MISSION

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.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

AN AUTHENTIC LUCIA AT REGINA OPERA


Curtain Call at Regina Opera for Lucia di Lammermoor

It is quite a trek from Manhattan to the farthest reaches of Brooklyn but last night's performance of Donizetti's gothic tragedy Lucia di Lammermoor made the trip worthwhile, since this is one of our favorite operas. The latest iteration at The Metropolitan Opera left us with a bad taste in our mouth, staging the opera ridiculously in the Rust Belt of the USA in contemporary times. Although the singing was stellar we sat in anger wondering why the poor girl did not just get a bus ticket and leave her controlling brother! Fortunately, Stage Director Sabrina Palladino honored the libretto by sticking to Scotland in the late 17th c., a time of political turmoil and clan rivalry. 

Salvatore Cammarano's libretto, based somewhat on a Sir Walter Scott novel,  resonates with us today since it shows the enormous personal cost of tribal rivalry and the subjugation of women. Poor Lucia (the stunning coloratura soprano Makila Kirchner) is robbed of the love of her life, Sir Edgardo of Ravenswood (tenor José Heredia), by her selfish manipulative brother Enrico (Jonathan R. Green), who forces her to marry Lord Arturo Bucklaw (Josh Avant) to save himself from political ruin. This cannot end well and of course it doesn't. Lucia goes mad, stabs Arturo, hallucinates, and dies. Edgardo stabs himself when he learns of her death. Enrico is filled with remorse and shame.

This opera, an exemplar of the Bel Canto period, has traditionally been a vehicle for a star soprano, without which the work would fall flat. Ms. Kirchner did not disappoint, building her character from her first scene with her companion Alisa (mezzo-soprano Manya Gaver). In this scene, the soprano must foreshadow her psychotic break with reality by evincing an unstable psychological nature as she hallucinates the ghost of a murdered woman appearing at the fountain. At this, Ms. Kirchner got us about three quarters of the way there.

However, in the final act, her mad scene was totally convincing and Donizetti's decoration of the vocal line was used in the service of the character's madness. Trills, descending scale passages, the duet with the flute (sorry folks, no glass harmonica), cadenzas, and the ascent into the vocal stratosphere were all dazzling. Her acting was as on point as her fioritura. We cannot wait to hear more from this promising young artist.

Mr. Heredia gave a creditable performance as her unfortunate lover Edgardo. We have heard him a number of times in the past and are impressed by the consistency and reliability of his performance. He has a sizable instrument and uses it well.

Mr. Green's burly baritone suited the role of Lucia's controlling brother. We would have liked to have seen more variety of coloration in his voice and more specificity in his gestures. As it was, we found his interpretation to be unidimensional. The libretto makes it plain that he is a desperate man and his future can only be assured by Lucia's marriage to Bucklaw. Still, a little less violence and a little more pleading would have taken his performance to another level.

Jongwon Choi's performance as the family minister Raimondo was similarly lacking in dramatic intent. Like Mr. Green, his gestures were of the stock variety and failed to convince us that he was torn in his loyalties. At times, the low tessitura seemed to challenge him. We have seen him perform better.

The small role of Arturo does not give the tenor much to do and Mr. Avant did not do much to create a character. On the other hand Normanno, Captain of the Guard, has an important role inasmuch as he sets the tragedy in motion by spying on Lucia and reporting to her brother. The role needed a more forceful interpretation than that provided by tenor Lindell Carter. We have seen Mr. Carter a number of times and have found him fine sometimes and at other times we have been distracted by his tendency to mug and to make gestures inappropriate to the character.

Maestro Scott Jackson Wiley brought a nice shape to the performance and we heard some lovely sounds coming from the small wind section. The arpeggi  from the harp in Act I were enchanting. The orchestra was seated at ground level with the stage elevated. Although Ms. Kirchner's voice cut right through the sound, not every singer was so successful. We do not think this was a conducting flaw but rather that some of the singers did not project well.

