graduation recital.

Ms. Slywotzky knows how to engage an audience from the very first moment she steps onstage. There were no titles but each singer wrote a summary for the program so the audience was not left in the dark as to the meaning of each song. Her presentation is definitely informed by her work on the operetta stage, lending dramatic import to every song, pulling us into the story. In her hands every song becomes a tale. We thought of how a song on the page is like a dress on a hanger. Well, this artist fills out the song as beautifully as she filled out the gown she wore!

Mykola Lysenko's "Boat" used a storm at sea as a metaphor for love. The boat is reduced to splinters but the sailor survives.  Oh yes! This was sung with beautifully supported tone and enough expression and gesture to convince us that we could now understand Ukrainian.

Britten's setting of the folk song "O Waly, Waly" was given an unusual treatment with mezzo-soprano Melanie Dubil and tenor Joshua Sanders singing alternate verses with Ms. Slywotzky.

The two songs by Copland, settings of text by Emily Dickinson, were of less vocal interest but might have been more effective if Ms. Dubil had invested them with more variety of coloration. We did love the birdsong heard in Mr. Sytkowski's piano.

Four songs by Kyrylo Stetsenko made a fine impression. Ms. Slywotzky did justice to the fanciful nature of "Morgana", the story of a love affair between an elf and a fairy princess. Every nuance was captured! "Don't Ask if I Love You" was as passionate as any Italian drama queen could be, with a woman telling her lover that she would throw herself into the grave if he left.

Ms. Dubil created a lovely decrescendo in "I Gaze at the Bright Stars", and Ms. Slywotzky returned for "The Skies Embraced the Seas", a song about romantic longing for a disengaged partner.

The songs by Yakiv Stepovyi were similarly lovely. Ms. Slywotzky filled "Scatter in the Wind" with mournful regret. The romantic "Serenade" was imbued with a barcarolle rhythm.  We loved the way the two women's voices harmonized in "Chamomile Blooms on the Hill". 

Mr. Sanders has an easy tenor sound with a very pleasing vibrato. Significantly, he never pushes the sound and gave himself totally to the extended song of grief "Moon, Prince" by Vasyl Barvinsky, and was unfazed by the somewhat lower tessitura. Mr, Sytkowski's piano added to the mournful mood and the two joined together for a passionate climax.

Three tangos followed, our favorite of which was Bohdan Vedolovsky's song of homesickness "Fly, Melancholy Song".

As far as Mr. Sytkowski's compositions, the excellence of his piano writing took our attention away from the singing. Regular readers will recall that we blame 20th c. poetry for our lack of interest in contemporary song writing. Mr. O'Hara's poetry may work on the page but it's mundane nature does not inspire a compelling vocal line. The cycle was written for Mr. Sanders and we found no fault with his performance but we far prefer texts with more passion such as those of the poets who inspired the Ukrainian songs on the program, namely Yevhen Hrebinka, Mykola Voronyi, Oleksander Oles, Lesia Ukrainka, Ivan Franko, Stefan Krzywoszewski, and Taras Shevchenko. 

© meche kroop
























Friday, September 14, 2018

NEW NAME NEW GAME

Melanie Leinbach and Charles Sy

The autumn season is beginning and we are already quite excited about the expansion of one of our favorite small opera companies.  City Lyric Opera is the new name chosen for the adventuresome young company whose work we have greatly admired under its former name ARE Opera. The features of the acronym, standing for "accessible, relatable, and enjoyable", will be preserved in the practice, but the new name better reflects the enhanced mission of the company--namely, to serve the artists and the community.

Last night marked the company launch of the new mission and the new season. Denizens of Planet Opera gathered at the lovely home of a very kind patron who generously supplied a warm and inviting space with a fine old piano whose keys produced some marvelous music under the flying fingers of Music Director Jonathan Heaney. A warm welcome was given by Co-Founders and Co-Executive Directors Megan Gillis and Kathleen Spencer, as well as by Artistic Director Jessica Harika. These three women know their stuff, as evidenced by the quality of the entertainment for the evening.

As usual, we were equally delighted by reconnecting with singers we know and love, and by hearing new discoveries from whom we want to hear more. The program was well balanced between opera and American musical theater. Although the singing was of the highest quality, what impressed us the most was how "relatable" they were. The connection with the audience, seated comfortably in a spacious living room, was intense; the applause was thunderous.  It isn't every day that we get that up close and personal.

Tenor Charles Sy impressed with a generous delivery of  "Dein its mean ganzes Herz" from Franz Lehár's Das Land des Lächelns. This is one of those songs one never tires of hearing and Mr. Sy sang it with warmth and gorgeous German. Still, it was his performance of "Una furtive lagrima" from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore that touched us deeply. His interpretation of Nemorino was unusual and far removed from the cliché of the poor slob who is overjoyed to get the girl. Mr. Sy's Nemorino expressed a sense of awe that reminded us of all the times in our life when our longings were finally satisfied. There was definitely a lagrima in our occhio!

He also demonstrated his versatility singing "Tonight" from Bernstein's West Side Story in a touching duet with soprano Melanie Leinbach.  We've been hearing a great deal of Bernstein in this celebratory year; soprano Christine Lyons closed the program with a moving rendition of "Somewhere".

