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.

Friday, June 14, 2024


Sadie Spivey
(Photo by Brian Long)

What an exceptionally interesting idea to present a program of Charles Baudelaire's poetry as set by a variety of musicians of the 19th and early 20th c.! Of course, when one reads the program of an art song recital, the writer of the text is credited, but we had never realized the extent of Baudelaire's influence on so many composers--and not just the famous ones like Fauré, Duparc, Debussy, and Chausson! 

Last evening's entertainment, conceived and directed by Judith Barnes, was far more than a recital of mélodie. It was a peek into the mind of a literary artist whose life was a catastrophe but whose literary output was grand and influential. Ms. Barnes' program notes told us many things about Baudelaire's life; her thoughts were illustrated during the performance as the artists onstage read (in English) from his letters and journals telling us about his dissolute life as a wastrel. He burned through the family fortune in a brief period of time, necessitating what amounted to a guardianship. He died in miserable poverty, never knowing what work of art would result when French musical geniuses found the beauty in his verses, so maligned in his lifetime.

Although the readings were in English, the mélodies were performed in French by the following singers; Jason Adamo, Valerie Filloux, Sadie Spivey, Jeremy Sivitz, Olivia Ericsson, Alexandra Cirile, Helen Haas, and the final number "L'invitation au voyage" by Henri Duparc sung by Perri Sussman, perhaps the one most often performed in recital--but here, given new meaning.

The viewer was given the opportunity to connect with a strange and disturbing world, a louche world of dissipation and desire. Onstage elements, designed by Maestro Fecteau included a recamier, some chairs, a table with a decanter of vin rouge, un escritoire. Singers were costumed (by Angela Huff) in varied states of déshabillage, partly unlaced corsets, culottes, loosened coiffures, white stockings or pieds nus. Singers lounged about indifferently. Once two women rose and danced together. The chansons were interspersed with readings from Baudelaire's letters to his mother or from his journals. Ms. Barnes' direction was absolutely stellar.

Similarly, the musical accompaniment was perfection. The piano parts were performed by a tag team of Lara Saldanha and Maestro Chris Fecteau himself. There was a highly original opening to the evening when Mo. Fecteau played a captivating melody ( by Pierre de Breville. First movement of the Prélude, méditation et prière for organ without pedals (1912) on an antique harmonium. We were so enchanted that after the performance ended we insisted that he give us a demonstration of this instrument. (Dear Reader, we had made the same request of a glass harmonica player and a theorboist. We suffer from unbridled curiosity.)

The evening ended with the aforementioned Ms. Sussman singing the final Duparc chanson from a corner of the room, at the top of the raked staging, dressed in a long white garment, similar to the ones worn by Ms. Saldana and Mo. Fecteau. It was an eerie coup de theâtre which set the three of them apart from the others, leaving one free to speculate on the significance.

There will be one more performance of this unusual entertainment on Saturday evening and more information on the Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble season can be found on their website...dellarteopera.org. If you have not yet caught any of the season, you are hereby urged to do so.

Since we cannot close without something nitpicky, the projected titles were blurry and nearly impossible to read. For our part, however, we preferred to listen to the music and mentally participate in the drama.

© meche kroop


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