We have always thought that singers make the best directors and were not surprised to learn that Ms. Palladino is indeed a singer. (She did similarly fine authentic work for Amore Opera's La Bohême.) The placement of the singers always made dramatic sense and no singer was asked to sing in a ridiculous position, something we have noticed happening at The Metropolitan Opera which seems to have become enchanted with directors who know nothing about opera.  

Similarly, costuming was completely appropriate, and flattering to the singers. The set was simple but effective, with small changes taking us from the castle to the garden to the Ravenswood tomb. The chorus sang well and added to the success of the production.

We greatly appreciate Regina Opera for giving us traditional opera, and so did the most enthusiastic audience. We learned that this company has survived for over half a century and, unfortunately, has no wish to perform in Manhattan.  More's the pity! 

© meche kroop



Saturday, May 18, 2024

AN AMERICAN SODIER--AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY


 Nina Yoshida Nelson and Brian Vu
(Photo by Marc J. Franklin)

It was the first time we ventured anywhere near the former site of the World Trade Center. It was our first time visiting the Perelman Performing Art Center. We were glad for the occasion to replace our sad memories with a satisfying experience. The neighborhood has been transformed by new energy, new residents, and new businesses-- the result of a daring conception and successful execution of a plan to revitalize the area.

The first thing we noticed at PAC NY was that the gorgeous new theater was completely packed. How impressive it was to see such a turnout for a contemporary opera! The standing ovation at the conclusion testifies to the success of the project.

What a brilliant choice it was to present An American Soldier, the true story of Private Daniel Chen, whose suicide whilst serving the country he so believed in left an ugly stain on the U.S. Military. The fact that the Sergeant who bullied him so relentlessly was virtually exonerated provokes fury; Danny's tragic death provokes deep sorrow.

The superb direction of Chay Yew told the tale effectively with scenes taking place with Danny's "ghost" witnessing. The acting of the principals (tenor Brian Vu as Danny Chen, mezzo-soprano Nina Yoshida Nelsen as Mother Chen, soprano Hannah Cho as Danny's girlfriend Josephine Young, and baritone Alex DeSocio as Sgt. Aaron Marcum) was so intense that it confirmed our impression that this was a play with music, as much as an opera; we will have more to say about that later.

We have followed Mr. Vu's artistic ascent for at least ten years since he was a baritone. We heard him as he won many competitions, singing Tchaikovsky, Ravel, Rossini, Sondheim, Mozart, and Rossini with equal artistry. It brought us joy to witness the fulfillment of his early promise in a performance that touched us deeply. He was totally believable as a second generation Chinese-American who defied the wishes of his mother by enlisting in the US Army, as so many innocent young men are wont to do, without considering the consequences. That he wanted to prove himself as a real American just added to the tragedy.

Ms. Nelsen was similarly affecting as his mother, attempting to deal with her sorrow by seeking justice, which ended up being unattainable. Ms. Cho, well remembered from her appearances with Classic Lyric Arts and as the eponymous bird in On Site Opera's Sound of the Nightingale, was persuasive as Danny's girlfriend and injected a note of humor as she delicately and tactfully translated Danny's letters to his mother who did not read English. Unfortunately, the audience did not get to hear her astonishing coloratura.

But, oh, the villain of the piece! Mr. DeSocio was so convincing as the bigoted, hateful, brutal Sgt. Marcum that we almost forgot that we were in a theater. 
Several other fine young artists portrayed various roles, among them the stunning soprano Shelén Hughes, mezzo-soprano Cierra Byrd, Ben Brady, Joshua Sanders, Christian Simmons, and James C. Harris--all of whom we have heard in the past few years around NYC and at Santa Fe Opera. It was indeed a well-chosen cast.

That the vocal lines did not offer an opportunity to hear the remarkable vocal gifts of these young artists is our very own particular disappointment, as it was of the tenor who accompanied us. We know that esteemed composer Huang Ruo can write for the voice as we recall from his Paradise Interrupted from 2016. That he can write interesting music for the orchestra we also recall from the 2014 Santa Fe Opera production of Doctor Sun Yat Sen.

