|Monica Hershenson Thuris, César Torruella, James Stoia, Sophia Benedetti, Brian Long and Roman Laba (photo by Kate Hess)|
Similarly, we would like to use our persuasion to lure you away from your usual Saturday night entertainment to attend the final performance of this delightful work presented by the scrappy Utopia Opera in Lang Recital Hall of Hunter College at 7:30. You will have chuckles aplenty due to the fine dramatic instincts of the cast; you will hear some excellent voices and fine music coming from the 15-member live orchestra conducted with gusto by William Remmers.
What you won't get are lavish production values because Utopia Opera operates on a slender shoestring, the better to keep ticket prices affordable for everyone. But who needs lavish production values? It's all about the music and the establishment of coherent characters. Polymath Mr. Remmers is responsible for the stage direction but gives credit to his cast for the many original ideas they contributed. This was truly a collaborative effort.
The success of Falstaff rests on the broad shoulders of the eponymous hero (anti-hero). Sir John, in material extracted from Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor and also from Henry IV, is a self-deluded buffoon of dubious moral character, enthusiastically rejecting the concept of honor and scheming to seduce two local married women for their money.
But, he must also win our sympathy and be lovable. This seemingly impossible task was accomplished successfully by baritone César Torruella who exhibited just the right color in his voice as well as dramatic chops.
Stunning in her portrayal of Mistress Quickly, husky-voiced mezzo-soprano Monica Hershenson Thuris acted as go-between, luring the hapless Falstaff into the trap laid by the two "merry wives". We had to stifle our laughter every time she sang her "Reverenza" with a deep bow. Likewise her sardonic "Povera donna".
The two wives were likewise excellent as they plotted their revenge. Soprano Hannah Spierman portrayed Alice Ford; her jealous husband was sung by baritone Stan Lacy who did justice to Ford's monologue in the first act. The other wife, Meg Page, was well sung by mezzo-soprano Eva Parr.
Every opera should have a romantic interest. The Ford daughter Nannetta requires a comely young lady with a high bright soprano and Sophia Benedetti totally filled the bill. Her suitor Fenton was sung by tenor James Stoia and their romantic duets were harmonically fulfilling.
Tenor Stuart Homan produced an entirely different coloration for his excellent portrayal of Dr. Caius to whom has been promised the hand of Nannetta. What a pleasure it was to see how the women outwit the men on that issue.
Tenor Brian Long as Bardolfo and Roman Laba as Pistola made a fine pair of ladri and added significant moments of comedy, particularly at the end during the marvelous fugue scene when they....(never mind, you just have to see for yourself).
The fifteen musicians played well but we must single out the fine oboist Rebecca Bellacera whose English horn theme in the letter scene stood out and the keyboardist Jeremy Weissmann who had us searching for the harp.
The clever and motley costumes, roughly of the 1980's, were devised by the singers themselves. This was truly a collaborative project and proves that ingenuity trumps a big budget.
© meche kroop