Saturday, June 17, 2023
Saturday, June 10, 2023
Might there be a lover of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan here in New York City who is unaware of the multi-talented William Remmers and Utopia Opera? If so, it pains us to inform you that last night's survey of songs from all of the G&S canon will not likely be repeated. That being said, we hope it will be. Indeed, if it were being presented tonight we would joyfully attend once more.
What a banquet of goodies, with one marvelous song seamlessly following another in a sequence that worked magnificently as a live "playlist"; the order of numbers seemed randomly determined but included something from every one of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan's enormous output.
Why do we so love those Savoyards? For the same reason that most of the United States adores South Park. We relish seeing the skewering of politicians and political bodies. We love hearing witty words composed around silly plots satirizing contemporary culture. And, although the average audience member may not be consciously aware of the perfect marriage of music and text, we feel it in a way that we do not feel when sitting through a contemporary opera with its prosy libretto. The rhymes are nearly always brilliantly devised.
It is most interesting that Remmers can sail through the many patter songs faster than one can read the projected titles, for which we would like to credit Alyson Sheehan. The titles were cleverly arranged on the page and were projected in perfect time with the singing. The witty words go by so fast that one misses a lot, not to mention the multiple references to British institutions and historical figures of whom we are ignorant. Significantly, our companion, for whom English is but a second language, had a wonderful time enjoying the rhythm and sound of Gilbert's text and Sullivan's music without knowing any of the references.
Whilst giving credit, Erica Rome did a yeoman's job (🤦sorry about that) of accompanying on the piano . The chorus, comprising Heather Bobeck, Karina Vartanian, Cate Webber-Curry, Colin Safley, Marc Shepherd, and Zachary Tirgan provided the tuneful and coherent backup.
However, the evening belonged to Remmers. We know the artist primarily as the Founder and Artistic Director of the singular Utopia Opera--and also as conductor of their orchestra. We have heard of the artist's forays into the world of cabaret, film making, and also musical composition.. Tonight we appreciated Remmers as a performer, singing and acting a succession of characters of a diverse nature. What artistry at creating scenes , performing all the parts. Indeed, in the second part of the evening, we enjoyed an entire scene from Ruddigore in which Robin confronts his ancestors about the family necessity of creating evil deeds on a daily basis.. Remmers has a long limbed and limber body as well as an expressively mobile face that make this theatrical legerdemain succeed.
In "Oh, foolish fay" from Iolanthe, Remmers created a Queen of the Fairies without benefit of costume, using only vocal coloration and physical posture. Although dozens (yes, dozens) of numbers seemed more difficult, like the patter songs for which G&S were renowned, it was this aria that touched us most deeply. We couldn't help thinking of grand opera in which a dazzling display of coloratura fireworks may be followed by a limpid legato.
There was one talent that Remmers displayed that took us by surprise--that of a rather good guitarist, self-accompanying for several numbers.
One of our favorite numbers is always "I've Got a Little List" ("As Someday It May Happen") from The Mikado in which tradition permits wanton invention, rewriting the text to suit the political moment. As an amusing diversion, Dear Reader, we invite you to make your own list of people who "never will be missed". Clearly Remmers is someone who would be missed and we are so happy not to have missed this delightful show.
© meche kroop
Tuesday, June 6, 2023
Friday, June 2, 2023
Carl DuPont, Gustavo Feulien, Inna Dukach, Gregory Turay, Elizaveta Ulakhovich, and Alexander Boyd
It is only three weeks since we last saw Puccini's heartbreaking masterpiece but La Bohême always offers fresh insights. Last night, at an outdoor performance in a very crowded Bryant Park, we took a macroscopic view of the story as an indictment of a society that doesn't care very well for its young and the ill. We didn't need modern dress or veiled references to any modern "plagues" to achieve such a realization. It happened because the direction was led by the music and the text without any directorial arrogance or program notes about the "concept". Costumes were of the period and the minimal set pieces let us know we were in the 19th c.
This by no means intends to shortchange the microscopic view--that of feckless youth forming instant relationships without consideration of common values, future plans, or compatibility. There are little moments that stand out. Consider the self-styled "artist" whose works don't sell, a writer who ekes out a modest living writing articles for a magazine, a philosopher who can barely afford to buy used books, and a musician who plays for a parrot. Who cannot help but think of contemporary times when young hopefuls share apartments in slums, living on ramen packages! To make matters worse, they are rarely covered by health insurance. La plus ça change, la plus c'est la meme chose!