We have enjoyed the dramas of David Henry Huang going back for years to his play The Dance and the Railroad. The libretto he wrote for An American Soldier was fine and terse, avoiding the pitfalls of prosy libretti. So how come we have not enjoyed his partnership with Mr. Ruo? This, we cannot figure out. (We also found fault with their partnership for the 2022 production of M. Butterfly at Santa Fe Opera.) We stayed on after the performance to hear a panel discussion in which Mr. Ruo and Mr. Huang seemed highly satisfied with their partnership; we listened carefully to their descriptions of their work together; we still left without a clue.

Of course, a story like this one could be seen to demand a great deal of orchestral dissonance; but Verdi and Puccini told tragic and angry stories with passionate music whereas Mr. Ruo's music struck us as closer to a film score, inasmuch as it may have served to unconsciously heighten the emotions. There were two opportunities for a musically kinder or more tender touch. One was the love duet between Danny and Josephine, and the other between Danny's "ghost" and his mother at the conclusion of the opera.

We have more to say about the music. Perhaps the PAC NYC theater has no orchestra pit because the musicians were behind the scrim which served as a screen for some excellent projections designed by Nicholas Hussong. David Bullard's sound design left much to be desired. The American Composers Orchestra, conducted by Carolyn Kuan sounded like recorded music. If others in the audience found fault with the amplification we do not know.

Daniel Ostling's suitable set design was bare with an occasional table and chairs or a short metal stepladder to suggest a room or a rooftop. The aforementioned projections were excellent and showed the New York skyline and the mountain range of Afghanistan. Linda Cho's costumes were apropos.

The bottom line was that we enjoyed the storytelling and the performances but continue to be disappointed with contemporary opera which seems to ignore the fact that opera is a singer's medium. 

© meche kroop

Saturday, May 11, 2024

TWO ESTHERS


 Curtain Call at Opera Lafayette's Presentation
"From Saint-Cyr to Cannons: Moreau and Handel's Esther"

In two days we have gone from comedy to oratorio and changed location from El Museo del Barrio to the modern sanctuary of St. Peter's Church (in Manhattan, not Rome). With their customary scholarship, Opera Lafayette presented two versions of the biblical Story of Esther. This heathen reviewer was obliged to read about it, to understand the text of the two oratorios which were presented on the same program. If you do not know the story, we will share it with you, directly from Wikipedia.

"Esther,[a] originally Hadassah, is the eponymous heroine of the Book of Esther in the Hebrew Bible. According to the biblical narrative, which is set in the Achaemenid Empire, the Persian king Ahasuerus falls in love with Esther and marries her.[1] His grand vizier Haman is offended by Esther's cousin and guardian Mordecai because of his refusal to bow before him; bowing in front of another person was a prominent gesture of respect in Persian society, but deemed unacceptable by Mordecai, who believes that a Jew should only express submissiveness to God. Consequently, Haman plots to have all of Persia's Jews killed, and eventually convinces Ahasuerus to permit him to do so. However, Esther foils the plan by revealing and decrying Haman's plans to Ahasuerus, who then has Haman executed and grants permission to the Jews to take up arms against their enemies;[2] Esther is hailed for her courage and for working to save the Jewish nation from eradication."

How appropriate we find this story, whether fact or, more likely, fiction--a story of a woman who overcomes her fear and acts with courage and fortitude, risking her life to save her people. The Story of Esther has inspired many beautiful paintings and some mighty fine music; Opera Lafayette brought us two exemplars. The 1689 work by Jean-Baptiste Moreau (libretto by the famous French playwright Jean Racine) was presented by Madame de Maintenon, second wife of Louis XIV, at her chateau/spiritual retreat at St. Cyr where she instituted a school for young women of the lesser nobility; they received moral instruction as well as theatrical.

Extracts of the works were conducted from the harpsichord by Justin Taylor with contributions toward the musical direction by singer Jonathan Woody who gave a dramatically scary performance as the evil Haman, one of the world's earliest would-be racial cleansers. The Persian King Ahasuerus was portrayed by Jesse Darden. The female roles were taken by soprano Paulina Francisco (reviewed earlier this week in the comic work La Fête de Thalie), soprano Elisse Albian, and alto Kristen Dubenion-Smith. Jacob Perry sang the tenor parts. 

