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.

Friday, November 20, 2015


The sterling cast of Angeline and Her Tattooed Man (photo by Jill LeVine)
Before you start wondering who composed an opera with such a strange name, let us come right out and tell you that the title represents two songs from operettas by Victor Herbert--"My Angeline" comes from the 1895 Wizard of the Nile, while "The Tattooed Man" comes from the 1897 The Idol's Eye. Both had lyrics by Harry B. Smith.

Only in New York could you find an organization devoted exclusively to the works of this seminal figure of the music theater world who achieved extraordinary popularity at the turn of the 20th c. Thanks to the tireless work of Artistic Director Alyce Mott, Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live (hereinafter referred to as VHRP LIVE!) has spent the last 16 months reviving his reputation here in New York.

Mr. Herbert was born in Ireland, raised in Germany, and became a huge success in the United States. He began as a cellist and went on to become a teacher, a conductor, and a composer.  He has 2 operas and 43 operettas to his credit, not to mention instrumental music. We may think of him as a figure bridging the world of Viennese operetta and American musical comedy. The plots are silly but the music is glorious and the texts are often witty. What most impresses us is that, like Gilbert and Sullivan in England, he knew how to set the English language making use of clever rhymes.

Last night's program comprised nearly two dozen numbers drawn from 14 different operettas, selected on the basis of their tendency to provoke giggles, chuckles, and guffaws. The company has some fine singers, most of them operatically trained. Some of them we remembered well from last year's Naughty Marietta (review archived) and some of them known from Light Opera of New York (LOONY) an organization which also produces Mr. Herbert's works. We seem to be entering a period of Herbert Renaissance, as VHRP LIVE! has so named themselves.

Music Director Michael Thomas played Herbert's music with a light and lively touch and the singers appeared to be having a grand time. And of course, the audience did as well. Ms. Mott, wearing her Stage Director hat, kept things moving right along and Emily Cornelius' choreography produced a style that felt authentic. Although no one knows exactly what performances looked like over a century ago, everything about this production felt right, just the way we imagined it.

Erika Person made her company debut and revealed a fine aptitude for the style, probably based on her success with New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players. She had the fine diction and dramatic sense required for "Mrs. Grundy" from Old Dutch, a 1909 work.

Stephen Faulk, known from LOONY, performed the clever "I, and Myself, and Me", a clever ditty from the 1905 Wonderland that required him to exhibit three personalities. We seem to remember him singing with a brogue in last year's Naughty Marietta. David Seatter who also sings with LOONY entertained us with "That's Why They Say I'm Crazy" from the same work.

The lovely Sarah Caldwell Smith, who performed the lead in Naughty Marietta and has been seen in NYGASP productions, was delightful in "Always Do As People Say You Should" from the 1898 The Fortune Teller. Of course there was a clever twist in the last verse and she made the most of it.

Robert Balonek, known from Chelsea Opera, was hilarious as he sang about filling "The Shoes of Husband Number One" from the 1915 The Princess Pat.  Bray Wilkins performed "I Wish I Was an Island in an Ocean of Girls" from the same work.

Vira Slywotzky, known from Mirror Visions Ensemble, lent her large soprano to "Don José of Sevilla" from the 1897 The Serenade. She sang a duet called "Only in the Play" with Mr. Faulk that had a charm all its own.

There were a lot of jokes about women handling and mishandling men--and vice versa. One of those numbers "Make Him Guess" was performed by soprano Angela Christine Smith, a NYGASP and LOONY artist.

Katherine Corle and Mitchell Roe sang the cute duet "Love By Telephone" and we couldn't help wondering what a 21st c. librettist might write about love by internet. Oh, if only we had composers these days who could write a tune!

As for the Angeline of the program, she was a contortionist and a strange marital partner--a tale related by bass-baritone Matthew Wages, a Gilbert and Sullivan expert. And the catchy tune "The Tattooed Man" also belonged to him. Surprisingly, the two songs were not from the same operetta.

All of the voices were excellent and the singers knew how to get a song across. Our only reservation was that in the opening and closing choruses, the clever words got lost.

Coming in March will be Herbert's The Fortune Teller.  Save 3/9 and 3/10 for a guaranteed good time.

(c) meche kroop

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