To truly appreciate Ms. Lyons' gifts, one needs to hear her Italian. We well remember her performance as Adina (to Mr. Sy's Nemorino) last year with ARE Opera. But last night we heard an enhancement of vibrato in her glorious performance of "Io son l'umile ancella" from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur. The Italianate vowels and phrasing were perfect.

We have been waiting patiently for someone to get us to appreciate Carlyle Floyd's Susanna and Ms. Lyons crisp English diction and psychological insight helped us to turn the corner.  In "Ain't it a Pretty Night", she expressed all the longing and excitement of leaving home, and all the nostalgia for what might be left behind. We wondered if Ms. Lyons had experienced those feelings when she left Atlanta because her performance oozed conviction.

We have more to say about the versatile Ms.Leinbach who was very skilled at bringing out the comedy in "The Girl in 14G", the Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan song popularized by Kristin Chenoweth. In this song, the performer gets to mimic her loud musical neighbors and Ms. Leinbach excelled, especially for the Queen of the Night which served to show off her coloratura skills.

The poignant duet "If I Loved You" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel was beautifully realized by Ms. Leinbach and bass-baritone Andrew O'Shanick, both vocally and dramatically. Mr. O'Shanick is another versatile performer who  delighted us with a very simple quiet rendering of "Edelweiss", another Rodgers and Hammerstein song, from The Sound of Music. We would say that Mr. O'Shanick has a real facility for R&H. 

He also has a facility for Mozart as evidenced by his performance of "Deh vieni alla finestra" from Don Giovani, in which Mr. Heaney's piano in staccato mode successfully imitated a lute. Mr. O'Shanick and Mr. Heaney can serenade us anytime! He also has a flair for comedy observed in the satirical "Agony" from Sondheim's Into the Woods--satire as only Sondheim can write. He and baritone James Wright were competing in their despair over unattainable women and it was difficult to suppress giggles.

Mr. Wright had his solo as well, and what a solo it was! Again, we observed how a gifted artist can perform a work we've heard hundreds of times and bring a freshness to it. From Rossini's charming comedy Il barbiere di Siviglia, we heard the "Largo al factotum" and also saw Figaro weaving through the audience combing people's hair, without missing a beat. The patter part was perfectly performed. (Pardon the alliteration).

Mr. Wright's baritone paired well with Mr. Sy's tenor in "Lily's Eyes", a dramatic excerpt from the 1989 musical The Secret Garden by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon. This is a show we never saw but the song is haunting.

After a dazzling launch like this, we expect great things from City Lyric Opera as they support young singers and bring artistry and entertainment to their audience. They deserve your support, both financial and practical. Do visit their website and see all the exciting plans for this season.

© meche kroop

Saturday, September 1, 2018

BEHIND THE SCENES WITH OPERA IN WILLIAMSBURG

Haeran Hong, Won Whi Choi, and Director Fabrizio Melano

Probably most opera goers realize how much work it takes to develop an operatically trained voice; but few of us give much thought to what it takes to put an opera onstage for us to enjoy. Fortunately, we had the privilege of being invited to attend a rehearsal of Verdi's tragic masterpiece La Traviata which will be performed by Opera in Williamsburg (Virginia), opening on September 12th.

We have always wished that this company were in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but it is not. Sadly we have not been able to leave New York to attend a performance but Founder Naama Zahavi-Ely kindly gave us an opportunity to witness the creative process.

Director Fabrizio Melano's process is one we could readily understand. Every line was first spoken and then sung.  Psychological motivations were explored and justifications were offered for each stage movement.  The process was meticulous and fascinating.  Here is just one example from the final scene--Violetta, sensitively portrayed by the splendid soprano Haeran Hong, does not read the entire letter from Germont.  She reads the first few lines because she knows it by heart.  She crumples it.  She presses out the wrinkles. These small touches tell us so much about the character.

Alfredo's greeting of his father (baritone Marco Nistico) tells us how much he has grown up over the prior few months. Terrific tenor Won Whi Choi received some very detailed direction which we will not share in case you are moved to attend the performance. We can only tell you that you won't be disappointed.

The role of Dr. Grenvil was performed by Eric Lindsey, whom we just reviewed as Don Giovanni with Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble. He too received some interesting direction; when everyone else is expressing joy at Violetta's apparent recovery, he alone accepts the reality of her impending death.

Megan Pachecano in the role of Annina was given lots of direction for the way she relates to Violetta--when to rush in and when to stand back and give her room.

The rest of the cast comprises some rising stars we know and love--Suchan Kim, Pavel Suliandziga, Kirsten Scott, and William Desbiens.

The conductor is the gifted Jorge Parodi and we mustn't overlook how involved the conductor is from the very beginning of the rehearsal process. We hope you didn't think the conductor just shows up when the orchestra does!

We did not get to experience the final part of the rehearsal process with the orchestra but we did enjoy  Abdiel Vasquez' piano accompaniment.

