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.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Brenda Rae, Anthony Michaels-Moore and Erin Morley (photo by Ken Howard)

Erin Morley (photo by Ken Howard)

How could one make a marriage out of a 1786 Mozart singspiel and a 1914 Stravinsky fairy tale?  With great imagination!  Did the pairing work?  It depends upon who you ask.  Director Michael Gieleta has presented Le Rossignol as a production of the eponymous impresario of The Impresario and his company of performers.  The two wildly divergent works are bound together by the same cast and by the same scenic elements transformed in shape and purpose.

We have previously seen Mozart's Der Schauspieldirektor but never like this.  The hijinks occurring between the frustrated impresario and his three sopranos are here performed with much additional dialogue and interpolations of additional music by Mozart.  For some reason it is given in English.  Some of the dialogue is clever and some isn't.  It comes across as a backstage farce.

Before the opera even begins, we are treated to images of Salome with Jochanaan's head and a Tosca stabbing a Scarpia.  The stage is filled with performers of various disciplines, notably a troupe of very good dancers and three sopranos vying for parts in the new production of Le Rossignol.  The time is 1914 and the place is probably Paris; the impresario himself speaks with a Russian accent and is likely a fugitive from the Revolution.  The Countess who has supported his company is assassinated in front of our very eyes and Mr. Yussupovich fears he will have to close up shop.  Baritone Anthony Michaels-Moore handled the role well both dramatically and vocally.

His business manager Otto van der Puff (bass Kevin Burdette) proposes that Mr. Y produce operas that the public enjoys instead of radical experimental works.  Ahem!  They compromise.  There will be a Don Giovanni but there will also be this new work by Stravinsky.  And that's what we get in the second half of the program.  But not before we hear the three divas perform audition arias.  Soprano Erin Morley is filled with self-confidence as Adellina Vocedoro-Gambalunghi.  Soprano Brenda Rae has an enormous amount of fun as the over-the-top Transylvanian Vlada Vladimirescu who has brought along her husband, sung by the fine tenor Bruce Sledge.

Stepping in to replace the deceased Countess is financier Heinrich Eiler (bass-baritone David Govertsen) who wants his mistress Chlotchilda Krone (contralto Meredith Arwady) to be cast.  If the names of these three divas don't make you laugh then their shenanigans will.  Ms. Arwady is particularly funny as she sings Mozart's male roles in several registers.  We were reminded of Ira Siff's La Gran Scena Opera Company, gone but not forgotten.

After the intermission, we see the same singers onstage in the same roles but a transformation takes place as the clever set design (James Macnamara) is converted into the setting for Le Rossignol.  The piano becomes a boat and Mr. Sledge becomes a fisherman.  The outrageous Poiret-influenced costumes are stripped away and Ms. Morley becomes the eponymous nightingale.  The impresario is dressed as a Chinese emperor and Ms. Rae becomes a cook.  The costumes by Fabio Toblini are as sumptuous in the Stravinsky as they were in the Mozart.

The myth taken on by Stravinsky is that of a nightingale who sings so sweetly that she brings tears of joy to the eyes of the listener.  And that is EXACTLY what Ms. Morley achieved.  Most of her part is without words, a divine vocalise.  The cook will get an important position in the Emperor's court if she brings this splendid creature.  The nightingale does enchant the Emperor and the entire court until some Japanese envoys bring a mechanical bird (the lovely dancer Xiaoxiao Wang) that astonishes everyone.

The real live nightingale flies off; the Emperor is enraged and banishes her.  But when he is on his deathbed she returns and promises to sing 'til dawn if Death will return to the Emperor his symbols of power.  She succeeds and is offered a grand reward but the only reward she wants are the tears in the Emperor's eyes.  The opera is beautifully sung in Russian.

We loved the story.  Our thoughts ran along the lines of how in today's world we have been seduced by the faux, the virtual, the mechanical/electronic.  We need the real and the natural to heal.

Not everything worked.  We found the projections of modernist art to be ugly; they distracted from the gentle beauty of the myth and the music.  The dancers, wearing fake moustaches and glasses and rolling around on the floor dressed in knee breeches didn't make any sense whatsoever.  Sean Curran was the choreographer.

Conductor Kenneth Montgomery went all the way in limning the shimmering textures and dramatic orchestration of Stravinsky's score.  If we have nothing to say about the Mozart it is because the action onstage was so distracting that the music got very little notice.

As the myth concludes, the dancers are stripped of their lavish Oriental costumes and returned to their 1914 clothes, bringing the entire affair to a mostly satisfying conclusion.

(c) meche kroop

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