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, March 10, 2018


Elizabeth Bouk and Jonathan Fox Powers in Sondheim's PASSION at Utopia Opera

Most people enjoy having their opinions validated and we are no exception.  In the Director's Notes for Sondheim's Passion, presented by the reliably adventuresome Utopia Opera, Benjamin Spierman eloquently addresses the issue of opera vs. musical theater. We are in complete agreement that any division is unnecessary and only results in contentious discussion. Drama with music, when sung by classically trained singers without amplification qualifies a work as "opera" in our opinion.

One of the distinguishing features of "opera" is that it is passionate.  People die for love, kill for love, and live on the edge.  That is why opera is the perfect antidote for our "whatever" age, marked by indifference and irony.

The very title of Sondheim's work tells us so.  The story was adapted from Ettore Scola's film Passione d'Amore, itself adapted from the 19th c. novel Fosca by Iginio Ugo Tarchetti. The renowned James Lapine wrote the book. 

The story concerns a young military officer whose pity for his Colonel's sickly cousin ends up becoming love. Fosca is a disagreeable and demanding woman with a sad past and she stalks Captain Giorgio Bachetti obsessively until she wins him over.

That he has a romantic and sexual relationship with Clara, a woman he adores, does not stop Fosca from throwing herself at Giorgio without reservation or reason, sacrificing all dignity in the process.

Elizabeth Bouk was convincing as Fosca, somehow hiding her natural beauty to portray a woman who believes herself to be homely. It was satisfying to watch her blossom when she succeeded in winning Giorgio's love.

Giorgio was well enacted and sung by Jonathan Fox Powers who showed us his character's inner kindness but also his attempts to firmly reject Fosca's initial advances. His fine voice suited the part well.

We particularly enjoyed Dennis Wees' portrayal of Colonel Ricci, so protective of his unfortunate cousin and so angry when he believes that Giorgio has taken advantage of her. He also has a fine voice and employs it well.  

Actually, the encounters between Giorgio and Fosca were set up and encouraged by Doctor Tambourri, played rather woodenly by Jack Anderson White.

As Clara, Giorgio's married lover who loves with the necessary restrictions of a married woman who stands to lose her child in 19th c. Italy, Paige Cutrona was barely audible except when she employed the upper end of her register where she had an attractive sound. The spoken dialogue and lower notes could not be heard.

Mr. Spierman himself appeared as Fosca's father, in flashback, with Hannah Spierman portraying her mother with a fine sizable sound. Also seen in flashback was the "Count" Ludovic (Jonathan Price) who took advantage of Fosca which probably led to the decline in her health.

Comic relief was provided by the military men who gathered over meals and billiards, commenting on the action like a Greek chorus. Performers were Ray Calderon, Benjamin Herman, Platon Vavylis, Nick Miller, and Ross Schwaber.  It was in these scenes that Sondheim's familiar wordplay was most in evidence.

The music is through-composed with several impactful duets. Most of the arias involve the reading of letters written by Giorgio to Clara and by Clara to Giorgio. We hear Sondheim reaching for something grander in this work, arguably his most operatic creation. Under the baton of Artistic and Music Director William Remmers, the orchestra played well.  On the audience level we had a string quartet plus bass and two keyboards. On stage and off to the side, as usual, we had a pair of horns, a trumpet, percussion, and four wind players who alternated among oboe, English horn, clarinet, and flute. 

Originally Jonathan Tunick composed the lush orchestration and we have no evidence that this was changed for Utopia Opera's production. The score is definitely worth a repeat hearing.

Speaking of repeats, you will have a couple opportunities to catch this chamber opera. There is a matinee today and another on Sunday and an evening performance tonight at 8:00.  The work is seldom produced and we encourage you to seize the opportunity.

(c) meche kroop

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