Yeong Taek Yang
Anna Maria Vacca and Huiying Chen
What a delightful night we spent at Manhattan School of Music! We are not sure we perceived it in exactly the same way as Director John de los Santos intended, but without reading his notes in advance (as is our wont) we felt free to enjoy the connection among the three French works in our own fashion.
The evening began with the one-act opera by Massenet entitled Le Portrait de Manon. How did we not know that this charming piece existed! The curtain rose on a most apt set by Ann Beyersdorfer which you can see from the photo above. Chevalier des Grieux has aged 20 years. (In this production he appears to be much older and we had no clue that he was suffering from syphilis as mentioned in the Director's Notes.)
We did see from Georges Boyer's libretto that he was grumpy and disillusioned with love, to the despair of his young ward Jean who wants to marry the lovely Aurore, ward of his friend Tiberge. Learning that she is a niece of the deceased Manon turns des Grieux around.
This slim story offered gorgeous music referring frequently to the original Manon. Under the skilled baton of Maestro Pierre Vallet, the Manhattan School of Music Symphony created a richly textured background against which stood out a few soloists, particularly oboe and harp. Massenet's melodic music was just right for the members of the Graduate Opera Theatre.
We were greatly impressed by the performance of Yeong Taek Yang as the unhappy Chevalier. With fine vocalism and acting, he created a character that was believable and sympathetic against all odds. As Aurore, we found the brilliant soprano instrument of Huiying Chen absolutely ravishing. There was a freedom and clarity to the high lying tessitura and a winsomeness to her acting that had us rooting for her. In the breeches role of Jean, Anna Maria Vacca was convincing. The duet sung at the fountain in which the pair discuss means of suicide was magnificently harmonized and the music let us in on the hyperbolic drama of adolescents.
As the Chevalier's impecunious friend Tiberge, Moses Sunghyun Park gave a similarly fine performance. We might like to add that the French diction was excellent all around. Although our French speaking friend found fault we were delighted to have understood every word.
The eponymous portrait served an excellent purpose in joining the Massenet work to the Ibert work to follow. Following the curtain call for the Massenet, we saw a parade of women, dressed in the most gorgeous costumes of successive periods, ending with a character from the 1920's who would appear after the intermission in the Ibert piece. It was a brilliant device although the connection from the fin de siecle to the Roaring 20's seemed a bit jarring. It was accompanied by Gabriel Fauré's Pavane in F# minor, op. 50, the choral version which gave the large chorus an opportunity to be heard, if not seen.
The Ibert piece Angélique was a real audience pleaser with plenty of imaginative eye candy. It reminded us of Francis Poulenc's Les mamelles de Tirésius which was composed two decades later but with the same absurdity. We don't find it necessary to apologize for the theme of Nino's libretto--trying to sell a disagreeable wife. It is a piece of a certain period and not meant to be taken seriously.
As the nagging aggressive wife, Emelia Petersen gave a stellar performance, performing a seductive vocalism from an open window. Zhenpeng Zhang as her henpecked husband Boniface was funny. James C. Harris was excellent as Charlot, Boniface's entrepreneurial friend. The three suitors that he rounded up were French clichés. As the Italian, Benjamin Ruiz Scott was voluble; as the Englishman, Isaiah Traylor was pompous; as the American, Benjamin R. Sokol toted an outsized rifle and sported animal skins. We thought perhaps Nino was thinking of Davy Crockett.
The unsuitably named Angélique was dispatched to hell where even the devil didn't want her. Hang Su made a very fine devil indeed.The costumes were droll and the choreography clever. If you asked us about the music we couldn't tell you a thing! With that much distraction onstage, we can't remember the music at all but we do recall that the spoken dialogue was in English and the singing was in
It is difficult for us to think of the piece as opera or even as operetta. It struck us more as cabaret, which is not a criticism. It was, after all, very entertaining.
© meche kroop