It was barely two decades later that Handel created his own setting of the story to text by Samuel Humphreys, which was sung in English. Let credit be given to the singers for clarity of diction as well as uniformly beautiful vocalism and musicianship. It was interesting to witness how compositional style evolved within that brief period.

The Moreau work, sung in fine French, had many interesting moments. With "O mortelles alarmes!" we appreciated the melding of two voices and in the second iteration of that phrase, a moving cello solo by Serafin Smigelskiy, who also carried the stirring "Entracte". Later in "Que le peuple est heureux", we loved the expressive vocal trio. The nature of that particular section seemed written to glorify King Louis in subtle allegorical fashion. Ms. Dubenion-Smith lent her fine mezzo instrument to some authoritative declamation that filled the sanctuary. 

There was a lively and rousing "Marche" followed by another vocal trio and the sopranos took turns in praising God. But the best part was the cheerful "Que son nom soit béni" which was delivered with overlapping voices, bringing this half of the evening to a stunning conclusion.

After a brief pause, we entered a more sophisticated world in which Händel made generous use of the decoration of the vocal line which we so admire in his operas. We also noted the addition of instruments providing a more textured sound. Mr. Woody made a detestable Haman, just as called for. (Love the voice, hate the rôle!) In "Praise the Lord with cheerful noise" there were some bravura flourishes from Mr. Taylor's harpsichord, and some fine coloratura singing from Ms.Francisco.

A somber sextet in "Tears assist me" was marked by a prominent descending motif. When Ahashuerus is awakened by the courageous Esther, Mr. Darden allowed the king a moment of anger that softens when he recognizes his beloved wife. It was a powerful moment. The dialogue between the two singers that follows was lovely and moving.  Mr. Woody had a fine moment as Haman pleads for his life and mourns his fallen state.

The final number "The Lord our enemy has slain" is an exultant canon for the six voices and Händel's command of the musical language is impressive, ending the work on a high note, so to speak.

It was a worthwhile evening, even for a heathen. "Si, non e vero e ben trovato"! How stimulating it was to hear the two works together. As is everything done by Opera Lafayette, it was original in creation and flawless in execution. Mr. Taylor is a true artist at the harpsichord, the singers were superb, and the orchestra magnificent. A special shout out to Concertmaster Jacob Ashworth for his artistry on the violin.

As is our custom, we invited someone unfamiliar with the world of classical voice. He enjoyed the performance without any prior knowledge, thus proving our belief that opera and classical singing can be appreciated on its own merits. The unamplified human voice goes straight to the heart.

© meche kroop

Thursday, May 9, 2024

CLASSICAL, LYRICAL, AND ARTISTIC


 Luc Cheng, Glenn Morton, Young Kwang Yoo, Kevin Jasaitis, Sofia Gotch,  Sofia Durante, Sara Stevens, John Viscardi, Eliza Masewicz, Maia Sumanaweera and Samuel Ng

Regular readers recall my enthusiasm for Classical Lyric Arts, a highly esteemed immersive summer training program for young singers  held in France, Italy, and the Berkshires. Here is some great news, Dear Reader! CLA has expanded into an all year program helping recent conservatory graduates to navigate the difficult period of launching a professional career. Assistance is given in many areas including (but not limited to)  navigating auditions and competitions,  choosing repertory wisely, choosing management, and of course the finer points of singing. We think of it as polishing the gems.

Last night a private recital was held to celebrate this launch and the fortunate members of the audience had an opportunity to hear a program of Italian love songs, arias, and duets. What better language than Italian to sing of love! Even speaking Italian sounds like a love song! Our host, Glenn Morton (Artistic Director of CLA), accompanied some of the singers and the talented Luc Cheng accompanied other singers , including Executive Director John Viscardi (a graduate of CLA) about whom more later.

If we have heard a better recital, we cannot recall. The CLA singers demonstrated fine technique in which we can find no flaws. Their Italian was universally perfect, evidence of the fine immersive training they received in Italy. What most astonished us however, was how each singer showed something we call stage worthiness. They not only understood the text and the emotions which generated it, but they managed to employ the dramatic skills learned from faculty member Daniel Isengart, using facial expression, gesture, and the physical space that was available to create believable dramatic situations.