© meche kroop

Friday, August 31, 2018

TRAGEDY TONIGHT--COMEDY TONIGHT


Kathleen Felty, Kaitlyn McMonigle, Kathleen Reveille, and Erica Petrocelli
(photo by Bobby Gutierrez)
Amy Owens and Colin Ramsey (photo by Bobby Gutierrez)



















What a dazzling finish to our time in Santa Fe!  The exemplary nature of the final Apprentices Recital left us with glorious memories and the determination to return next August. Under the experienced guidance of Gayletha Nichols, the next crop of young artists have a high bar to surmount! There is a reason why the pair of Apprentice Recitals are always sold out. The young artists get a chance to be center stage, performing in a varied selection of scenes and the members of the audience get a chance to see the stars of tomorrow at a very modest ticket price of $15. In our opinion, the evening is worth tenfold the price.

Opening the evening was one of our very favorite scenes--the opening of Tchaikovsky's 1881 Eugene Onegin. This scene successfully establishes the characters of Tatyana and Olga, the two very different daughters of Madame Larina; it also shows us life in provincial Russia in the late 19th c. (We are always grateful for the preservation of the original setting; this opera demands it.) 

Soprano Erica Petrocelli made a lovely introspective Tatyana and allowed us to see the reserved dignity that would make its appearance by the finale of this tragic masterpiece; her tone was youthful and distinctive.  With three mezzo-sopranos onstage at once, we were happy to note their differentiation. As the bubbly sister Olga, Kathleen Reveille had a girlish spontaneity, whilst Kaitlyn McMonigle injected a note of maturity and a touch of melancholy as she and her friend, the nursemaid Filipyevna (Kathleen Felty) reminisced about their own youth. 

We love the easy way the two women had with one another and recall their message about the mature acceptance of the routine of life, a message Tatyana would live by as well. James Robinson's direction and Mackenzie Dunn's costumes brought everything together. The excellent singing was marked by some fine Russian diction.

The second scene brought us to the world of comedy, not just comedy but silly hilarity. In this scene from Jacques Offenbach's 1858 operetta Orphée aux enfers, Jupiter disguises himself as a fly and buzzes around the bored Eurydice. Soprano Amy Owens and bass Colin Ramsey distinguished themselves with some superlative singing in glorious Gallic style. We have included a photo to show Reilly Johnson's clever costumes. Director Mo Zhou ensured that the singers made great use of the space, the feathers, and the wings.  What a treat!

Act III of Verdi's 1851 Rigoletto is unutterably tragic; soprano Regina Ceragioli made a touching Gilda with the innocent coloring of her sweet soprano. Baritone Kenneth Stavert colored his voice darkly and gave an impressive performance as the eponymous jester. We have always found a great deal to admire in the performances of mezzo-soprano Gina Perregrino; her Maddalena lived up to our expectations, and perhaps exceeded them. This Maddalena was a real character, not a stereotype! Bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian had the right low notes for Sparafucile and the fine Mexican tenor Abraham Bretón wowed the audience with his "La donna è mobile". Director Fernando Parra Borti staged the scene well but, for some reason, ended the scene abruptly after Gilda enters the tavern at midnight. This left us hanging and feeling unfulfilled.

Puccini's lighthearted 1917 La Rondine is always fun. Soprano Meryl Dominguez made a lovely Magda, out for a flirtatious night at a café dansant  in disguise, experimenting with a new "self". Sitting with Ruggero (tenor Mackenzie Gotcher) she is "discovered" by her chambermaid Lisette (soprano Abigail Rethwisch) whilst the poet Prunier (terrific tenor Joshua Blue) tries to cover up for Magda. Kathleen Clawson's excellent direction created a whirlwind of excitement with Lisette acting wildly. Sage Foley's turn of the 20th c. costumes were lovely.

Mr. Borti also directed the Act II sextet from Mozart's 1787 Don Giovanni. We loved the singing but did not care for the "update". Everyone wore contemporary street clothes; Leporello (booming bass Brent Michael Smith) and Donna Elvira (the full-throated soprano Sarah Tucker) were depicted in bed together!  There are those who enjoy these updating but we are not among them. We did, however, enjoy the singing, especially that of soprano Mathilda Edge, whose Donna Anna was superb. We were happy to hear Mr. Ramsey again in the role of Masetto with mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Sarian as his flirtatious bride Zerlina. Rounding out the ensemble was tenor Elliot Paige as the loyal Don Ottavio. The voices harmonized beautifully, thanks to Music Director Glenn Lewis.

Handel's 1711 Rinaldo was represented by the Act III duet between Argante, King of Jerusalem, and the sorceress Armida. The duet was perfectly cast with the admirable bass-baritone Erik Van Heyningen and the exceptional soprano Stacy Geyer who impressed us so highly as Elvira in L'Italiana in Algeri. James Ramsay Arnold's baroque costumes were absolutely gorgeous, and the entire scene felt authentically baroque.

Leoncavallo wrote a most affecting duet for Nedda and Silvio in his 1892 Pagliacci. Silvio pleads for Nedda to run away with him but the frightened Nedda resists. Director Mo Zhou gave the pair some very interesting stage business which added greatly to the excellent performances of soprano Shannon Jennings and baritone Benjamin Taylor. They drew us into their private world and we wound up caring for them, although we knew their tragic ending.