Yet it is perceived by the public as a "love story"; but it is also about the loss of innocence. At the end of the opera, this group of youths will be forever changed. Perhaps Musetta and Rodolfo will be inspired to love better. Perhaps some of them will look for jobs. The libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa does not tell us, nor did the episodic novel written by Henri Murger. So we are free to form our own speculations. What a rich work that can be appreciated on so many level!
In this abridged production by New York City Opera (The Peoples's Opera!) several scenes were cut, but Director Michael Capasso took the stage as narrator and described what had happened that wasn't shown. We completely understand the challenges of cutting the opera to fit into a time frame and to suit the interests of a crowd in which many members were not hard core opera fans. We can only hope that some of them were sufficiently enchanted to seek out a complete performance. Although the Metropolitan Opera has replaced so many of its magnificent productions with disappointing ones, it would be a grave mistake to ditch the impressive Zeffirelli production with its lavish second act Xmas Eve scene or the snow falling quietly and merchants passing through the city gates when Mimi leaves the city to find Marcello in the third act.
My companion for the evening is a theater and film director and an opera "newbie"; we wanted his opinion on the dramatic aspects. Since there were no titles and no summary, we wondered whether the story was told as clearly as we thought. He definitely got the gist of things, thanks to the effective stage direction; however he made an interesting suggestion that narration could have been better accomplished by having one of the minor characters narrate the story. Also it would have been better to hear the plot before the scene, not afterward.
All things considered, the singers did a fine job of storytelling. Soprano Inna Dukach made a most sympathetic Mimi and tenor Gregory Turay was a most ardent Rodolfo. We are personally uncomfortable with amplification and are never sure we are hearing the voices as they are meant to be heard. We were rather delighted with Mr. Turay's pianissimi but not so delighted with his forcing the volume in the upper register. Perhaps it is just not possible to float the high notes under such circumstances but we do not know enough about sound design to say so.
Soprano Elizaveta Ulakhovich gave a splendid performance as Musetta but, due to the elimination of the populous café scene, she was obliged to sing her show-stopping "Quando m'en vo" to a man recruited from the audience instead of flirting with the café customers and soldiers. So, we had a bit of audience involvement.
Her love-hate relationship with Marcello was well realized and baritone Gustavo Feulien filled out his role as well as one could have hoped. To complete the group of bohemians we had Carl DuPont as the philosopher Colline and Alexander Boyd as the only member of the group who seems to find employment. To those who know the opera, the story of his being hired to play for a parrot brings a moment of comic relief; even funnier is the fact that his three flatmates are so famished that they can only focus on the victuals he has provided and completely ignore the story. There wasn't room for much comic relief in this production and we missed the way the four youths put one over on their landlord Benoit when he comes to collect the rent.
Fortunately Colline's Act IV aria "Vecchia zimarra" was not cut so we enjoyed the low voice of Mr. DuPont and appreciated the symbolism of his sacrifice. As most of you already know, Dear Reader, he pawns his old overcoat to buy medicine for the dying Mimi. He too is "adulting".
Of course, the scene that sets the drama in motion is the first act meeting between Rodolfo and Mimi in which Rodolfo gets Mimi to stay by hiding her key and she gets Rodolfo to take her out for dinner with the hint of more to come later. So much subtext in one scene! So reminiscent of 21st c. dating! Still, the music tells us only of their rapturous feelings.
Speaking of the music, we found the aural balance to be wanting and there were a couple occasions of feedback. Maestro Joseph Rescigno did his best with a chamber orchestra which played at ground level (of course) in front of the slightly elevated stage. These are the hazards of outdoor opera and we will not make harsh judgments of the orchestral balance.
As a matter of fact, we recall the long ago productions of The Metropolitan Opera in Central Park every summer which were abandoned in favor of concerts of arias. We recall laying blankets out at sunrise in order to sit in the first "row"; we remember asking the police officers in attendance how they enjoyed the opera (very much so), and how grateful and uncritical we were. So, in that spirit, we thank the artists who brought this production to the public free of charge and hope that a few converts to opera were made.
© meche kroop