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, January 13, 2018


Sarah Rothenberg and Nicholas Phan

The spare but effective setting for the New York Premiere of A Proust Sonata was designed by Marina Draghici (who also designed the costumes) and comprised stacks of books, a candle, and a bell by which legendary author Marcel Proust (effectively portrayed by Henry Stam) could summon his housekeeper and confidant Céleste (sympathetically portrayed by Nancy Hume).

The stage at French Institute Alliance Francaise was packed with talent for this musical theater piece presented by FIAF and Da Camera of Houston Productions. At the piano was Sarah Rothenberg, famed not only as a performer but as a writer and creator of music theater, uniting music, art, and literature.

Here, she has painted a portrait, so to speak, of Marcel Proust by using his own words from his epic literary masterpiece A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, as well as the memoir of Céleste Albaret. For this multimedia piece, she has employed evocative projections by Hannah Wasileski, and most importantly, music that  Proust mentioned in his work. Each scene utilized projections and music that rounded out the story telling.

A Proust Sonata deals with music and memory. The piece is divided into seven scenes, beginning with memories of childhood and ending with the famous recollection of the madeleine dipped in lime blossom tea.

In between we visited a belle-epoque salon at which Proust met his lover, the gifted composer Reynaldo Hahn, whose songs have delighted us on so many occasions.  At this point we heard tenor Nicholas Phan perform. We have enjoyed Mr. Phan on prior occasions and enjoyed his performance for the most part last night but with an exception. We love a long even Gallic line and don't care for pushing for volume at the upper end of the register.

We had no quibbles with the violin artistry of Boson Mo or the outstanding harmonies of the Daedalus String Quartet, particularly the sublime third movement of Beethoven's String Quartet in F Major, Op. 135, which accompanied the scene in which Proust describes a Vermeer painting.

Other scenes allowed Ms. Rothenberg to share her artistry at the piano with music by all our favorites--Chopin, Schumann, Debussy, Fauré, and Ravel.

Yesterday's review described a scene in which the singer has fallen in love with her iPod and we commented how each generation has its own means of listening to music. This performance illustrated Proust utilizing a device called a "theatrophone", a means which let Proust listen to performances of the Paris Opera by telephone!

Was his childhood  enjoyment of a "magic lantern" so different from today's children being amused on the internet? "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose"!

We were tickled to learn that Proust wrote all night long and slept all day!  And here it is after 6:00 AM and we are just finishing our review of this stunning gesamtkunstwerk (to coin a phrase). How impressed we are by scholarship translated into entertainment!

(c) meche kroop

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