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.

Thursday, May 2, 2013


The cast of Don Giovanni--New York Opera Exchange
In New York Opera Exchange's radical new production of Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, the eponymous "hero" is reimagined as a politician in l963.  His sense of entitlement is the same as it was centuries earlier and the media have not yet taken control of the daily dissemination of political scandals.  Men of power take what they want just because they can.

How successful is Director Jennifer Shorstein's concept?  Measured by the rapt attention of the audience, which comprised mainly 20-somethings, the production is a roaring success.  We did not observe the texting that takes place regularly at The Metropolitan Opera; cell phones were whipped out only during intermission.  We wondered whether it was the immediacy of the performance, the intimacy of the space or the youth of the artists.  Surely, few members of the audience had been born a half century ago and yet they seemed to relate.

Still, there are a few wrinkles that might bother a veteran opera goer who has seen Don G. more times than there are women he has seduced.  When a story is updated, there are generally conflicts between the libretto (Da Ponte's) and what happens onstage.  Supertitles (credited to Danielle Bendjy) dealt with the discrepancy by substituting the words that described what was happening onstage, i.e. "cavalieri" became "politician".  Audience members who understand Italian may be thrown off by this strategy but we doubt whether anyone cared.  People died, whether by sword or pistol.

We further doubt that anyone noticed a missing aria or the missing onstage ensemble in the ballroom scene.  Nor did anyone get the joke during the penultimate scene when Don G. is listening to arias from Nozze di Figaro.  None of this matters.  What counts is that young people were enjoying themselves and new opera lovers were being born.  We were overjoyed to see this.

Also adding to our pleasure is the knowledge that emerging artists are given an opportunity to add roles to their resumés as well as the opportunity to perform with full orchestra, just as Mozart wrote it, only with keyboards substituting for harpsichord continuo.  Maestro David Leibowitz conducted the New York Opera Exchange Orchestra, the only community orchestra focused solely on operatic repertoire.  We feel quite confident that as the relationship progresses, problems of balance between sections of the orchestra and between orchestra and singers will be on the upswing.

And what about those singers!  The three women had very different types of soprano voices, a real benefit in a vocal world where so many sound alike.  Kaley Lynn Söderquist was an excellent Donna Anna and was particularly lovely in "Non mi dir", with fine phrasing, evenness throughout her range and easily understood Italian.  Rebecca Shorstein has a darker soprano and threw herself into the role of the desperate Donna Elvira with gusto and a fine vibrato; we liked her "Mi tradì", although in Act I she was occasionally overwhelmed by the orchestra, as was Sydnee Waggoner as Zerlina, whose bright clear soprano sailed over the orchestra in the upper register but got lost in the middle register.

Nicholas A. Wiggins made an excellent Don G. both dramatically and vocally.  Likewise Andrew Hiers was a fine Leporello and Jacob S. Louchheim was an appealing Masetto.  Paul Khuri Yakub played the Commendatore with a sense of menace appropriate to a Mafia don (yes, that was in the synopsis) but was drowned out by the brass chorale in the final scene. Brian Michael Moore's sweet tenor was perfect for Don Ottavio and he gave a lovely rendering of "Il mio tesoro" such that we were sorry that "Dalla sua pace" had been cut.  Isn't it usually the other way round?

Sets were basic and costumes by Fabiana Pires Moore seemed appropriate to the early 60's.  Zerlina was payed as a "hippie chick" and looked perfect but Donna Elvira's costuming was unfortunate, especially when the libretto calls for her being described as noble and majestic.

There are several more performances until Sunday and you will surely have a good time if you go.  And just wait until you see what is in store for next season.  GO, NYOE!

© meche kroop

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