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.

Monday, January 29, 2024


 Maestro Richard Cordova and the cast of Don Giovanni

Let us begin by saying that we enjoyed opening night of Mozart's Don Giovanni so much that we attended the matinée the following day. If we had another free night we would see it again. Anything more than double casting is a boon to the young singers who get experience in their particular roles. However, there is a price to pay and we can just imagine the challenge to the director, in this case Jenna Stewart, who had the additional challenge of taking over from someone else. In spite of a plethora of challenges, no one in the audience could have guessed since everything ran smoothly.

We became aware of Amore Opera, risen like a phoenix from the ashes after the untimely death of Artistic Director Nathan Hull, when we came to see a most excellent production of Puccini's La Bohême.  We were very fond of the gifted Mr. Hull and we have nothing but praise for Connie I. (his partner) for the welcome revival of the company. Sets and costumes were apparently sacrificed due to storage costs and we never expected that the spirit of the company would live on.

Because of constraints of time and space, we will save our rant about the future of opera for another day but let us just say that we have watched so many promising young companies go under due to poor management, lack of funding, and needlessly experimental productions. So let us all do what we can to help Amore Opera to not just survive but to thrive.

To begin, Maestro Richard Cordova led his mostly young musicians in a fine reading of the score, adapting the tempi  to the needs of the different singers. Gone were the amateur string players and, in their place, some younger musicians willing to follow his lead from the shattering opening D minor chord to the D major conclusion.We heard an occasional cracking from the French Horn but that is just the nature of the beast.

The singers were uniformly excellent, some better than others, but no one spoiled the ensemble nature of the group. In the cast we heard on opening night, we thought the women took home the gold. Soprano Nina Mutalifu, whom we have reviewed before, made a superb Donna Elvira, especially powerful in the excoriating "Mi tradì quell'alma ingrata" as she vented her fury. In the other cast Yushin Chow  presented a slightly softer Donna Elvira, a bit sadder and a bit less enraged; she was particularly effective when begging Don Giovanni to mend his ways in "L'ultima prova dell'amor mio".

Roseann Ackerley's portrayal of Donna Ann was an affecting one. In the opening scene she seemed to be a force to be reckoned with but in Act II, she is tender whilst delaying her marriage to Don Ottavio in "Non mi dir". Her counterpart in the other cast, Jihye Seo, was especially persuasive in the recitativo with her fiancé Don Ottaavio, getting the rhythm of the speech exactly right.

Both Zerlina's were charming and partly innocent, partly manipulative--both Hyune Kwon and Yingjie Zhou. were equally persuasive in "Batti, batti o bel Masetto" and "Vedrai carino".  

The role of Leporello is a great one and gives the opportunity to the singer to garner laughs. At this, Ting-Yi Chen succeeded admirably. In the other cast Brian Alvarado excelled vocally whilst not playing so much for comedy.

In the role of Masetto, we liked both Bo Joseph Wang and Ziliang Hao although their body types encouraged different impressions.  Mr. Wang appeared cuddly and Mr. Hao appeared  endearingly goofy with his lanky and somewhat awkward frame. It is interesting how, in the creation of a character, body type can matter as much as vocal color.

In the role of Don Ottavio, Julio Mascaro adopted the posture of an older father figure with protective instincts toward Donna Anna, patient and helpful with her until driven to the edge by her stalling. We liked his beautifully phrased "Il mio tesoro" so much that we wanted to rewind to Act I and hear the unfortunately cut "Dalla sua pace". In the other cast, Woojin Dong's very youthful appearance did not help his performance, although he sang well.

Now, what about the eponymous Don. We have known many narcissistic sociopaths and can smell one a mile away. Did either of these two excellent singers manifest the charm that such characters employ to ensnare their victims? In this case, he has already ensnared Elvira and is up to the gaslighting stage. His serenade of Elvira's maid "Deh, vieni alla finestra" touched upon his seductive quality as did his "La ci darem la Mano" duet with Zerlina whom he is about to victimize. We believe that the Don must also charm the audience. In spite of his fine singing, Peter Hakjoon Kim didn't quite make it and our other Don, Colin Safely, came a bit closer. 

The Commendatore was played by Rick Agster in one cast and Gennady Vysotsky in the other.

In terms of stage direction, horses were changed midstream, so to speak, and Jenna Stewart made the best out of a concept she inherited.  Blocking was always fine but there was a misguided attempt to bring the story into the 21st c. with contemporary attire and renaming the characters in the program. The Don became a wealthy bachelor and Leporello his assistant.  In our opinion, works from other epochs work best when time and place are respected. This allows the audience members to do the work of comparing--finding differences and similarities with our own epoch. We rail against spoon feeding the audience a concept. We feel more involved when we do the "work" ourselves.

Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte created this work during The Enlightenment when ideas of democracy were floating around. How apt that they should choose to create operas that poke fun at the aristocracy who take themselves too seriously and then elevate the cleverness of the serving class. Dressing all the characters as the original director requested according to her "concept" removed that cornerstone. Everyone looked the same.

Another item in her concept which came completely out of left field is an unnamed lesbian lover of Donna Anna who appeared at key moments to comfort her. We suppose that director (who kindness precludes us from naming)
could not accept the fact that Donna Anna is avoiding commitment to Don Ottavio because he is an elderly friend of her late father and an arranged marriage. So, contrary to so many interpretations of the role, Don Ottavio is definitely not a weakling; he knows he is a father figure and is being circumspect.

With no place for flats in the Center at West Park, the set consisted of a few pieces of furniture, and strangely enough, a ticket booth in the scene in Act I in which the Don and Leporello are speaking together. Lighting by Laura Bremen  comprised a simple wash of white, blue, or red. We think there is need for improvement. 

Producing opera these days is getting more and more difficult with many companies folding or slimming down their seasons. Finding a suitable venue to present one in a valid fashion is a huge undertaking and the fact that the church was packed is evidence of the high esteem in which Amore Opera is held. We are thrilled to see musical values upheld.

Don't be a loser! Get your tickets before they sell out.  Performances continue until Saturday February 3rd.

© meche kroop

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