We would have been happy to end the evening there before a scene for Carlisle Floyd's mid-20th c. Wuthering Heights. Although the melodramatic story has an operatic grandeur to it, the opera seemed to reduce it to a drawing room conflict that made no sense. We did not like the music at all. Readers will recall that our 19th c. ears are never quite comfortable with music written after Richard Strauss. Still, the singers were all excellent, although we were never completely sure who was whom. . So we will leave it at that with kudos for Ms. Petrocelli, Ms. Dominguez, Gillian Lynn Cotter, William Hughes, and Anthony Ciaramitaro who did their best with the unmelodic vocal lines, and also for costumer Rebecca Kendrick who had everyone looking perfectly 19th c.  If only the music had sounded like the costumes!

Well, the evening was varied and provided something for everyone, with all centuries represented and several languages as well. We can scarcely wait for next year and hope that many of these talented artists will be invited to return.

© meche kroop




Friday, August 24, 2018

#MeToo DON GIOVANNI

Elyse Kakacek (Zerlina) and Eric Lindsey (Don Giovanni)-- Photo by Brian E. Long

Mozart's Don Giovanni is one of our very favorite operas and we always prefer to see it as Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte intended. But this year we have seen a few radical interpretations that held our interest. Last night, Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble presented a version directed by Owen Horsley that was informed by the #MeToo movement. It is no secret that men in power often operate with a sense of entitlement that expresses itself toward attractive young women. Da Ponte didn't invent the concept!

The problem with presenting centuries-old stories with a modern twist is that of the Procrustean bed. Situations don't always fit right and those of us familiar with the traditional will be more than usually aware of the lapses. Those new to opera, like our companion last night, seem to take these lapses more easily.

Particularly, we hadn't a clue as to why Donna Anna, dressed like a secretary applying for a job,  was sitting on a chair outside Don Giovanni's door, from which she fled shortly after entering with her hosiery falling down. Perhaps she was meant to be an actress auditioning for a part. Who could tell? Of all the characters, hers was the one lacking a point of view and a backstory. We simply couldn't connect.  And after being brutally beaten with his own cane by Don Giovanni, why does the deceased Commendatore get up and walk out?

Well, this is opera so let us focus on the musical values which were splendid all around. To begin with, Maestro and Artistic Director Chris Fecteau wielded his baton with precision and gusto, giving us a satisfying reading of Mozart's score. We were delighted to hear some of the inner voices that often get swallowed up in larger venues. The Dell'Arte Festival Orchestra played beautifully for him and Lucas Barkley made some fine sonorities on the harpsichord. 

The overture was replete with portentous chords and anxious ascending and descending scale passages, setting the stage for the drama to follow. We always love the musical jokes when the onstage musicians play for Don Giovanni's dinner and Leporello complains about hearing an excess of Mozart's music! But here, the musicians were not onstage. We also missed the strange music in the party scene in which we hear music both refined and rustic in simultaneous cacophony.

The singers were superb. As the eponymous Don, Eric Lindsey's low and resonant voice was employed with fine phrasing. His Don walked a fine line between being charming and being violent. His immersion in the character was total and we found ourselves alternatively drawn in and repelled by him. The "Champagne Aria" was splendidly performed.

His scenes with Zerlina were some of the best of the evening. The duet "Là ci darem la mano" was delightful. Soprano Elyse Kakacek, another Dell'Arte regular, stunned us by her unwavering presence in the role. Her bodily and facial gestures were completely consonant with what was happening onstage. She was an all-too-willing "victim" for Don Giovanni's seduction. Her "Batti, batti" was beautifully sung, as was "Vedrai carino", strangely delivered sitting in a chair, facing the audience and not Masetto.

Nobuki Momma's Masetto was a well wrought characterization and his interactions with Don Giovanni and with Zerlina were completely convincing and seemed very au courant. We loved the scenes of the wedding with bridesmaids and ushers taking selfies and Masetto taking offense at Zerlina's unseemly behavior.

An outstanding performance was delivered by Jonathan Harris in the role of Leporello, Don Giovanni's much-abused manservant.  Like Ms. Kakacek, every facial expression and gesture reflected what was happening onstage; he used his excellent instrument with artistry. We loved his duet with Ms. Kakacek "Per queste tue manine" which we have rarely heard, and his sensational "Catalog aria" made use of a portfolio of photos, rather than the customary list.  Very 21st c.!

Three cheers for the Donna Elvira of soprano Jessica Mirshak. Not only was her "Mi tradì quell'alma ingrata" convincing in its self-righteous anger but her entire characterization gave us the feeling that we knew who she was and how she suffered and how entranced she was by the vile seducer.

Tenor Morgan Manifacier fulfilled the demands of the role of Don Ottavio, whom Donna Anna will probably never marry. He exhibited just the right degree of ardency which was just not ardent enough to win her affection. "Il mio tesoro" was cut (and missed) but he did well with "Dalla sua pace".

Soprano Jenny Lindsey lent her lovely voice to Donna Anna in "Non mi dir"; our only problem was trying to understand who she was. Perhaps it was the unflattering costume and some very distracting flashy sandals but she came across as a cipher. Perhaps a stronger directorial influence was needed. A novel directorial approach was that she was clearly lying to Don Ottavio about the so-called rape. This confused us further. He was never masked and she entered what appeared to be his hotel room willingly.

Hector Mori took the role of the Commendatore whom Don Giovanni invited to dinner. He appeared with stripes of white chalk on his face, presumably representing ghosthood.

