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, December 1, 2018


Joseph Andrew Yu, Xiaoya Guo, and Yvette Keong

We go to the opera to have a good time, not to boast of our interest in "highbrow culture". Last night we had a wonderful time watching scenes from four different operas at the Manhattan School of Music, all directed by the inventive Laura Alley, who never "plays a wrong note". Each scene was "pitch perfect".  The students, drawn from many parts of the world, exhibited healthy young voices with fine technique and impressive dramatic skills.

Two of the operas were oft-heard standards given beautiful productions and two of them were new to us but significant in the history of MSM. Scott Eyerly's The House of Seven Gables was given its world premiere by MSM in 2000 and Marc Blitzstein's spoof The Harpies was given its premiere in 1953 by MSM. It is rare that we enjoy contemporary opera in English but we did last night!

The program began with a scene from The House of Seven Gables in which boarder Holgrave (bass Weichang Wang) is photographing the Pyncheon family, comprising Aunt Hepzibah (mezzo-soprano Xiaoya Guo), Clifford (tenor Joseph Andrew Yu), and lovely young Phoebe (soprano Yvette Keong) who is having a lighthearted flirtation with Holgrave. We were pulled into the story and wanted to see the rest of the opera! Regular readers will be surprised since our taste for the modern is very rarely positive. The music was appealing, the acting was engaging and the voices just glorious.

Second on the program was The Harpies, which reminded us a bit of Offenbach by virtue of its wit.

The blind oracle Phineus (tenor Alexander Mason) is tormented by the avian Furies (Emilyn Badgley, Natalie Rumer, and Erin Wagner) who are not nearly as sweet as the Rheinmädchen in Wagner's The Ring Cycle.  Oh no, they eat Phineas' food and smell bad! Along come three Argonauts to the rescue (Taicheng Li, Daniel Rich, and Zachary Brown) and in a sensationally staged battle and chase scene, Phineas' wellbeing is restored.  The gorgeous goddess Iris (a radiant Shelén Hughes) appears in rainbow attire and sends the Harpies off to torture other victims. The voices were as fine as expected but the ensemble work was even better. We always love harmonies!
Returning to the familiar, we were delighted by the scene from Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos. Christina Roszhart has a huge soprano with promising roles in her future. She excelled as the eponymous Ariadne, abandoned on the isle of Naxos by her erstwhile lover Theseus. In lovely contrast were the voices of the three nymphs Najade (Hyeree Shin), Echo (Yejin Lee) and Dryade (Sarah Brownawell) who danced and sang their pity for her in suitable choreography and gorgeous vocal harmony.

Enter the feisty Zerbinetta (Kelly Singer) in full commedia del'arte attire, along with her troupe of entertainers. Esteban Zuniga portrayed Brighella, Alexander Mason had the role of Scaramuccio, Harlekin was portrayed by Marcel Sokalski, and Truffaldin was enacted by Edward Lim. Not only was the singing uniformly excellent but the staging and acting left no doubt about the talent onstage.

The evening ended with the opening scene from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi which is always fun as the greedy relatives go from fake weeping over the dead Busoni to real tears when they get a look at Busoni's will, which leaves his fortune to a monastery. In searching for the document, they just about tear the home apart. 

The formidable Aunt Zita was portrayed by mezzo-soprano Elisabeth Harris; the family elder Simone was believably realized by Zachary Brown whose limped gait and sourpuss face made him unrecognizable from his earlier appearance as Jason the Argonaut. Rinuccio (Taicheng Li), Gherardo (Esteban Zuniga), Nella (Blair Cagney), Betto (Eunsung Lee), Marco (Jimin Park) La Ciesca (Desiree Dawson) and little Gherardino (Yejin Lee) made up the rest of this grasping Florentine family.

What a treat to have so many laughs in an evening of opera! Credit must be given, not only to Ms. Alley but to Maestro Jonathan Brandani for his fine conducting, and the two pianists/coaches Cory Battey and Nicolò Shuelz who did a fine job coaching the Italian. The excellent German diction came as no surprise since Nils Neubert was the coach; English diction was coached by Kathryn LaBouff who made sure that every word was clear.

(c) meche kroop

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