Sunday, September 22, 2019
Friday, September 20, 2019
Monday, September 16, 2019
Wednesday, September 11, 2019
|Jessica Niles, Eliza Bonet, Jessica Fishenfeld, Cory Battey, Scott Bradley Joiner, and Trevor Martin|
The idea of creating an artistic community in New York City is not a new one but it is rather new to the field of opera. Keeping ticket prices affordable--a price point of about $15-20 is eminently affordable--is also not new; but creating works of quality at that price point is a challenge they have met. Superb singers are attracted to the company and are treated as the artists they are, with generous fees paid.
This quality, combined with adventuresome programming relevant to our times, is responsible for their meteoric rise. Productions of operas are augmented by stimulating salon evenings and an annual WorkshOpera, one of which we attended last year; it was an eye-opening experience to learn about the creation of an opera!
We are not sure how the founders, Kathleen Spencer and Megan Gillis, have managed to accomplish this so rapidly but we suspect it has much to do with commitment, conviction, dedication, and hard work.
Last night the season opener was a gala event held at Steinway Hall involving some glorious singing, free-flowing champagne, and delicious passed hors d'oeuvres. These gals sure know how to throw a party! This is a family worth joining!
The major joy of our work is watching the developing careers of young artists. Take for example the sublime soprano Jessica Niles whom we first heard at a liederabend at Juilliard a couple years ago, singing Russian songs which she had translated herself. We were impressed and subsequently caught her performances in Juilliard's opera performances --Zerlina in Don Giovanni and Anna in Nikolai's Merry Wives of Windsor--perfect ingenue roles.
Last night she performed Adina's aria "Prendi, per me sei libero" from Donizetti's L'elisir d'Amore, showing a deep understanding of the character and exhibiting a nice clean fioritura in the cabaletta. Later, she sang Emily's aria from Ned Rorem's Our Town. Her dramatic interpretation was moving; however we'd be lying if we said we liked the music. We didn't think Thornton Wilder would have wanted his story to be set to music, especially music without a memorable vocal line. Just sayin'!
We were delighted by the performances of mezzo-soprano Eliza Bonet whom we haven't seen since she portrayed a dominatrix (!) in the clever Three Ways by Robert Paterson (libretto by David Cote), a couple years ago. It really takes some Italian singing to appreciate the quality of a singer's voice and last night her choice of "Cruda sorte" from Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri was just right to show off the terrific texture of her instrument and the spunkiness of her personality.
She delved deeper into her capacity for humor in Ben Moore's "Sexy Lady", written for Susan Graham--just one more funny song about the mezzo's dilemma. In this case, the words were more important than the music.
The meteoric rise of soprano Jessica Fishenfeld is another story that delights us. We first heard her as the Sandman in Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretel at Manhattan School of Music about six years ago. Then we saw her with Gramercy Opera in something called Big Jim and the Small-time Investors, a cute story with forgettable music. What we remember best was her duet with tenor Scott Bradley Joiner who joined her last night for the highly convincing love duet "Tornami a dir" from Donizetti's Don Pasquale. Hmmmm. Interesting. We wondered if they met during the production of Big Jim.
Absolutely dazzling was Ms. Fishenfeld's portrayal of Cunegonde from Bernstein's Candide, which opened the program last night. In "Glitter and be Gay" the word "revel" was never given such dramatic realization and the contrast between that and the crocodile tears of the slow section was impressive. Adding to the fun was a huge garment which Ms. Fishenfeld used well in the phrase "spread my wings".
She also performed a duet with baritone Trevor Martin (the only singer last night who was new to us)--"Make Believe" from the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein musical Showboat, which is sounding more and more like opera.
(We might add that Ms. Fishenfeld appeared with New York City Opera the previous night at their 75th Anniversary Concert in Bryant Park. That was understandably amplified so we didn't appreciate the artist's development until the City Lyric Opera event last night.)
Mr. Martin made a convincing Escamillo in the "Toreador Song" from Bizet's Carmen, as well as a fine romantic partner in the Showboat number. He also sang "Joey, Joey" from Frank Loesser's Most Happy Fella, showing us again how operatic a Broadway musical can be when sung unamplified by an operatically trained voice. It was at this point in the program that we realized just how excellent was the accompanist Cory Battey. When the wind whispered to Joey, we actually heard it in the piano!
Similarly, Mr. Joiner got his solo number as well, the well-loved "Questa o Quella" from Verdi's Rigoletto, which was sung in garlic-scented Italian of which every word was clear.
Just as one might expect in this bubbly evening, the encore was a group sing of "Libiamo" from Verdi's La Traviata!
This was a marvelous introduction to City Lyric Opera's fourth season and presented many reasons for us opera lovers to give our support, both financially and otherwise. The next Mainstage event will be Gian Carlo Menotti's The Medium which opens appropriately on Halloween. This will be preceded by a Salon Evening on Oct. 15th which should provide some interesting insights into truth and reality.
(c) meche kroop
Saturday, August 24, 2019
Friday, August 23, 2019
Thursday, August 22, 2019
|Lisa Faieta and Gabriel Hernandez (photo by Brian E. Long)|
We wish we could say the same about the third part of the evening. We have seen a number of plays and films about Mary Queen of Scots which fascinated us but Thea Musgrave's opera missed the mark in spite of Emily Bishai's apt direction and some superb performances by soprano Lisa Faieta as the titular character, tenor Gabriel Hernandez as James, Earl of Bothwell who was supposed to be her protector, Connor Lidell as her brother James, and Jonathan Harris as Lord Gordon. Andrea Howland was affecting as the Queen's companion, also named Mary.
The problem for us lay in the unmusical music and awkward libretto. Although Ms. Musgrave has an excellent reputation in academic and critical circles, we simply could not get involved. Ms. Musgrave wrote her own libretto but the words seemed shoehorned into the vocal line, which was, in any case, non-melodic. The hoped for marriage between language and line was woefully missing. Much as we cared for Mrs. Woodhull in the prior scenes we found ourselves not caring at all for the destiny of the Queen. So unfortunate to have an excellent evening end in disappointment!
Director Emily Bishai succeeded in keeping the story moving, although the sword fight was somewhat less than convincing. Jessie Chen's set comprised a bed and a chair. Whitney George effectively conducted the chamber orchestra.
Well, two out of three ain't bad! We are looking forward to tonight's performance of Princess Maleine, composed by Whitney George, whose work is unfamiliar to us, with libretto by Brittany Goodwin, whose work we have always admired. Perhaps we will have an opportunity to get a better appreciation of the versatility of the singers.
(c) meche kroop