Matthew Iacozza's set comprised a bunch of identical doors, through which characters came and went, lending a more farcical tone to the action than we might have wished. There were several instances when we were confused about what space the characters were entering or leaving. We sometimes wished that they had just walked in from the sides. 

The theater at La Mama has a balcony on three sides and we also wished that the serenade scene "Deh vieni alla finestra" had made use of it! There was nothing onstage to indicate the cemetery scene. We could have been anywhere. Props like cell phones told us that the drama was taking place in the present.

Dante Olivia Smith's lighting didn't quite succeed. A number of scenes would have benefited by being darkened, especially when Leporello exchanges clothing with his master and fools Donna Elvira. 

Claire Townsend's costumes were satisfactory, except for that of Donna Anna who sported flashy sandals with a modest dress. Zerlina's wedding dress, on the other hand, was perfect in demonstrating her sexual wavering.

Although Mr. Horsley's concept paid total attention to the rampant sexism, it ignored the classism so important to the tale. There was no differentiation between the so-called aristocrats and the so-called peasants. Perhaps this was intentional. Lecherous men feel entitled to all women regardless of their social class! The important thing here was that the women all stuck together and celebrated the destruction of the man who behaved so badly.

To summarize, we had a marvelous time, enjoying both the music and the characterizations. Our puzzlement over some directorial choices did not hamper our pleasure and probably won't hamper yours either, dear reader.

Take our advice and try to snag seats for the final performance Saturday night.  You will be both entertained and stimulated to think about gender relationships.

(c) meche kroop



Thursday, August 23, 2018

SUPERSIZE ME

The sterling cast of Salieri's La Cifra, presented by Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble
(photo by Brian E. Long)
Leave it to Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble to uncover an opera heretofore unknown and to give it a sparkling and delightful American premiere performance. Its success rests upon many shoulders. Rising star director Brittany Goodwin has put a commedia dell'arte spin on Salieri's La Cifra which might have otherwise flopped. Actually, we can't imagine it presented in any other way, having enjoyed this zaniness so thoroughly. Ms. Goodwin is relentlessly clever.

And there are many other shoulders to credit. The Dell'Arte Festival Orchestra, led by Maestro Catherine O'Shaughnessy (and isn't it great to see a woman conducting!) played Salieri's tuneful music in a manner that led to total appreciation of this underrated composer.  As a matter of fact, having heard his Falstaff and this opera, we are sure that he would have been far more popular today had he not been eclipsed by the young Mozart. 

The fine cast of young artists appear to have profited handsomely from their summer session and avidly picked up Ms. Goodwin's direction, capturing the ancient commedia dell'arte style. Gestures and facial expressions were super-sized and outlandish. Yes, these are stock characters but they also managed to have individual personalities that went beyond what was expected.

In the starring role of Rusticone (rustic, get it?) bass-baritone (we think) Angky Budiardjono handled the vocal demands and the comedy equally well. His character, based on Pantalone, is a conniving old goat who has hidden the aristocratic identity of his foster daughter Eurilla, along with her inheritance, in the hopes of marrying her. In this role, soprano Rachel Barker-Asto revealed her bel canto chops and created a sympathetic portrait of a modest and good-hearted young woman. We loved the way her killing of a dangerous wild boar (with a paper rifle!) changed her personality to one of swaggering confidence.

She has grown up as Rusticone's daughter, unaware of her aristocratic birth. Her step-sister Lisotta, given an outsized portrayal by the excellent mezzo-soprano Allison Gish, is out to snag Milord (the aristocratic tenor Timothy Stoddard) who rode into town on a hobby-horse and promptly fell for Eurilla. Lisotta's character is vain, insolent, and self-important with aristocratic pretensions. There are funny scenes of the sisters fighting and reconciling.  Of course, Eurilla, with Cinderella-like magnanimity, forgives everyone in the end.

Sandrino is the Pierrot-like character, in love with Lisotta. The role was beautifully rendered by baritone Jay Chacon. This was a very anxious suitor, breathing from a paper bag, ostensibly to deal with panic attacks. We wondered whether 18th c. folk were aware of that remedy!

Milord's side-kick Leandro was performed by tenor Stephen Steffens; the excellent chorus comprised Makayla McDonald, Andrea Howland, Sam Strickland, Nicholle Bittlingmeyer, Ian Joyal, Charles Calotta and James Healy .

The inventive staging was as impressive as the singing. During the overture, members of the ensemble ran around setting up the stage with curious props. Sheets were suspended between ladders and later the ladders held a suspended clothesline. A head of cabbage made several appearances for characters to swear upon. Little light bulbs ran across the front of the playing area. Trunks were brought in and some basic furniture. Rain was created by tossing handfuls of packing popcorn. At one point, Milord wore glasses with bulging eyes popping out on springs. Every item added to the fun. Matthew Iacozza is credited with Scenic Design.

As far as Claire Townsend's zany costumes, they fulfilled Ms. Goodwin's concept to a "T", as one can see from the above photo.

Ms. Barker-Asto had her chance to shine in several arias; in her second act lament, a two-part aria seemed a preface to the bel canto aria with its lively "cabaletta". As a matter of fact, a number of features presaged the bel canto period, especially the wild and crazy sextet which ends Act I.