There were about 15 pieces performed and we will attempt to describe a few to illustrate this. In Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia , Rosina persuades Figaro to get a note to the Count. Mezzo-soprano Sofia Durante created the character of the spunky young woman who is going to get her way whilst baritone Kevin Jasaitis was absolutely taken aback by her anticipation of his plot. They were so effective that one could imagine everything that led up to that moment and everything that would follow.

Ms. Durante also showed her aptitude for breeches roles in two scenes. From Bellini's I Capuletti e I Montecchi, we heard "Ah, crudel d'onor ragioni" in which Romeo and his Giulietta (soprano Sofia Gotch) sing a duet of conflict and anxiety. She also made a fine Nerone in duet with Poppea (soprano Maia Sumanaweera) from Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea. We heard this duet recently in which the singers "sexed it up" which removed the chemistry we felt from this performance as the singers slowly approached each other, heightening the anticipation.  Yes, we all know that Nero and Poppea were terrible people but in this opera you have to want them to triumph and so they did.

In a scene from Mozart's Don Giovanni, Mr. Jasaitis--now suave and perfectly self-assured--seduced a flirtatious Zerlina, adorably performed by soprano Eliza Masewicz. Each showed impressive comprehension of the character at that particular point in the opera.  In a different scene the seductive Don (Mr. Jasaitis who seems to own the role) performed the serenade "Deh vieni alla finestra" gazing upward at an actual window with the unknown woman actually there, lending verisimilitude to the performance.

The Cherry Duet from Mascagni's L'amico Fritz was performed by  Ms. Sumanaweera and tenor Samuel Ng with such intense chemistry that no one could have missed foretelling the romantic ending to the opera.

There were two entries from Puccini's tragic love story La Bohême. The Mimi of Act I was performed in a touching fashion by Sara Stevens, possessor of a huge and gorgeous soprano, who gave her all to "Mi chiamano Mimi". This was followed by "O soave fanciulla" with  Mr. Viscardi as the ardent Rodolfo (a role he just performed in Colorado, a role that fits him like a custom tailored suit).

There were also several more arias and songs to tickle our ears. We love Tosti's songs and Mr. Ng's impassioned delivery of "Ideale" perfectly captured the Italianate style, as did Mr. Viscardi's performance of "Sola tu manchi".

Ms. Gotch created a memorable Gilda from Verdi's Rigoletto, adorning the vocal line with precisely rendered coloratura flourishes. Similar technical precision was evinced by Ms. Masewicz performing "Qui la voce sua soave" from Bellini's I Puritani. We don't want to end without mentioning a funny moment. We were surprised when the photographer (whose photos are guaranteed to be better than ours) was called upon to sing. It turned out that Young Kwang Yoo had been pressed into service as photographer for the event and is actually an opera singer of terrific talent.

© meche kroop


Wednesday, May 8, 2024

COMEDY TONIGHT!


 Opera Lafayette performance of Mouret's Les Fêtes de Thalie

It is always an occasion when Opera Lafayette comes to New York City. They are unique in combining scholarship with entertainment and doing a superb job on both counts. We attended the pre-performance lecture and learned a great deal about the historical and musical context of Les Fêtes de Thalie; our companion arrived in time for the performance; both of us enjoyed the performance.  So, although scholarly knowledge added something, it wasn't necessary for the "pleasure principle" to take hold.

It is on this aspect that we choose to focus. The structure of this light-hearted early 18th c. romp by Jean-Joseph Mouret involved a Prologue, in which two Muses duke it out.  Dramatic soprano Angel Azzarra lent her full-throated voice to the role of Melpomene, Muse of Tragedy and the charming lighter-voiced soprano Paulina Francisco appeared as Thalie, Muse of Comedy. 

We were reminded of Richard Strauss' comedy Ariadne auf Naxos in which the down to earth Zerbinetta is in contest with the haughty diva who was to perform a tragedy. But in this opera, a compromise is reached by Apollo (Jonathan Woody) who makes the decision that tragedy would be performed in the winter and comedy in the summer.  Just like today, when we seek lighter entertainment in the summertime. 

