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, May 4, 2024


 Curtain Call at Manhattan School of Music's Production of Purcell's The Fairy Queen

The proverbial blood, sweat, and tears that go into a theatrical production were nowhere in evidence at this romp seen and heard at Riverside Theater. The results were the evidence! It was difficult to tell who was having more fun last night, the audience or the student performers from Manhattan School of Music. Spirits were high and laughter was abundant.

Henry Purcell wrote some mighty gorgeous music for this "masque" which  was first presented in 1692. Although our knowledge of British history is rather meager, we understand that the entertainment known as a "masque" was very popular under the reign of Charles I and it was a rather lascivious entertainment in which royalty participated, comprising music, dance, theater, art, singing...what Richard Wagner might have called a gesamtkunstwerk.

The Protestant Reformation ended all such excess but The Restoration brought with it the reign of Charles II and the flourishing of the arts. For a deeper discussion of this topic we refer you to the following website...https://www.hrp.org.uk/banqueting-house/history-and-stories/the-masque/#gs.8uvkhk

Purcell made use of some of Shakespeare's text from Midsummer Night's Dream but the author of the libretto remains unknown. Much of the work seems to have gotten lost for a long period, but with the rise of interest in the counter-tenor fach, the work, or most of it, has been located and reassembled. If you were expecting a telling of the Bard's tale, you would have been disappointed. His play would seem to have been just a jumping off point with some of the characters making an appearance and just hints of the story being told.

Director/Choreographer Felicity Stiverson made some felicitous choices (sorry about that, but we just couldn't help ourself) and created an evening of fun that made use of the depth and breadth of talent found in MSM's Undergraduate Opera Theater. An inventive set was devised by Michael Ruiz-del-Vizo with a thrust stage in the center, a lounging area to the left and a bunch of cocktail tables and chairs to the right.

Artists entered and left up and down the center aisle of the auditorium. Everything worked just fine, especially having the excellent musicians, conducted by Jackson McKinnon, upstage behind a scrim. The opening showed imagination with a lone young man seeking admission to what might be a private club or disco and being given a hard time at the door--a scenario everyone has experienced in their lifetime.

Jessica Crawford's costume design was colorful and reminiscent of the 70's which, except for familiarity by means of film and television, might have been as remote from the memory of anyone in the audience as would have been costumes of the late 17th c. We saw bright neon mini-skirts, platform boots, sequined gowns and lots of motley outfits.

There was a gloss on celebrity worship with singers using fake microphones. And that brings us to the singing which was just fine all around. There was an ensemble spirit to the evening and it would be difficult to point out some of the individuals in the cast, since many the roles were allegorical, as was the custom of the time.  Isaac Hall portrayed the inebriated fellow who wound up with Bottom's donkey ears.  Jalynn Stewart portrayed Titania, Evan Katsefes played Oberon, and Yancheng Zhang had the role of Puck.  But everyone else portrayed multiple roles.

In the second act, we heard a couple of lovely arias, one accompanied by the violin and another accompanied by the trumpet. Most impressive was the duet for two women and if they care to step forward and identify themselves, we will be happy to add their names to the review.

Since we always need to find something to pick on (nothing is perfect) it would be the placement of the disco ball which obscured the titles. However, the singers were quite successful at making the text clear so it wasn't really a problem.

With such merriment, one would never complain that the work was updated. It was actually a clever and delightful way to present something that might have seemed antiquated and irrelevant.

© meche kroop

No comments:

Post a Comment