We enjoyed her love duet with Mr. Stoddard, replete with tenderness and exquisite 18th c. harmonies.  If serious drama requires comic relief, can we say that comedy requires some romantic relief?

Mr. Stoddard also did some fine work in his arias and in the male trio in Act I.  Mr. Chacon got his big aria in Act II but also had a fine duet with Ms. Gish.

There was a charming group dance when the townsfolk gathered, which reminded us of English country dancing. We understand that Owen Horsley, himself an award-winning Scottish dancer, is responsible for the choreography.

And once more we enjoyed Artistic Director Chris Fecteau playing the hell out of the harpsichord for the recitativi.

The ins and outs of this topsy turvy plot were created with panache by Lorenzo Da Ponte, whose libretti served Mozart so well. We recommend that you grab a chance to see this work. Who knows when you will get another chance. Try to get tickets for Friday night or Sunday matinée. You might get lucky!

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

MOZART AND SALIERI

Gabriel Hernandez and Nobuki Momma (photo by Brian E. Long)

What a brilliant idea was had by Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble to base their 2018 season on two contemporaries--Mozart and Salieri. There has been a centuries old rumor that the latter poisoned the former out of envy. The most recent iteration of that rumor was Peter Shaffer's 1979 play, later adapted for film. That the rumor has been disproven has not prevented writers from developing the idea dramatically.

Pushkin wrote a verse drama in 1830 based on this rumor, which  Rimsky-Korsakov set to music in 1897. Although this Russian genius wrote about 16 operas, we have only seen two prior to last night--The Snow Maiden and The Golden Cockerel. We have no idea why his operas are rarely performed in the United States and are thrilled that Artistic Director Chris Fecteau brought this one to our attention.

The moral behind the tale rests upon whether genius and villainy are incompatible. Listening to tenor Gabriel Hernandez and baritone Nobuki Momma bring Rimsky-Korsakov's rich music to life, and watching the interactions between the two men, was an enriching experience. We wished that this scene might have opened the program Vignettes from Vienna instead of closing the program because it might have brought new insights to the other three scenes which we will describe anon. 

Jason Goldberg directed this one-act opera with a sure hand. Mr. Momma clearly limned the embittered character of Salieri who labored mightily to achieve his post at the Imperial Court Theater of Vienna; how envious he felt over the boy genius Mozart whom he described as "unworthy of his genius". Mr. Hernandez did well at bringing the carefree Mozart to life; we wished he had been a little more outrageous in his portrayal. Both men handled the Russian well. Chris Whittaker conducted with Dura Jun at the piano, doing a swell job with Rimsky-Korsakov's marvelous music.

It was clever to show the attitudes of the two composers as they introduced their works with silent gestures. The opening entry was an excerpt from Act I of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, following a very brief excerpt of Salieri's prior and failed attempt to set DaPonte's libretto. 

Desiree Baxter directed Mozart's scenes with a great deal of invention; we believe that singers make the best directors for several reasons but one is that they don't put the singers into positions that interfere with the vocal production!  The set comprised several doors and the two sisters interrupted a board game they were playing to open two of the doors to reveal their suitors. Although tenor Vincenzo Catarisano and baritone Jay Chacon (a Dell'Arte regular) did well as Ferrando and Guglielmo, we were most taken with the voices of soprano Heather Bobeck as Fiordiligi and mezzo-soprano Andre Howland Myers as Dorabella. In the trio "Soave sia il vento", the sisters were joined by the young bass Ian Joyal who produced some fine Italianate sound as the cynical Don Alfonso; the vocal blending was entirely captivating. Nicholle Bittlingmeyer made a spunky Despina and added to the fun. The stylishly costumed Whitney George conducted with panache.

The other Mozart on the program comprised excerpts from Act II of Nozze di Figaro. Soprano Maria Servodidio sang Countess Almaviva's "Porgi amor" with dignity and despair. Her voice has a wide vibrato which gave an interesting depth to her portrayal and lent distinction between her sound and that of Makayla McDonald who portrayed the spunky Susanna. Dell'Arte regular SarahAnn Duffy had the travesti role of Cherubino and had great fun portraying a boy who gets dressed up as a girl and tries to walk in high heels.  (Oh, those racy 18th c. Viennese!) We wished she had paid a bit more attention to Ms. George's baton since she was not 100% on the beat.

Lyric baritone Sung Shin made a huge impression as Count Almaviva, singing with gorgeous Italianate phrasing and a most pleasing vocal quality. Mr. Chacon reappeared as the wily Figaro. Ms. Baxter directed and Ms. George conducted with Ms. Jun at the piano and Maestro Fecteau playing the recitativi at the harpsichord as they did for the Cosi. 

Representing Salieri's contribution to the evening were excerpts from his Falstaff which we reviewed four years ago at Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble's 2014 season. Chris Whittaker conducted with sensitive hands and no baton. Of course there are reasons why Verdi's version eclipsed that of Salieri but the latter's opera is very worth hearing.

We enjoyed the warm tenorial sound of Charles Calotta, which we so admired at Amore Opera, in the role of Mr. Ford. As Mrs. Ford we liked the bright soprano of Elise Kakacek. The versatile Mr. Chacon portrayed Mr. Slender with the indignant Mrs. Slender sung by mezzo-soprano Inbal Milliger, who gave us a marvelous aria portraying Falstaff in the most unflattering terms.  The role of Falstaff was taken by bass Hector Mori with bass Will Esch as the ill-used Bardolfo.

