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.
Monday, September 30, 2019
Saturday, September 28, 2019
Thursday, September 26, 2019
|Cast of Oedipus: Sex with Mum Was Blinding|
At one point the audience was urged to read aLOUD 4 different sections from the printed material in the program--simultaneously. At another point audience members, previously instructed to turn off their cell phones, were asked to look at their faces on the same cell phones. At another point they were asked to answer questions out loud about their feelings toward their parents. Perhaps this might be considered immersive, but we were not immersed, in the sense that good theater engages us--and very good theater provides a shared experience.
No doubt in Ancient Greece, theater performed that function for a community and the chorus would provide commentary on actions and events that were taking place before the audience. By doing this the chorus would create a deeper and more meaningful connection between the characters and the audience.
At last night's performance three players wore interesting looking helmet-masks but shed no light on the "drama", of which there wasn't much. On stage left, a doctor, presumably a psychiatrist taking notes, asked probing questions of a woman in white-face about her identity. We couldn't help thinking that a great opportunity was lost, an opportunity for a deep examination of guilt for acts for which an individual is not responsible.
On stage right a conductor, also in a clown's white-face, conducted music that was not played, or played as a recording. The overall effect was confusing and there seemed to be no justification for casting a woman as Oedipus, especially when she was stripped to a bare-breasted state.
There were a few video operators working with smoke and mirrors, the results of which were projected onto a large screen, clouding the images of what we took to be consumerism. At other times the cameras were directed at parts of the performers anatomy. We saw feet. We saw tonsils. We saw nostrils. All in highly enlarged images.
Voices were amplified and it was difficult to keep from giggling when a kiss between Oedipus and ?Jocasta resulted in a clash of head-mics. It was difficult to make sense out of anything seen/heard onstage. Was this a deconstruction of the Oedipus myth? Was it an examination of our images of ourself? Was it a dialogue about guilt and responsibility?
Any of those topics would be discussed better in an essay. Perhaps the creative team tried to tackle too much in 100 minutes which seemed to endure for at least 200, taxing our endurance.
We invited a native born Greek friend to accompany us, a friend who has witnessed a re-creation of the original tragedy in Athens. We had a discussion after the piece about Greek tragedy and its power to unite a community and reinforce social mores. We also discussed the many ways in which this work failed to shed light on the theme.
The work was conceived, written, and directed by the prize-winning Elli Papapakonstandinou. Original "music" was by Tilemachos Moussas and Julia Kent--also prize winners. As a matter of fact, everyone associated with the production has won prizes of various kinds. If that sort of thing interests you, or if you are inspired to witness for yourself, we refer you to the website
https://www.bam.org/oedipus. The limited run ends on 9/29.
As for ourself, we are unable to find nourishment in post-modern art. Technology doesn't seem to add anything. We go to theater to be entertained and or stimulated. Being shocked by the latest novelty leaves us annoyed and disappointed.
© meche kroop
Wednesday, September 25, 2019
|Victor Khodadad and Barbara Porto|
Not only do they produce operas but they bring the art form into the public schools. In between sets of entertainment, we watched a video of an opera put on for children, something about Peter Rabbit, set to music from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore. We all hope that exposing children to opera when they are young will create some adults who will "get" it.
The live entertainment emphasized the truth of one of our beliefs--that American musical theater, performed by good unamplified voices, can stand up successfully to opera. After all, in the 19th c. opera was a popular art form--entertainment, if you will. People went to the opera for the melodies and to see their favorite performers! We are waiting for contemporary composers to create works with melodies, works that we will want to see again and again.
So, going back to the 20th c. we had some great works by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and by Lerner and Loewe--works that still enchant us today. Speaking of enchantment, we loved the warm tone of baritone Stan Lacy singing "Some Enchanted Evening" from Rodgers and Hammersteins' perennial hit South Pacific.
Tenor Victor Khodadad and soprano Barbara Porto enchanted us equally in "People Will Say We're in Love" from the same team's other hit Oklahoma. Ms. Porto has a particular gift for American Musical Theater as evidenced by her winning performance of "I Could Have Danced All Night" from Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady. She joined again with Mr. Khodadad for "Tonight" from Bernstein's West Side Story.
We have no intention of giving opera short shrift here; it's just that we wanted to make a point. The NCO singers switched back and forth, further emphasizing the similarities.
Everyone loves the quartet from the final act of Verdi's Rigoletto and we never tire of hearing it. Last night the role of the eponymous court jester was performed by baritone Scott Lindroth, comforting his daughter Gilda (sung by Ms. Porto) whilst the licentious Duke (sung by Mr. Khodadad) was busy seducing the half resistant/half seducible Maddalena (performed by mezzo-soprano Julia Tang).
Tenor Erik Bagger exhibited a fine command of Russian in his performance of Lensky's famous aria "Kuda, kuda vi udalilis" reminding us of how thoroughly we enjoy Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin and how deeply felt this aria is.
From Pietro Mascagni's realismo opera Cavalleria Rusticana, the chilling aria "Ah! Lo vedi!", in which Santuzza confronts Turridu, was given a passionate performance by Mr. Bagger and soprano Eva Parr.
Taking us into the early 20th c. with "Pierrot's Tanzlied" from Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Die tote Stadt was Mr.Lacy who ended the aria with the most exquisite diminuendo. This is an opera we have yet to see but it is high on our wish list.
