|Lindell Carter, Madison Marie McIntosh, Steven Herring, Brent Reilly Turner, Maestro Keith Chambers, Kirsten Chambers, Kevin J. Langan, Kian Freitas, and Richard Cross
Last night we had the privilege of being present at a birth. The birth went smoothly and the newborn is healthy and gave some lusty cries. The birthplace was adequate but this baby needs some growing room! The babe was named....New Amsterdam Opera and was delivered by Maestro Keith Chambers,
We consider it ambitious to have tackled Fidelio, Beethoven's sole opera; thanks to some fine and highly accurate conducting as well as some excellent casting, the night was a huge success. The large church was filled to capacity and the standing ovation impressive. Musical values were so high that sets and costumes were not missed.
Beethoven wrote this opera in 1805 but tinkered with it until its final version was completed in 1814. Two interesting decisions were made by Maestro Chambers: although there were never any recitativi, the opera contained spoken dialogue and Mr. Chambers replaced this with narration by the eminent Richard Cross; although the original overture (thought to be too weighty for the opera) is generally presented as a concert piece, here it was inserted between the two scenes of Act II, not an original idea to be sure but not a treat one can take for granted.
The story is a straightforward one. The wife of a political prisoner disguises herself as a man and gets a job at the prison where her husband has been unfairly incarcerated. She wins the trust of the warden and finally manages to rescue her beloved. She also inadvertently wins the love of the warden's daughter Marzelline who is pursued by Jaquino.
Soprano Kirsten Chambers has a sizable voice with great overtones, one in which musical values are never sacrificed for volume. As the loyal and heroic titular character (first "Fidelio" and later "Leonora" when her gender is disclosed) she was completely believable. We loved her passionate aria in Act I.
We also loved the duet between Ms. Chambers and Madison Marie McIntosh, whose focused voice and youthful appearance perfectly suited the role of the innocent Marzelline. The two very different sopranos sounded brilliant together.
We do not get to hear the voice of the imprisoned aristocrat Florestan until Act II. The character has been starving in a dungeon for two years but tenor Brent Reilly Turner managed to color his robust voice to indicate both hope and faith. His big aria is introduced by a sorrowful theme in the orchestra, with Maestro Chambers' handling of the brass particularly impressive.
As the jailer Rocco, bass Kevin J. Langan was particularly fine, both vocally and dramatically. His German was especially fine, a quality we prize inasmuch as there were no titles. We were sitting to the side and his clarity was evident no matter which side of the stage he occupied.
Baritone Steven Herring has a powerful voice and created a threatening character in the role of Don Pizarro, the nobleman who was responsible for jailing Florestan. We found ourselves hating the character and loving the singer in equal measure!
Entering at the very end of the opera, announced by offstage trumpet, was the Governor Don Fernando. Bass-baritone Kian Freitas did justice to the role. It was a special moment when he allows the unmasked Leonora to remove her husband's chains. He makes the theme of the opera very clear--story and music both reflect Beethoven's passion for liberty and heroism.
Some special moments that we enjoyed were the quartet in Act I and the prisoner's chorus in Act II. Their placement up high behind and above the orchestra allowed their voices to be heard. Props go to Chorus Master Tony Bellomy.
We cannot comment on tenor Lindell Carter's portrayal of Jaquino because we could not hear him. Part of this can be attributed to his being stage right whilst we were sitting on the other side. Still, singers with larger voices or better focused voices could be heard from wherever.
And that brings us to our one disappointment with the evening. West Park Presbyterian Church does not have great acoustics. The orchestra filled the stage and the singers were placed in front. Our dearest wish for this new company is that they find a home with an orchestra pit or an elevated playing area. They deserve it!
(c) meche kroop