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, November 19, 2022


 Curtain call for brilliant cast members of Graduate Opera Theater

The title was longer than the opera!  Rarely do we wish an opera was longer but in this case it was over too soon. La liberation di Ruggiero dall'isola d'Alcina was composed in 1625 by Francesca Caccini, daughter of the famous Giulio Caccini who sired and taught two talented daughters and composed our favorite Baroque art song "Amarilli, mia Bella". 

When we first arrived in Manhattan we were exposed to an all-day outdoor production of Ariosto's epic Orlando furioso, and since then have seen operas based on the work from time to time. In this case, librettist Ferdinando Saracinelli extracted an episode dealing with the knight Ruggiero who abandoned his intended Bradamante and his military duties by virtue of--no by vice of--the seductive sorceress Alcina who seduces men and then turns them into beasts--in this case plants.

The "good" sorceress Melissa disguises herself as Ruggiero's father, breaks the spell, and frees Ruggiero to take up the sword once more and reunite with Bradamante. Then Melissa frees the enchanted plants and banishes the furious Alcina.

We read the director's notes after the performance as is our wont. James Blaszko had some interesting intentions of a political and sociological nature which seemed, in our opinion, a bit too heavy for this slight work to bear. We were happy to hear the gorgeous music and feast our eyes on a most imaginative production with stunning costumes. Mr. Blaszko deserves maximum credit for avoiding the trend of excessive stage business distracting from the singers, a defect in the recent Juilliard production of Atalanta.

As Alcina, Madison Marie Fitzpatrick gave a stunning performance, utilizing similar techniques as heard in bel canto singing to limn a deceitful character who is capable of lulling seductivenes in the early scenes and ravishing rage at the end when she loses everything. As Melissa, Margaret Macaira Shannon gave a performance of towering force with notable depth in the lower register. 

Justin E. Bell's performance was just right for the hapless Ruggiero, tender in the love scenes and ending up as a stalwart warrior.

Alcina's three handmaidens, in some gender blind casting, were portrayed by Zihan Xiu, Haolun Zhang, and Chenxin Wang. To hear the close harmonies of three high voices was unusual and stunning.

We are not sure what a "Scenic Coordinator" does that is different from a Set Designer but Rodrigo Hernandez Martinez might have been responsible for the several steel tables on which lay the "plants", injured and bandaged and tenderly watered and cared for by the three sirens. It was an arresting image and brought to mind how people give up power to be taken care of.

First and foremost in a work like this is the instrumentation and its execution. In this case Maestro Jorge Parodi used his magic hands to elicit some gorgeous playing by a small ensemble comprising a trio of violins, cello, double bass, and a pair of flutes plus a guitar. Continuo for the lengthy recitativi was performed by Jeanne-Minette Cilliers.

The imaginative costumes were designed by Christopher Metzger. They were colorful, interesting, and of no particular time or place.

We left thinking about some things that the director never intended. There is a parallel between this work and Wagner's Tannhäuser in which a man is torn between love/sex (bad) and knightly duties (good). This is pretty strange in today's world but, as they say, autre temps, autre moeurs. In our lifetime it has been more like "make love, not war".

When Signora Caccini wrote this piece, as a casual piece d'occasion for a visiting Polish prince, could she have possibly imagined that an audience of opera lovers would be sitting enchanted for a single hour? Can our music world today produce anything that will survive four centuries? This thought gave us chills.

© meche kroop

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