|Little Opera Theatre of New York|
In celebration of Carlisle Floyd's 90th birthday, LOTNY presented an evening of scenes from several of his works at the DiMenna Center last night; this presentation was part of New York Opera Fest's two-month-long festival featuring members of the New York Opera Alliance.
Although our 19th c. ears may never be completely able to wrap themselves around Mr. Floyd's 20th c. musical idiom, it would have taken a hurricane to keep us from hearing some of our favorite young singers make musical sense out of his work. Although his operas have been called accessible, our ears are often left hungry for melody. We had enjoyed a double feature of his operas last season and had loved the way they were staged and performed by LOTNY.
That the capacious performing space was packed is testament to the fact that there are many New Yorkers who find substantial nourishment in Floyd's music.
A special treat, one for which we were unprepared, was the presentation of scenes from his freshly composed opera Prince of Players in which he tackles the tale of the secret love affair between Villiers, Duke of Buckingham (tenor John Kaneklides) and actor Edward Kynaston (baritone Michael Kelly). The action takes place during the Restoration, when Charles II sat on the English throne and ended the careers of actors who had customarily portrayed women onstage. Good for women, bad for the guys.
If we have heard two singers creating more electricity together than Mr. Kelly and Mr. Kaneklides we can not recall it. The scene in which Villiers ends the relationship with Kynaston was heartbreaking and so was the scene in which Kynaston's dresser (soprano Sarah Beckham-Turner) comforts the injured actor. All three voices were excellent and the music seemed more lyrical than that of Mr. Floyd's previous operas.
The choice of material resonated more with us than that of Mr. Floyd's post-WWII opera Slow Dusk because somehow there seems to be a disjunction between the genre of opera and the plain home-spun country dialect of the libretto. Puccini, Mascagni, and Leoncavallo got away with verismo; perhaps everything just sounds better in Italian.
Which brings us to that old bugaboo-- English diction. The higher the tessitura in English, the more difficult it seems to understand the language, putting sopranos and tenors at a distinct disadvantage, although the tenors on the program were perfectly understandable.
Ms. Beckham-Turner shared the role of young Sadie in Slow Dusk with Carolina Castells. Both sopranos sounded just fine, diction aside, with the bright focused voice of the former best suited to the ingenue quality of the first selection and the wider richer tone of the latter best suited to the tragic dimension.
Mezzo-sopranos Janice Meyerson and Jennifer Roderer shared the role of Aunt Sue with tenor Bray Wilkins performing Micah and baritone Robert Balonek reprising his role as Jess. Director Philip Shneidman, founder of LOTNY, did an excellent job of creating theatrical meaning without benefit of sets or costumes.
Also recalled from the double bill was Floyd's Markheim (1966), another good choice of theatrical material--a battle of wills between a desperate wastrel (bass Tyler Putnam, whom we admired so much in Santa Fe) and a steadfast pawnbroker (tenor Scott Six) that one just knows will not end well. The second scene was even more riveting when tenor Marc Schreiner appeared as the Stranger (maybe the devil?).
There were also selections from Floyd's 1980 political opera Willie Stark with baritone Ron Loyd delivering a powerful and persuasive aria about the law which is "like a single bed blanket".
The program closed with a selection from Of Mice and Men from 1969 with Mr. Balonek portraying the much put-upon but tolerant George with fine resonance and lucidity, and Mr. Six giving a convincing and moving performance as the mentally handicapped Lennie. They had a fine rapport in this moving scene.
Accompaniment was provided by Music Director Richard Cordova and Associate Music Director Catherine Miller. The performing space, while generous in size, suffers from overly active acoustics and the piano sounded louder than it should have, at times threatening to drown out the singers.
Mr. Lloyd's most famous opera Susannah was not represented. Nonetheless, we left the performance feeling a bit more at ease with Mr. Lloyd's music than we felt when we arrived, thanks to the excellent work of the singers.
(c) meche kroop