Thursday, November 21, 2019
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
Tuesday, November 19, 2019
Saturday, November 16, 2019
|William Socolof, James Ley, Kathleen O’Mara, Mer Wohlgemuth, Megan Moore, and Erik van Heyningen (photo by Richard Termine)|
As the somewhat more mutable Dorabella, mezzo-soprano Megan Moore dazzled us with her histrionic outpouring in "Smanie implacabili" and later, as her resolve weakens, with "É amore un ladroncello". We particularly appreciated the varying colors as her intention changed.
The role of Despina was splendidly realized by soprano Mer Wohlgemuth whose acting was completely persuasive and whose singing never showed a hint of "technique" but rather seemed completely natural. Her dramatic intention did not vary but she had an opportunity to show off her style in "Una donna a quindici anni".
The men were similarly outstanding. James Ley made a fine Ferrando and did complete justice to the marvelously tender and melodic "Un aura amorosa", then varied his coloration effectively for the bitter "Tradito, schernito".
As his friend Guglielmo, baritone Erik van Heyningen lived up to his full potential, managing to convey both the triumph in seducing his friend's fiancée as well as disappointment in "Donne mie, le fate a tanti".
We were more than usually impressed with the performance of bass-baritone William Socolof who performed the role of Don Alfonso, lightening his substantial voice sufficiently to perform the most exquisitely precise turns in the vocal line. We love to hear voices that possess both size and flexibility.
Duets and ensembles were effectively rendered with perfect balance among the voices, giving Mozart the attention to detail that his interweaving lines demand.
In the pit we had the superb Juilliard Orchestra responding just as one would expect to the astute conducting of Nimrod David Pfeffer. When we could tear our eyes away from the stage we enjoyed watching his expressive hand working in tandem with his precise baton. It was a performance filled with lyricism and subtlety. Nathaniel LaNasa played the harpsichord continuo.
And what about the production? Da Ponte's story was pulled up by the roots and transplanted to contemporary America. The story is set in a high school in a town called West Naples which could have been anywhere but by name alone, suggested the West coast of Florida. During the overture, the four young people have just graduated. They are therefore meant to be about 18 years old and therefore vulnerable to the machinations of the older Don Alfonso, who seemed to be an athletic coach.
Despina was transformed into a teacher and, in an original dramatic subtext, appeared to have had a one time problematic relationship with the aforementioned coach. Instead of a servant offering the girls their morning chocolate, she delivered academic papers.
Kristen Robinson's sets fell in line with this take on the story. Act I takes place in what appears to be a dormitory bathroom, complete with stalls with open doors. The "poison" taken by the "Albanians" is swigged from jugs of bleach drawn from what must be a janitorial closet.
Other scenes take place behind the bleachers of an athletic field where the two girls seem to hang out on beach chairs surrounded by detritus, including a puzzling broken bottom half of a torso--the kind used as window dressing. Or so we thought.
For the final act, the bleachers were turned around and the characters scampered up and down with some risk of stumbles. At the top was a booth to which repaired the newly formed couples for some canoodling, followed by "walks of shame".
Sara Jean Tosetti's costumes also fell in line with the story. Most effective was Despina's reserved suit with sensible shoes. The four young graduates wore motley costumes with doofy hats and, in a clever and original twist, the men did not fool their sweethearts by dressing in exotic costumes. Rather, they wore preppie clothes and neatly trimmed hair. Guess they could have fooled their sweethearts!
In one puzzling scene, Dorabella, newly mated with Guglielmo, pulls off his wig. We expected this to indicate that she recognized the ruse but the remainder of the scene did not fulfill our expectations.
When the phony rescue of the two "Albanians" takes place, Despina appears in a ridiculous and not convincing costume and when the fake marriage takes place, she appears in a white and gold jumpsuit suggesting Elvis Presley as the marriage officiant.
The audience loved all these sight gags and laughed every time the girls took selfies of themselves or used their cell phones. Did we love it? No, we did not. We felt that the story was shoehorned into a "concept" which worked only partially. We read the notes of Director David Paul when we got home (as we usually do, to avoid coloring our perception of any work of art). His words made a case for the temporal and geographical transposition in terms of contemporary resonance.
