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 25, 2014


Sheena Ramirez, Jonathan Fox Powers, Richard Holmes, William Remmers, Erica Rome, Emily Geller, Victor Ziccardi and Cristiane Young
One of the songs from Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe concerned one De Bellville, a polymath who was "kicked upstairs" to the House of Lords after delivering "inconvenient speeches" on the floor of the House of Commons.  Sadly, this song has been lost to us but we have our very own polymath on hand in the person of William Remmers.

Mr. Remmers founded Utopia Opera three years ago and currently occupies positions as Stage Director and Music Director.  Moreover he was favorably reviewed by us for his conducting of Der Freischutz.   Last night as host of the Second Annual Fundraising Gala at the National Opera Center, he greeted the audience and then joined the terrific pianist Erica Rome for the four-handed overture, and then sang the role of The Lord Chancellor.  We have nothing but good things to say about his fine voice and acting and his very funny style.  He is unique.

The production itself was an absolute delight.  Gilbert and Sullivan always strike us as the Rogers and Hammerstein of the 19th c.  Contemporary composers could certainly take a page from their book!  How rare it is to have artists who understand how to make the most of the English language.

Iolanthe was written at the height of their popularity and skill, the seventh of fourteen collaborations.  It is an hilarious satire of British politics that is, in many ways, relevant to our very own Congress and the recent Occupy Wall Street movement.  In this comic opera, a simple shepherd Strephon is in love with Phyllis, the ward of The Lord Chancellor who wants to marry her himself.  Does this perhaps remind you of, say, Il Barbiere di Siviglia?

Strephon, sung by the fine baritone Jonathan Fox Powers, is the 25 year-old son of the fairy Iolanthe and a mortal (guess who!). Iolanthe has been banished by the Queen of the Fairies for breaking the fairy law against just such a union.

The lovely Phyllis, performed by the fine soprano Sheena Ramirez, doesn't believe that Iolanthe could be Strephon's mother because, as a fairy, Iolanthe doesn't age and appears to be but 18 years old. In the revelation scene we couldn't help thinking of the similar scene in Nozze di Figaro when Suzana repeats "Su madre?  Su madre?".  In the title role, mezzo Emily Geller sang superbly and created a most sympathetic character.

There are many twists and turns in the plot and lots of memorable melodies.  We cannot forget the male chorus' rendition of "Loudly Let the Trumpets Bray".  The diction was so fine that we will excuse the chorus members who sang holding their scores.

The Lord Chancellor entered to music sounding very much like a tribute to Bach and Mr. Remmers' patter songs brought grins from ear to ear.  We loved "When I Went to the Bar" especially the repeated phrase "Said I To Myself, Said I".

Ms. Ramirez and Mr. Powers had some beautiful love duets and Ms. Geller was very moving in her solo "My Lord, a Suppliant At Your Feet".  As Queen of the Fairies, contralto Cristiane Young provided comic relief at every turn. Simply to hear her repeating the word "frogs" with various intonations was enough to send us into the LMAO state.

Three very graceful and spirited young women, Kelsey Peters, Eva Parr and Laura Yumi Snell were perfectly cast as the fairies Celia, Leila and Fleta.  They not only sang but had some charming ballet moves as well.

Richard Holmes sang the role of the Earl of Mountararat and Victor Ziccardi performed the Earl of Tolloller.  The two were very amusing as they competed for the position of Phyllis' nobly born husband.  Robert BK Dewar was Private Willis of the Grenadier Guards.

The costumes were lovely and apropos.  There was no set except for what one created in the eyes of the mind, but none was needed. With acting and singing that fine, nothing was missed.

This is the only opera company we know of that lets their audience choose the operas.  The last one of this season will be Verdi's Falstaff on June 27th and 28th.  Next year's choices are Carlyle Floyd's Susannah, Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri, a double bill of Sullivan's comedy The Zoo (WHAT?  NO GILBERT) with Ravel's L'Enfant et les Sortilèges and finally Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos.  Get on board soon to avoid missing out.

© meche kroop

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