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.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Krysty Swnn, Elisabeth Stevens, Dominick Rodriguez, Lee Poulis, Sable Rivera, Kevin Thompson nd Matthew Curran  

Of all the versions of Giuseppi's Verdi's Don Carlo, we prefer the Modena version of 1886 and that is just the version we heard last night when the Martha Cardona Theater presented a concert performance at the National Opera Center.  Founder Daniel Cardona wants us to hear opera sung by great voices and has a knack for finding and casting them.  Freed from sets and costumes, we can focus exclusively on the sound.  How pleased we were to hear the opera sung in Italian; there are those who favor the original French but we personally prefer the sound of Italian.

Don Carlo is a long demanding opera which amply rewards the listener's sitzfleisch with gorgeous melodies, shattering arias, harmonically stirring duets and intricate ensembles.  Musical Director Sean Kelly handled the piano accompaniment with great care and skill.

Verdi transports us to 16th c. Spain when King Fillipo II rules his empire with an iron hand, subjugating the miserable citizens of Flanders.  He in turn is ruled by the Grand Inquisitor from whom no one is safe. 

Mr. Cardona wisely included the important first act in which Fillipo's son Carlo (tenor Dominick Rodriguez) meets his intended bride Elisabetta (soprano Elisabeth Stevens) at Fontainbleu.  This sets up the action for the rest of the opera and explains Carlo's despair when his father decides to marry her himself.  It also gives the couple a not-to-be-missed duet "Che mai fate voi?"

But the opera is not just a story of unfulfilled romantic longing but also a story of Filippo's refusal to grant political freedom to the Flemish (nice parallel with today's news) and his despair that Elisabetta has never loved him.  Indeed, his aria "Ella giammai m'amò" is the bass' opportunity to evoke a modicum of sympathy for this detestable character who consults with the Grand Inquisitor about how he can eliminate his son! Their scene was sinister and chilling; its success was enhanced by the very different colorings of their equally impressive bass voices--Matthew Curran as Fillipo and Kevin Thompson as the Grand Inquisitor.

There were other equally riveting scenes.  Mezzo Krysty Swann in the role of Princess Eboli used her rich voice effectively in the garden scene, singing a lovely duet with the page Tebaldo, sung by Sable Rivera.  Her handling of the melisma in the Moorish melody was exquisite.

The expression "chewing up the scenery", had there been any, would have applied to her aria "O don fatale" in which her remorse for betraying the queen is expressed, along with blame for her beauty which has led to the sin of pride. 

Our favorite character in this opera, and perhaps one of our favorite baritone roles, is Rodrigo, the Marquis of Posa; in a performance in which vocal color must express so much feeling, Lee Poulis sang with intense involvement and utterly convinced us of his loyalty to Carlo and his unselfish wish to help the Flemish.

His is a crucial role in the opera since he must support Carlo and also try to establish his loyalty in service to the crown while riskily pleading the cause of the Flemish.  He has a fine duet with Carlo in Act II "Dio, che nell'alma infondere amor" and another in Act IV "Per me giunto è il dì supremo" when he sacrifices his life for his friend. Who could not be moved by "Io morrò, ma lieto in core"?

After Elisabetta's aria "Tu, che le vanità", movingly sung by Ms. Stevens, she is joined by Carlo for the final duet in which they hope to meet in a better world, replacing the hope for joy in the material world heard in Act I.

Mr. Rodriguez's fine tenor carried the title role in fine style.  There was not a performance of less than stellar quality.  Mr. Cardona favors big voices, the kind one rarely gets to hear in small companies casting young singers.  These concert presentations gives them an opportunity to sing roles that they will likely get to sing at the Met in the future.

With such a fine feast of Verdi, getting an "amuse-oreille" before the opera began was nearly overkill but it gave us an opportunity to hear two more outstanding voices in previews of upcoming operas, accompanied by Jestin Pieper. You would do well to add to your calendar three events for this summer.

On June 17th, soprano Michelle Trovato will sing Liu in Puccini's Turandot.  We heard her "Signor, ascolta" last night and were impressed.  On June 28th, Zhanna Alkhazova will sing Tatiana in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin.  We heard an excerpt from the Letter Scene and, on that basis alone, urge you to attend.  And on July 3rd, a little birdie told us that Massenet's Werther is in the works.  This is welcome news for the vocally barren summer season in New York.  Three cheers for Martha Cardona Opera!

© meche kroop

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