Matthew Iacozza's set design for the evening was simple--the aforementioned doors were put to good use and not much else was needed, save for a few random pieces of furniture. Heather Denny's costumes were contemporary streetwear for the most part with Mozart and Salieri sporting those 18th c. coats that make men look ever so dashing. Lighting was by Rafa.

Tonight is a wonderful opportunity to catch Salieri's La Cifra, which we heard is hilarious. Tomorrow you might have a chance to get seats for Don Giovanni but better hurry because last night was a sellout.

(c) meche kroop




Saturday, August 18, 2018

ROSSINI ROCKS SANTA FE

Patrick Carfizzi (Taddeo), Daniela Mack (Isabella), Scott Conner (Mustafa), Stacey Geyer (Elvira), Suzanne Hendrix (Zulma), Jack Swanson (Lindoro)...Photo by Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera


It was difficult to tell who was having more fun at the Santa Fe Opera last night at a riotous performance of Rossini's 1813 laugh riot L'Italiana in Algeri. The cast sparkled with glee and the audience roared with laughter. The original production by Edward Hastings premiered in 2002; we were there and we remember best the part in which Isabella arrives in Algeria by bi-plane!

We doubt that Rossini could have foreseen the Wright Brothers' invention so we will assume that this production has been advanced from the 19th c. a full century into the future.  That a forceful female character was invented by Rossini in the early 19th c. is rather remarkable.  Her setting an example for the dependent and lovelorn Elvira has resonance for us in the 21st c.

The story concerns this independent Italian woman who has gone searching for her missing beloved Lindoro; he had been captured by pirates and enslaved by the lecherous and self-important Sultan Mustafa, a ridiculous character whose arrogance makes him easy to fool.

Isabelle is accompanied by Taddeo who adores her.  She adores him not.

Mustafa is trying to rid himself of his adoring wife Elvira who needs some good mentoring by Isabella.  Mustafa has a yen for an Italian woman and Isabella arrives at just the right moment.  The opera story involves her plotting to free all the Italian slaves as well as Lindoro. Thus the opera became catnip for the Italians--not only for its memorable melodic score but also for patriotic reasons.

The setting in Algeria, then a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire, reminds us of Europe's fascination with all things exotic at that time. Indeed, not too long before, Mozart wrote his Die Entführung aus dem Serail, the theme of which is not too different.

During the overture, tiny bi-planes were "flown" up and down the aisles of the theater. A somewhat larger bi-plane appeared on the set, and when it was time for Isabella and Taddeo to make their entrance, a much larger bi-plane appeared on the stage.

This masterstroke of creativity set the audience to laughing and the laughs wouldn't stop all night long. For our taste, Shawna Lucey's direction was excessive but the audience loved all the gyrations, wriggling, pelvic thrusting, wild gesticulations, and Broadway chorus-style dancing. There was one trick that Ms.Lucey missed.  When Isabella and Lindoro take off in a hot-air balloon at the conclusion of the opera, there was a basket but no balloon!

We did love the set design by Robert Innes Hopkins which was well lit by Duane Schuler. There was a flat playing space with palm trees on each side; the floor unfolded upward to reveal Mustafa's palace with its Moorish arches and pillars. It reminded us of those greeting cards that are cleverly constructed to reveal a cut-out when one opens them.

David C. Woolard's costume design was wild and colorful for the Algerian court and suitable for the Europeans in their own fashion. We particularly enjoyed the scene in which Isabella tears down one of the curtains, snatches up some random decorations, goes behind a screen, and emerges in a stylish form-fitting costume.

The singing was excellent all around; Rossini's melodies paired with the vowel-dominant Italian language give one a chance to appreciate a singer's gifts--something that doesn't happen for us in contemporary operas in English. The best part of the singing was the work done as an ensemble. The voices blended in happy harmony with each character singing a different vocal line and expressing different emotions.

Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack made a spunky Isabella, using her physical and vocal assets to get three men to do her bidding, making each one believe that he was the object of her desire. Her delivery of "Cruda sorte" was excellent.

Tenor Jack Swanson made a fine handsome Lindoro, one for whom a woman might go out searching. He was particularly admirable in his duets. Today's audience seems to love "patter songs" as much as the audience of two centuries ago; Mr. Swanson's rapid fire delivery was impressive.

Bass Scott Conner played the part of Mustafa to the hilt. His booming voice and imposing figure perfectly set off the silly nature of his actions. It is wonderful to hear that much flexibility in a large low voice.

As his rejected wife Elvira, Apprentice Singer Stacey Geyer lent her splendid soprano to the creation of a character a normal man would be foolish to abandon; but we did say that Mustafa was foolish.

Mezzo-soprano Suzanne Hendrix was excellent in the role of Zulma, Elvira's slave and confidant. She too showed a lot of spunk.

Bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi was just about perfect in the role of Taddeo and succeeded in earning our sympathy for his unrequited love. He gets passed off as Isabella's uncle and avoids impalement by agreeing to join the court.

Baritone Craig Verm was humorously menacing as Haly, Mustafa's chief pirate and scourge of the slaves.

