Monday, February 19, 2018
Saturday, February 17, 2018
Thursday, February 15, 2018
|Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor at The Juilliard School (photo by Richard Termine)|
Nicolai's version is quite different and filled with interesting characterizations and some of the jauntiest music we have heard in some time. The German composer, co-founder of the Vienna Philharmonic, received his musical education in Italy, and died way too young. His music shows both Italian and German influences.
We wish the term "comic opera" had not been wasted on what we would call "dramas with happy endings". Because this work is truly comic in the best sense of the word. The students, most of them at the graduate level, mined the work for its humor and delivered the lovely vocal lines with equal measure of vocal beauty. The mid-19th c. tradition of bel canto is prominent.
Nicolai himself called the work a "komisch/fantastiche Oper"; it was written in the form of a singspiel, with spoken dialogue. In this case, the spoken dialogue was delivered in English and arranged by Director John Giampietro to include lines from Henry IV (both parts) and from A Midsummer Night's Dream. The young romantic couple Anna (soprano Jessica Niles) and Fenton (tenor John Chongyoon Noh) recite to one another lines spoken by Oberon and Titania.
The production was a clever one; the action remained in Windsor but the time was updated to the 1940's and the action took place in a munitions factory which was owned by the wealthy Spärlich (tenor Matthew Pearce). Working on the bombs at opposing tables were two friends--Frau Fluth (Christine Taylor Price) and Frau Reich (mezzo-soprano Kady Evanyshyn).
The two married women are being simultaneously "courted" by Sir John Falstaff (bass Alex Rosen in a fat suit). The major plot shows how the women get their revenge by humiliating him and how he is forgiven, once he shows remorse, in a burst of community spirit. This theme is particularly relevant today as misbehaving men are being publicly shamed and humiliated by women they have wronged.
In a plot point reminiscent of the Countess Almaviva's revenge on her jealous husband (in Mozart's Nozze di Figaro), Herr Fluth (baritone Hubert Zapiór) gets his comeuppance as well. There is even a scene where he locks the door before looking for his wife's imagined lover.
Librettist Salomon Hermann von Mosenthal transferred parenthood of young Anna to the Reich's thereby giving them more stage time. Frau Reich has selected a suitor for Anna--Dr. Cajus (bass Andrew Munn with an hilarious French accent); Herr Reich (bass William Guanbo Su) has chosen the aforementioned wealthy owner of the factory.
Anna has a mind of her own and manages to marry Fenton, giving them some gorgeous duets. They seem to have escaped the war between the sexes.
Fleshing out the funny bones of this opera is the most delightfully melodic music. Conductor Teddy Poll kept things moving along at a brisk pace and the four-handed piano reduction was brightly performed by Chris Reynolds and Adam Rothenberg, two of our favorite pianists at Juilliard. They played behind a wall, out of sight.
It would be remiss not to mention the two lovely instrumentalists who accompanied Mr. Cho onstage--violinist Cherry Choi Tung Yeung and Lisa Choi who deftly handled the piccolo part, especially when she imitated the lark.
If we mentioned every musical and dramatic moment that tickled us, we would have to go on for hours, but let us mention just a few. The Act I duet between Ms. Price (whom we are thinking of as Ms. Pipes) and Ms. Evanyshyn was a perfect representation of what a soprano and mezzo can do with gorgeous intertwining lines.
Mr. Rosen's "serenade" was hilariously pompous. It was quite a thrill to hear three basses in one opera. They were all different and all superb.
Dazzling our ears was Mr. Zapiór's rich and mellow baritone. He was also hilarious stomping around with his cane in a jealous rage and climbing into the laundry basket to look for Falstaff.
Ms. Price nearly stole the show practicing her seductive moves on a factory worker whose facial expressions in response were classic. Her contentious duet with Mr. Zapiór was another highlight.
Ms. Niles' interaction with Mr. Cho was as tender as their singing. Their voices were perfect for the ingenue roles they performed.
Mr. Pearce got some laughs when he agreed to marry Anna whom he thought he might "grow to love in time". His tenor fell beautifully on the ear.
The chorus of townspeople commenting on the action was well integrated-- Khady Gueye, Brittany Hewitt, Ryan Hurley, Connor Ouly, Shereen Pimental, James Rootring and Maggie Renée Valdman. Mr. Hurley had a brief appearance as Prince Hal and Brittany Hewitt performed Mistress Quickly.
Scenic Designer Alexis Distler created a very believable munitions factory as seen in the photo above, and Kate Ashton lit it cleverly. Audrey Nauman's costumes were appropriate to the time and place, including the head scarves one sees in photos of female factory workers of the time.
As is our wont, we don't read program notes until after the performance, hoping that the production will speak for itself. This one did. We got every nuance that Mr. Giampietro was going for.