However, regular readers will recall that we like to do the work ourself, instead of being spoon fed. We remember with overwhelming pleasure the production from seven years ago, directed by Stephen Wadsworth. It was true to time and place and told Da Ponte's story well, although darkly, with lots of anger and confusion. We spent quite a bit of time thinking about how consistent human feeling is from the 19th c. to the 21st and also about what is different.
Mr. Paul's view wound up similarly dark with no marriage at the end and no pairing off. We will say that we enjoyed the way he directed his cast and, within the framework he chose, the acting was valid and meaningful. We just didn't care for fitting the story into his Procrustean bed. We guess it's a question of taste. We don't mind updating if such updating tells us something new but this production did not.
© meche kroop
Thursday, November 14, 2019
Wednesday, November 13, 2019
Monday, November 11, 2019
|Claire Kuttler, Edward Pleasant, Inbar Goldmann, and Pavel Suliandziga|
Yesterday we had an opportunity to witness her versatility. We heard quite a variety of music, from music theater to opera, at the 92nd St. Y. Bringing her works to life were soprano Claire Kuttler, mezzo-soprano Inbar Goldmann, tenor Pavel Suliandziga, baritone Edward Pleasant, and cellist Tyler James.
The "lightest" selections were from Central Park: The Musical and we particularly enjoyed "Observation", a jazzy setting of a pithy verse by Dorothy Parker that surprised us, in light of the fact that it was written for children!
The most "academic" work was On Love and Land, the texts of which comprised letters written over several decades by a woman to her husband. Although we liked the instrumental writing and Ms. Kuttler's dramatic presentation, we find settings of prose to be rather tedious and unmelodic, with the exception of the final song "When Orange Blossoms are in Bloom". There was a nice interplay between piano and cello.
Not to worry, dear reader, because there was plenty of material that we enjoyed a great deal. A worthy librettist was found in Ethan Kanfer for a musical called The Promotion, based on the 1977 film Office Romance. The lyrics were clever and fit the music hand in glove. Mr. Pleasant brought out the rhythm of the words and music in "Get Yourself a Slice". Even better was "Don't Say a Word" in which the ensemble played a musical version of the telephone game, passing along gossip about a letter that was meant to be private. We were glad it was shared!
Ms. Pruzhansky was born in Russia and still retains a feel for Russian artistry. We loved her Four Vocal Miniatures (after the poetry of Aleksandr Blok) which rhymed and scanned, bringing forth lovely melodies in the mode that is so typically Russian. Ms. Kuttler delivered the first miniature "Her Songs" which was seductive. Mr. Suliandziga (who could enthrall us by singing an IRS document) sang the next three. "The Red Moon at the White Night" had a haunting melody and some lovely rippling piano figures.
With Ms. Pruzhansky's successful 2014 opera Shulamit, she paid hommage to her Israeli upbringing. Ms. Goldmann (whom we have heard before singing in Hebrew) was lovely in the heroine's lament when she is chosen for King Solomon's harem; we heard some affecting melismatic singing. Our favorite was the wedding song for Shulamit and the shepherd she loved "Ma Yau Dodaych"', beautifully sung by Ms. Goldmann in duet with Mr. Suliandziga.
Mr. Suliandiziga delighted us with "You are Youthful Like Never Before", the setting of a text by Peretz Markish which was translated from Yiddish into Russian by Anna Akhmatova. There was ample variety in the dynamics.
Hearing such a variety of styles in one all-too-brief concert served to illuminate Ms. Pruzhansky's versatility and also to reaffirm our opinion that prose does not stimulate vocal melody. We are looking forward to hearing more of this composer's music and feel quite sure that her name will soon be on everyone's lips.
We would like to mention that she is not solely a composer but an educator and superb collaborative pianist; it was a treat to hear her play her own music.
© meche kroop
Saturday, November 9, 2019
Wednesday, November 6, 2019
|Fabrizio Doria, Pamela Jones, and Daniel Klein (photo by meche kroop)|
Guest Review by Ellen Godfrey:
The audience at the National Opera Center, on Sunday afternoon, was treated to a delightful performance of the 18th century comic opera La Serva Padrona, presented by the Lighthouse Opera Company. The founder and director of the company, which was started two years ago, is Dr. John Banks, a classical musician and a high school music teacher. The company’s mission is to help shine a light on classically trained singers of all backgrounds by performing operas in their original language, for new and diverse audiences in the Bronx, New York City, and beyond. The company also brings new and emerging opera talent to the public’s attention with live opera performances.
