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.

Friday, September 14, 2018


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

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