After the three acts, all based on the same theme of how women deal with love, there is "La Critique" in which the Muses representing all the arts involved in the production vie for importance. Polyhymnia, Muse of Music (Ariana Wehr, dressed as a conductor) joins Thalie and Terpsichore, Muse of Dance (Pascale Beaudin) and get a rather mediocre review from Momus, God of Mockery (Patrick Kilbride). You will get no such mediocre review here, Dear Reader. We found the entire evening delightful.  This scene brought to mind another Strauss opera Capriccio in which the relative merits of libretto and music are compared.

Sandwiched in-between "Prologue" and "Critique" were three scenes in which cast members took various parts.  In "La Fille", a ship's captain (Jean-Bernard  Cerin) arrives in Marseille bringing with him Cléon (whom he rescued from pirates, played by Mr. Woody.  The captain is unsuccessful at wooing Cléon's daughter (Ms. Francisco) until he flirts with Cléonte's wife (Mr. Kilbride in a frock).

In "La Veuve Coquette", a happy widow (Ms. Beaudin) refuses to give up her single status in spite of the heroic efforts of the wealthy Chrisogon (a very funny John Taylor Ward) and the earnest military man Léandre (Scott Brunscheen) and the urging of her friend (Ms. Azzarra). Do we see a theme here? Yes, we do! We had no idea that 18th c. women were so disinclined to wed!

In the third scene "La Femme" Ms. Beaudin portrays a clever wife who outwits her philandering spouse (Mr. Cerin). She pretends to go away and arrives in disguise at a masked ball her husband is throwing and fools him into believing she is his latest potential conquest. She delays the unmasking as long as possible and when she finally does they both take the joke well. Now she knows he really loves her!  Does this remind you of an operetta? Since this work has lain undiscovered for centuries, it is unlikely to have influenced subsequent composers; but it does remind us that such tropes are common in opera.

Each of the three scenes involved spectacular dancing (Thanks, Terpsichore!) In "La Fille" we had sailors dancing the Hornpipe, choreographed by Julian. Donahue and Julia Bengtsson with dancers from the New York Baroque Dance Company. In "La Veuve Coquette" the dance choreographed by Anuradha Nehru and Pragnya Thamire was a village wedding party and the dancers from Kalanidhi Dance made a fine showing. Perhaps the most exciting dances were those at the masked ball in "La Femme". Particularly exciting was a bullfighter. Those dancers were choreographed by Caroline Copeland.

The colorful costumes were designed by Marie Anne Chiment. Melpomene was dressed in a floor length dramatic caftan of royal purple whilst Thalie was costumed in a motley jacket and mini-skirt with punk look combat boots. The best costumes, however were in  "La Femme" in which we noted some commedia dell'arte characters as well as the aforementioned bullfighter.

We have devoted most of our space to the libretto (by Joseph de La Font) and the colorful costuming and dancing but let us not neglect Polyhymnia. The excellent conductor for the evening was Maestro Christophe Rousset whose effective conducting of Mouret's music was the necessary underpinning for the action, singing, and dancing. 

The Stage Director, Catherine Turocy, kept the action moving briskly and managed to make the work seem not only historically intact but also contemporary and relevant.

The amount of labor it must have taken over a period of several years to bring this lost work to vivid life is astonishing. Musical preparation, coordination of different choreographers, assigning several roles to each artist, getting the entire project onstage--who but Opera Lafayette would have the interest and the means to have achieved all this, a major feather in their already multi-feathered cap.  
We do hope the work was recorded on video since so few people got to experience it. The theater at Museo del Barrio was packed and we assume the theater in Washington D.C. was as well, but it surely deserves a wider audience.