Since the performing space was flanked by audience seated on both sides of the room, we had an opportunity to observe the wide smiles on the faces across from us, whenever we could tear our eyes away from the action. It is rare to have that much fun at the opera! It was difficult to tell whether the cast or the audience was enjoying more.
If we have one beef it is only that too few people will get to see this worthy show. It surely deserves a wider audience!
As fine as the piano reduction was written and played, we would love to see this opera again with a full orchestra. Listening to the overture online, we concluded that Nicolai had a wonderful feel for orchestration.
This opera deserves to be right up there with Rossini's comedies!
(c) meche kroop
Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Sunday, February 11, 2018
Monday, February 5, 2018
Saturday, February 3, 2018
Friday, February 2, 2018
|Fernando Cisneros, Riccardo Gatto, Sandra Buongrazio, Meixu Lu, Xiaojie Fan, Feifei Yang, Jiajun Hong, Yuxiao Chen, Xiaofen Min, Jinghan Zhang, Zhongbei Wu, and Qian Liang|
The first half of the program was a splendid introduction to the predominantly Chinese audience of opera from Italy and France, as well as German operetta. It was wise to choose selections from Verdi, Puccini, Mozart, Bizet, Donizetti, and Lehar. Every selection was tuneful and accessible, not to mention superbly performed.
Opening the program was Ms. Zhang, whose luminescent soprano was well matched by the silky baritone of Fernando Cisneros, whose impeccable linguistic skills are a product of some intense work with Classic Lyric Arts programs. They performed "Pronto io son" from Donizetti's Don Pasquale.
Mr. Cisneros made an impressively virile Escamillo in Bizet's Carmen, strutting around the stage with just the right degree of self confidence, bordering on arrogance. He went on to command the stage as Figaro in "Non più andrai" from Mozart's Nozze di Figaro. It was a treat to see him take on such a variety of roles, inhabiting each one as if he owned it.
Mezzo-soprano Sandra Buongrazio threw herself into her performance of Carmen's "Habanera" with all the right moves and a smoky sound that was just right.
We liked her even more in "O don fatale" from Verdi's Don Carlo in which the larger than life Princess Eboli shows her remorse for entrapping her Queen. The overtones filled the hall and we noticed how Mr. Hong's piano and Ms. Bunograzio's voice changed color at the same point in the aria.
Having just seen Puccini's Tosca at The Metropolitan Opera, we were very ready to hear an alternative interpretation of "Vissi d'arte" and enjoyed Ms. Buongrazio's passion and commitment, emphasized with dynamic variety.
It is always a treat to hear a tenor who sings with ease and Riccardo Gatto is just such an artist. Tenors risk a great deal when they take on an aria made famous by Luciano Pavarotti. Mr. Gatto owes no apologies for his very excellent performance of "Che gelida manina" from Puccini's La Bohème. It was performed with all the ardor of a young writer trying to impress a new woman.
In "Nessun dorma" his color changed completely and his performance was expansive, in keeping with the expression of Prince Calaf.
The quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto is a real showstopper and almost always appears on programs by Judith Fredrick's Opera New York. It shows off all four fachs and requires exquisite balance among them. In this case, Ms. Zhang, Ms. Buongrazio, Mr. Gatto, and Mr. Cisneros were well matched and balanced.
The second half of the program brought some very special treats. The stage was filled with Chinese musical instruments commingled with Western ones. Our evenings spent reviewing Chinese music were excellent preparation for recognizing the haunting bamboo flute, the elaborate zither-like guzheng, the slender erhu, and the gorgeous pipa, which is plucked upright.
We heard the premiere of Qian Liang's "Spring's rosy color fades from forest flowers". Oh, if only contemporary American composers could be as melodic! Ms. Zhang sang it with tender word painting, and was no less lovely in a Xin Jiang Folk Song "Si Lian" that had the feeling of a barcarolle but was actually about longing. Still...our thoughts turned to Venice and Rossini.
Mr. Hong and Ms. Zhang seemed to be celebrating their own love in "Lippen schweigen" from Lehar's Die Lustige Witwe. Mr. Hong left the piano and sang the duet with his wife; we even got a waltz!
We wondered who wrote the arrangements of Western music for the interesting ensemble of piano, cello, violin, bamboo flute, erhu, pipa and guzheng. This genius' name is Wenhao Pei and he deserves a lot of credit.
The program closed with three Italian songs. Mr. Gatto let loose with "Non ti scordar di me", written for Beniamino Gigli by Ernesto de Curtis, and popularized in our generation by Mr. Pavarotti. The singer subtly enhanced his vibrato for this piece and was accompanied by Xiaojie Fan's exquisite violin solo. Mr. Curtis was also the composer of "Torna a Surriento". Eduardo di Capua was the composer of the final selection "O sole mio" in which the entire ensemble participated.
Praise must be offered to Xiaopeng Teng who directed the opera scenes.
(c) meche kroop[