La Serva Padrona, (The Servant Turned Mistress), was composed by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710 -1736), based on a play by Jacopo Angello Nelli. This opera buffa, (comic opera), was originally performed as an intermezzo (intermission) for an opera seria (serious opera) called Il Prigionier Superbo, (the Proud Prisoner). The opera had its premiere in 1733 in Naples, and enjoyed great popularity throughout Europe for many years. Eventually, the two intermezzi were separated from the serious opera to become a 45 minute opera. It quickly grew very popular throughout European and is still being performed today.
In 1752, Pergolesi’s opera buffa sparked a great argument in France. It was called the querelle des bouffons (the war of the comic actors) and argued about the merits of reverent French and irreverent Italian music theatre. These discussions further led to reforms by the composer Christopher Willibald Gluck, (1714-1787), who grew tired of the overly ornate operas of the Baroque period. He moved to the simplicity of the Classical style. Gluck’s reforms influenced the great Mozart, who composed operas in the same style.
Between the 16th and 18th century, Italian strolling players, known as La Commedia Dell’arte, performed throughout Europe and had a great influence on drama and music. The troupes used improvisation, stock characters, and a few standard scenarios to tell the funny stories. In La Serva Padrona the female stock character is Serpina, a bossy woman; Uberto is the grouchy older man, and Vespone, a mute servant. The joke in the opera is a domestic argument which involves a reversal of roles; the servant is the mistress of the home while the older man is under her strict command. He can’t decide if he wants to marry her or not. Serpina makes sure that he will marry her by pretending to marry a soldier (who is a mute servant in disguise). In the end their roles reverse and they have a joyous marriage celebration.
There is a feminist side to this opera and other themes including ambition, equality of men and women, and recognition of respect for each other. The wonderful director for this performance, John Tedeschi, has a real feel for comedy and he kept the action alive and funny. He changed the original location of the opera to the Civil War period. He was inspired by some similarities to a 19th century woman, Lydia Hamilton Smith, a servant and also mistress of her house. During the Civil War, both she and her husband, Thaddeus Stevens, were active in the underground railroad and helped shelter southern slaves to escape to the north.
Daniel Klein and Pamela Jones made good sparring partners in this delightful comedy. Bass-baritone Daniel Klein was a wonderful Uberto. He is tall and has a big gorgeous bass-baritone voice with lots of resonance. His frustration with his bossy maid, Serpina, was strong and humorous. He is an excellent comedian; he fidgeted, he twirled his mustache upwards, got angry, and contorted his face, especially by bulging his eyes.
Coloratura soprano Pamela Jones has a beautiful clear big voice which she uses very well. She never pushes the voice so it carries very beautifully. She also has excellent diction. Having performed in opera, musicals, and straight plays, she is very much at home on the comic stage. Her Serpina was a strong character who knew just what she wanted and how to boss Uberto around. As good as the acting of the performers was, it would have been even better if they did not have to look at the score.
Fabrizio Doria played the mute role of Vespone perfectly with lots of comic touches.
For this production, Maggie Ronck created costumes for the three principals that were appropriate to the period. Uberto was costumed in a stunning suit with a long coat and tie and a big hat. Serpina’s mid-19th century costume was a beautiful long checkered dress. Later in the opera,when Serpina and Umberto were finally ready to marry, they had broad hats of the period. Pamela’s hat was adorned with flowers. Ms .Ronck’s costumes for Vespone, the mute, were also designed well.
The music for this opera is absolutely delightful. The Sepia Baroque Ensemble was elegantly conducted by Maestro Stephen Francis Vasta. The ensemble of 5 string instruments (2 violins, a viola, cello, and bass were accompanied by the harpsichord. This small ensemble was very vibrant and supported the singers very well.
Everyone in the theatre enjoyed seeing this 18th century masterpiece.
© meche kroop