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.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023


Victoria Magnusson,  Anna Maria Vacca,  Scott Rubén La Marca, Huiying Chen,  Tamara Teine-'Aulelei Bowden, Alexander Young, and Zhenpeng Zhang

Mozart wrote La Finta Giardiniera when he was 18 years old! That it has survived for 250 years is a testament to its sparkling melodies, tumbling over each other whilst suffering from a case of l'abbondanza. Mozart ha been characterized as "classical", overcoming the excesses of the Baroque period and preceding the lavish embellishments of the Bel Canto period. Watching his youthful excursion into opera, one could be forgiven for debating that assertion.

The youthful voices of The Manhattan School of Music Graduate Opera Theatre did exemplary justice to Mozart's composition. The libretto (variously attributed) is silly but no sillier than many operas of the late 18th c.  The tropes invariably involve mismatched lovers and disguises. 

The kindly servant Roberto, under the assumed name of Nardo (Zhenpeng Zhang) is taken with the devious servant Serpetta (Victoria Magnusson) who is in love with her befuddled boss the Podesta (mayor) played by Alexander Young. He, in turn, is in love with the unhappy gardener Sandrine (Huiying Chen)  who has entered his employ to escape from her former existence as The Marchioness Onesti. She is still in love with the fickle Count Belfiore (Scott Rubén La Marca) who stabbed her in a fit of jealous rage. The Count arrives at the home of The Podesta to marry the latter's demanding niece Arminda (Samara Teine-'Aulelei Bowden) who is rejecting her former lover, the loyal Cavalier Ramiro (Anna Maria Vacca in travesti).  

Got all that? If you have a few moments to spare, you might enjoy reading our humorous take on these romantic entanglements in a review from several years ago.  Here's the link. http://www.vocedimeche.reviews/2015/08/crazy-in-love.html
Actually, we saw this charming work thrice in the space of two years and always enjoyed it.

Every member of the cast was outstanding both vocally and dramatically. If we were not otherwise engaged we would return to see it tomorrow with a different but equally excellent cast and again  on Wednesday with the same cast! We had a smile on our face for two hours and are smiling again, recalling the joyful performance. We reckon that the cast enjoyed themselves equally.

The work was directed by Jennifer Williams who made the complicated relationships quite clear but did not have a solution for the weird scene in the forest which Eric Einhoirn wisely omitted in the On Site Opera production we also reviewed. In her defense, neither the Santa Fe Opera production nor The Juilliard Opera Center production made sense of it either.

But it mattered little in the overall scheme of things because by whatever deus ex machina, all the couples get sorted out by the end. Reading the program notes on the way home confirmed our opinion that the so-called "Director's Notes" should be left out of the program.  Either a work speaks for itself or it doesn't. As a matter of fact, it speaks to each of us differentially, dependent upon what we bring to it. Given a certain orientation one might even put a social class interpretation upon it, as we might on Mozart's Nozze di Figaro. We might see it as an expression of poor romantic judgment, or of forgiveness, or of emotional growth, or of acceptance of fate. Whatever!

We find mating behavior fascinating--pursuit, rejection, betrayal, reconciliation--far more than stories about terrorism, politics, and inventions. We wish more contemporary composers would write about romance. Don't we all love to see our foibles onstage?

The work was conducted with liveliness and precision by Maestro Djordje Nesic, who also served as Vocal Coach. The responsive chamber orchestra of strings was augmented by a keyboard, played by Eric Sedgwick, leading us to mistakenly hear some sounds of wind instruments.

The set by Matthew Leabo was simple with some large mirrored panels behind which characters could hide and some very apt gardening implements, including a lawn mower, which established the setting. A tray full of psychedelically colored mushrooms may have been an attempt to establish the setting as a "rave" which Ms. Williams intended, as we read after the performance.

The costumes by Asa Benally helped to establish the characters identity. and were mostly white. Sandrine and Nardo wore coveralls, the Podesta wore a natty suit suitable to his station whilst Belfiore's white suit smacked of narcissism. The pants role of Ramiro was less ostentatious. Armida, as befitting her demanding personality, wore riding boots and wielded a riding crop.

We never did figure out Serpetta's manipulation of a device which projected meaningless abstract projections on a side wall.  Oh well, we seem to be seeing projections everywhere these days and find them distracting.

The bottom line is--this is a "must see". You won't regret it!  Let us hope there are still tickets to be had.

© meche kroop

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