Speaking of our wish list, NCO will be presenting a zarzuela next month! As our readers may recall, this is a musical form that is dear to our heart and we are totally twitterpated about it. El Barbero de Sevilla, by Giménez and Nieto with libretto by Palacios and Perrín, will be performed with dialogue in English and songs sung in Spanish. Pablo Zinger, Mr. Zarzuela himself, has reduced the score for chamber orchestra.
The superb accompanist last night was Eric Sedgwick whose 10 fingers on the piano made almost as much music as an orchestra.
We would like to end by relating how the two young women at our table, opera newbies both, had as much fun as we did. It's exciting young companies like NCO that will draw young people into the world of opera.
© meche kroop
Sunday, September 22, 2019
Friday, September 20, 2019
Monday, September 16, 2019
Wednesday, September 11, 2019
|Jessica Niles, Eliza Bonet, Jessica Fishenfeld, Cory Battey, Scott Bradley Joiner, and Trevor Martin|
The idea of creating an artistic community in New York City is not a new one but it is rather new to the field of opera. Keeping ticket prices affordable--a price point of about $15-20 is eminently affordable--is also not new; but creating works of quality at that price point is a challenge they have met. Superb singers are attracted to the company and are treated as the artists they are, with generous fees paid.
This quality, combined with adventuresome programming relevant to our times, is responsible for their meteoric rise. Productions of operas are augmented by stimulating salon evenings and an annual WorkshOpera, one of which we attended last year; it was an eye-opening experience to learn about the creation of an opera!
We are not sure how the founders, Kathleen Spencer and Megan Gillis, have managed to accomplish this so rapidly but we suspect it has much to do with commitment, conviction, dedication, and hard work.
Last night the season opener was a gala event held at Steinway Hall involving some glorious singing, free-flowing champagne, and delicious passed hors d'oeuvres. These gals sure know how to throw a party! This is a family worth joining!
The major joy of our work is watching the developing careers of young artists. Take for example the sublime soprano Jessica Niles whom we first heard at a liederabend at Juilliard a couple years ago, singing Russian songs which she had translated herself. We were impressed and subsequently caught her performances in Juilliard's opera performances --Zerlina in Don Giovanni and Anna in Nikolai's Merry Wives of Windsor--perfect ingenue roles.
Last night she performed Adina's aria "Prendi, per me sei libero" from Donizetti's L'elisir d'Amore, showing a deep understanding of the character and exhibiting a nice clean fioritura in the cabaletta. Later, she sang Emily's aria from Ned Rorem's Our Town. Her dramatic interpretation was moving; however we'd be lying if we said we liked the music. We didn't think Thornton Wilder would have wanted his story to be set to music, especially music without a memorable vocal line. Just sayin'!
We were delighted by the performances of mezzo-soprano Eliza Bonet whom we haven't seen since she portrayed a dominatrix (!) in the clever Three Ways by Robert Paterson (libretto by David Cote), a couple years ago. It really takes some Italian singing to appreciate the quality of a singer's voice and last night her choice of "Cruda sorte" from Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri was just right to show off the terrific texture of her instrument and the spunkiness of her personality.
She delved deeper into her capacity for humor in Ben Moore's "Sexy Lady", written for Susan Graham--just one more funny song about the mezzo's dilemma. In this case, the words were more important than the music.
The meteoric rise of soprano Jessica Fishenfeld is another story that delights us. We first heard her as the Sandman in Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretel at Manhattan School of Music about six years ago. Then we saw her with Gramercy Opera in something called Big Jim and the Small-time Investors, a cute story with forgettable music. What we remember best was her duet with tenor Scott Bradley Joiner who joined her last night for the highly convincing love duet "Tornami a dir" from Donizetti's Don Pasquale. Hmmmm. Interesting. We wondered if they met during the production of Big Jim.
Absolutely dazzling was Ms. Fishenfeld's portrayal of Cunegonde from Bernstein's Candide, which opened the program last night. In "Glitter and be Gay" the word "revel" was never given such dramatic realization and the contrast between that and the crocodile tears of the slow section was impressive. Adding to the fun was a huge garment which Ms. Fishenfeld used well in the phrase "spread my wings".
She also performed a duet with baritone Trevor Martin (the only singer last night who was new to us)--"Make Believe" from the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein musical Showboat, which is sounding more and more like opera.
(We might add that Ms. Fishenfeld appeared with New York City Opera the previous night at their 75th Anniversary Concert in Bryant Park. That was understandably amplified so we didn't appreciate the artist's development until the City Lyric Opera event last night.)
Mr. Martin made a convincing Escamillo in the "Toreador Song" from Bizet's Carmen, as well as a fine romantic partner in the Showboat number. He also sang "Joey, Joey" from Frank Loesser's Most Happy Fella, showing us again how operatic a Broadway musical can be when sung unamplified by an operatically trained voice. It was at this point in the program that we realized just how excellent was the accompanist Cory Battey. When the wind whispered to Joey, we actually heard it in the piano!
Similarly, Mr. Joiner got his solo number as well, the well-loved "Questa o Quella" from Verdi's Rigoletto, which was sung in garlic-scented Italian of which every word was clear.
Just as one might expect in this bubbly evening, the encore was a group sing of "Libiamo" from Verdi's La Traviata!
This was a marvelous introduction to City Lyric Opera's fourth season and presented many reasons for us opera lovers to give our support, both financially and otherwise. The next Mainstage event will be Gian Carlo Menotti's The Medium which opens appropriately on Halloween. This will be preceded by a Salon Evening on Oct. 15th which should provide some interesting insights into truth and reality.
(c) meche kroop