The chorus of Apprentice Singers served as slaves and pirates and eunuchs. We always want to thank Susanne Sheston since the chorus is always so well schooled in perfect diction. And all of them seem effective in whatever parts they are asked to play.

Last, but definitely not least, Rossini's music is a constant delight. Corrado Rovaris' baton led the Santa Fe Orchestra in a highly spirited and swiftly moving reading of the score. From the piping of the piccolo to the "Rossini Crescendo", he made every moment count.

Another triumph for the Santa Fe Opera!

(c) meche kroop











Friday, August 17, 2018

ENDING WITH A WHIMPER, NOT A BANG

The Santa Fe Opera Chorus in Doctor Atomic (photo by Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera)

It would have been wonderful if the onstage nuclear scientists waiting for detonation of the atom bomb at Los Alamos had been accompanied by a real live storm but there was only a brief shower. We reflected upon the night at the Santa Fe Opera when the final scene of Verdi's Rigoletto was accompanied by real thunder and lightning, making for one exciting operatic experience.

Well, Doctor Atomic is no Rigoletto and John Adams is no Verdi; we doubt that audiences will be clamoring for this work in the 22nd c. However, if we accept the message of the evening, there may be no 22nd c. The part of the evening we enjoyed the most was the pre-opera lecture by Director Peter Sellars in which he made some very good points about the nuclear age and why he chose to present it as contemporary, with Gabriel Berry's costumes belonging to our present day. Although we strongly disagree we enjoyed hearing his rationale. 

We enjoyed even more the talks we heard from three of the Downwinders--an elderly woman, her daughter, and her niece--all suffering from crippling anxiety related to the decimation of their family by cancer, a consequence of the 1945 detonation of the world's first atomic bomb. Apparently, the government's fund to compensate the victims of fallout and radiation has not been extended to New Mexicans, a condition the Downwinders have been fighting for several years. The stories they shared were terribly tragic. The government did not evacuate them for fear the press would find out that "something was going on".

The production of Doctor Atomic, taking place just a stone's throw from Los Alamos, seemed to be a risk for the Santa Fe Opera but they put all their resources behind it and succeeded in selling out the entire run. Not only did we get to hear the voices of the afflicted but we got to watch members of nearby pueblos performing a corn dance onstage, a form of prayer for healing and for water to nourish their corn crop. The stage was filled with Downwinders who probably had as many tragic tales to tell as the three we heard in the lecture.

Our desire to learn about this tragedy created by the military/science complex was not matched by an appreciation for the opera itself, in spite of some stellar performances by artists we know and love. This lack of affection for the work is not due to the fact that it is political.  Verdi himself wrote several operas with political themes, both overt and covert.  But he did so with glorious music and singable melodies.

Although there were a few moments when Adams' orchestral colors pleased our ears, for the most part the music is harsh and dissonant. Peter Sellars' libretto is nothing if not "wordy". The text was derived from government documents, wire-tapped conversations, surveillance reports, first-person accounts, scientific data, and poetry loved by the Oppenheimers; none of it is singable, nor is the vocal line melodic in any way, shape, or form.

The fact that the voices were amplified, as Adams stipulated, did nothing to enhance the listening experience. NATO would describe the opera--No Action Talk Only.  There is only the conversation about the Manhattan Project, the waiting, and the concern with the weather. Emily Johnson's choreography involved some highly generic modern dance to give the illusion of movement--eye candy that was more sour than sweet. David Gropman's set was bare, save for a huge suspended reflecting ball.

Now that we got the negatives off our chest, let us relate the positives, which involve some pretty swell performances. Bass-baritone Ryan McKinny establishsed the complex character of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer whilst the exceptional soprano Julia Bullock excelled at limning the character of his neglected wife Kitty. Most of her singing involved texts of poet Muriel Rukeyser which was abstract to the point of incoherence. We have written that Ms. Bullock could sing the phone book.  This came close.

In the sympathetic role of the physicist Robert Wilson, tenor Ben Bliss' youthful timbre was just right for the part. His "aria" whilst climbing to the top of the tower was probably the most musical part of the opera.

Contralto Meredith Arwady lent her distinctive sound to the role of Pasqualita, Kitty's Tewa housekeeper. Her singing of a Tewa native song was rather more listener-friendly. 

General Leslie Groves was the U.S. Army Commander of the Manhattan Project, a demanding, aggressive, and overweight man; bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch got the first two qualities just right but the banter about his weight and his diet didn't make sense since Mr. Okulitch is admirably fit. 

Bass Andrew Harris portrayed the physicist Edward Teller and baritone Tim Mix took the part of the chief meteorologist for the Trinity test site. General Groves was casting shade on him for not producing better weather!  

Apprentice Mackenzie Gotcher lent his tenor to the voice of Capt. James Nolan who, as chief of the post hospital at Los Alamos, expressed concern for the well-being of the scientists working on the Manhattan Project. Most enjoyable for us was the chorus composed of Apprentice Singers. They blended onstage with the Downwinders and provided some visual as well as aural interest. 

The evening ended with a standing ovation, dear readers, so our comments are not meant as a value judgment, rather as the opinion of one opera lover who wants to be entertained. Mr. Sellars' libretto might have made good reading but those words we heard never begged to be set to music. Nor was any provided.

(c) meche kroop