© meche kroop

Saturday, May 4, 2024

A 17th CENTURY RAVE


 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




Friday, May 3, 2024

BRAVA GERDA LISSNER


 Arlene Shrut, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, Yeongtaek Yang, Matthew Cairns, Tatev Baroyan, Karoline Podolak, Shelen Hughes, Rosario Armas, Gemma Nha, and Anna Kelly

Thanks to the generosity of philanthropist Gerda Lissner, several generations of opera singers have been supported in their artistic growth. In addition, citizens of Planet Opera were gifted a thrilling evening of impressive singing at Zankel Hall.  Out of 300 presumably worthy applicants, ten winners were selected to perform and were the fortunate recipients of 95 thousand dollars. No, Dear Reader, you will not learn their ranking here. That is the difficult and unenviable task of the judges. Our "task" is to share our impressions.

It is particularly rewarding for us to witness the success of singers we have followed throughout their conservatory years; it is astonishing to catch up with the dramatic artistic growth of those who left New York City and haven't been heard by us for some time; it is exciting to discover artists who are new to us. It is also a delight to experience the gracious hosting of Midge Woolsey who made up for the lack of titles and translations by giving a brief synopsis of each selection. And finally, it is always a pleasure to see how pianist Arlene Shrut manages to switch genres and styles with ease, giving the young singers the collaboration and accompaniment they deserve.

It seemed to us that the audience comprised people who know and love opera, lieder, art song and zarzuela, all of which were represented in the award categories No one distracted other audience members. Everyone listened with rapt attention and applauded generously and enthusiastically--and never at inopportune times. 

Speaking of applause, it made us deliriously happy to hear the audience going wild over the zarzuela selection sung with consummately professional style by mezzo-soprano Rosario Armas. Regular readers know how highly we value this art form and how we always jump at the chance to attend a performance.  The selection that Ms. Armas chose was from Chapi's humorous Las Hijas del Zebedeo. Every gesture was on point and Ms. Armas used her rich expressive voice to create a character.

In a similarly light-hearted mood, soprano Shelén Hughes charmed us with a selection from Victor Herbert's operetta "Mlle. Modiste" which we sadly missed when Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live! presented it. It is a fine achievement when a singer is so secure in her technique and so well rehearsed that the performance seems spontaneous and very much "of the moment".

A coloratura soprano named Caroline Podolak gave a stunning performance of "Glitter and Be Gay" from Leonard Bernstein's Candide, giving the song just the right amount of humor as Cunegonde alternates between the shame of her status (which you all know) and the pleasure of receiving expensive jewelry. The high tessitura presented no challenge for her and the vocal effects were sensational. To add to the performance, this beautiful blond looked the part.

Similarly, mezzo-soprano Maire Therese Carmack looked and sounded exactly the way one would wish for the daughter of Wotan as she performed "Du bist der Lenz" from the first act of Wagner's Die Walküre. The entire setting of the Otto Schenk version (the only one that made sense to us) appeared in our mind's eye--always a sign of a great performance.

Soprano Tatev Baroyan gave a lovely and affecting performance as Liu, singing "Tu, che di gel sei cinta" from Puccini's Turandot. Mezzo-soprano Anna Kelly employed a sweet tone and personal charm in a Joseph Marx lied entitled "Jugend und Alter".  Soprano Gemma Nha performed Joowon Kim's "Like the Wind That Met with Lotus" with a haunting feeling and ringing top notes.

And now, let us get to the men. Guest artist counter-tenor Anthony Ross Costanzo delivered an inspiring "speechlet" about Orfeo and the power of music and then involved the audience in his performance of a scene from 
Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice (in which he is starring at The Metropolitan Opera) which everyone seemed to enjoy.

Counter-tenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen was definitely not overshadowed by Mr. Costanzo's fame and performed two Händel arias, a deeply felt "Stille Amare" from Tolomeo and the spirited "Empio, dirò , tu sei" from Giulio Cesare in Egitto in which he dazzled us with fiery fioritura.

Yeongtaek Yang used his gorgeous baritone instrument to create a highly involving introduction to Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci, bringing Tonio to vivid life. It felt so real that we nearly forgot where we were and were waiting for the opera to begin!

Tenor Matthew Cairns has a sizable voice with an interesting texture and fine French diction that he brought to "Ô Paradis sorti de l'onde" from Meyerbeer's L'Africaine.

What a wonderful evening--a gathering of the tribe joining to celebrate young artists. May they all achieve the professional success that they deserve!

© meche kroop