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.

Thursday, December 12, 2019


Casey Candebat as Max in Heartbeat Opera's  Der Freischütz (photo by Andrew Boyle)

We cannot recall ever returning to an opera during the same run to hear a different cast. This "first" for us came about because there was so much going on musically, dramatically, and scenically that we couldn't grasp it all in one visit. In all honesty, if we weren't completely booked we would see it again. And again.

To get the singing on the table right away, the "Red" cast was just as fine as the "Green" cast we heard a few days ago. Tenor Casey Candebat employed his fine instrument and persuasive acting to create a sympathetic "underdog" whom we wanted to see succeed. As his dangerous "friend" Kaspar, baritone Daniel Klein was chilling.

Soprano Katherine Whyte evoked similar sympathy as the anxious bride-to-be Agathe, singing with full and luxurious tone. As her cousin Ännchen, Nicole Haslett delighted with her high-lying tone and cheerful personality. In fact, their duet was one of the highlights of the evening with the two personality styles contrasting as much as those of Tatiana and Olga in Eugene Onegin.

The other singers were as mentioned in our prior review of the "Green" cast, contributing their superb characterological interpretations and fine singing. 

We came to opera through our interest in theater and therefore are always paying attention to theatrical values. The direction by Louisa Proske and Chloe Treat could not have been more effective. There were many small touches that we became aware of by taking a new vantage point on the opposite side of the theater. 

The overall situation was that of "theater in the square" with the entire black box theater utilized to create an immersive situation, making us feel somehow complicit in the story. We forgot our liberal tendencies and felt like a member of this Southern small town, recalling our youth in North Florida where there were barbecue joints and honky-tonk roadhouses and what we called "cracker houses" similar to the set created by Sara Brown, who must be some kind of genius.

She created a building that served as a roadhouse, but which converted, by the raising of shades, into one of those "cracker" houses. We could peer inside and see a woman sewing, perhaps sewing Agathe's wedding veil. We could see the religious statues and cross, reminding us of what it's like to be surrounded by fundamentalists with their superstitions. We could see the bridesmaids preparing for the wedding. We could see Agathe and Ännchen sitting on the porch, as they do in the South. We could feel the tension of a community that values their guns and hunting; we felt the toxic masculinity of the gun culture that makes life difficult for a man who can't compete on that level.

We had a better view of Samiel (Butoh dancer azumi O E) lurking in the shadows, emerging from her identity as a member of the community (the seamstress), removing the mask and revealing her evil origins and later rolling under the house to hide. Does evil lurk everywhere?

We were nearly shaking in our seat during the Wolf Canyon scene. Oliver Wason's lighting contributed greatly to the eerie effects of the smoke and azumi's dancing (as Samiel) heightened the terror. The musical contributions of Daniel Schlosberg were amplified by the electronic alterations wrought by William Gardiner. It was far more effective than any horror movie we have ever seen.

Our position gave us a better view of the chamber orchestra and the versatility of the musicians in realizing Mr. Schlosberg's reduction of the orchestral score. If we haven't previously made it sufficiently clear, the music is astonishing in its variety and complexity. There was gentle folk music for the female chorus with each bridesmaid singing a different verse. Claire Leyden's verse included the unrolling of her hair curlers in rhythm with her charming singing. This was just one of countless little moments that struck us as original and memorable.

What also became visible from our new vantage point was that one of the figures appearing in Max's terrifying visions in Wolf Canyon was his own "shadow". If, dear reader, you are wondering whether we figured out the ending, we still have not. Max's "shadow" (the intense Eric Delagrange) reappears and seems to both confront the community with their collective guilt and also offer clemency and the end of gun culture; but he carried a machine gun and seemed brutal. We will need to think about this some more.

In any case, what you experience depends upon where you sit. Perhaps if you sat higher up near the positions taken by the Sheriff and the Governor, you would have had a different experience. It is quite revolutionary for the action to take place in the midst of the audience!

Good storytelling doesn't shrink from moralizing. Bullying leads to desperation and desperation leaves people open to manipulation by evil forces. Punishment can be leavened with mercy and forgiveness.

There are four more performances and hopefully a few tickets left. Please don't miss this revolutionary take on a rarely seen opera!

© meche kroop

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