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.

Monday, December 12, 2016


Nicholas Tamagna, Jessica Gould, Christopher Morrongiello, Gabriel Sloyer, Kate Grimes, Ayo Haynes, Ezra Knight, and David Arrow

It has been four centuries since the death of William Shakespeare and his work is still providing ample fuel for classes in English literature and playwriting as well as fodder for theaters worldwide.

Leave it to Salon/Sanctuary Concerts to come up with a highly unusual evening that was both entertaining and illuminating. The Floor of Heaven--Scenes from a Merchant and Songs of his Venice was a unique entertainment interspersing scenes from The Bard's controversial play The Merchant of Venice with music from that period.

Erica Gould adapted the script and directed the piece along with Deborah Houston who also devised the period appropriate costuming.  Soprano Jessica Gould lent her lovely voice to the music and also did the musical research, along with lutenist Christopher Morrongiello. There is a big difference between art produced by a "committee" and art produced by synergy. This work belonged to the latter category.

Although knowing the play in advance would have given one an edge, the synopsis in the program was sufficient to appreciate the work. Five actors doubled in about twice as many roles. Every word uttered came directly from Shakespeare.

In the role of Bassanio, Gabriel Sloyer stood out by virtue of his somewhat contemporary acting style which did not in any way interfere with the Elizabethan dialogue but made the action clear.

Kate Grimes made a wonderfully believable Portia, especially when she appeared in the courtroom as the wise doctor who solves an insoluble problem. We love the fact that Shakespeare wrote a female character with both strength and softness.

Ezra Knight was magnificently compelling as the moneylender Shylock. We are not color blind and the fact that Shylock and his daughter Jessica were both cast with Afro-American actors added greatly to our insight into Shakespeare's treatment of "the outsider". We left deep in thought about the way our society treats "the other", making this work particularly relevant at this time.

As his guilt ridden daughter Jessica who can no longer get joy from music, Ayo Haynes turned in a fine performance. Her love for the Christian Lorenzo gave us plenty to think about what it means to live in a society less liberal than our own.

David Arrow portrayed the wealthy merchant Antonio, so kind and loving to his friends but so scornful toward "the Jew". We gave thought to how otherwise fine people can be corrupted by societal values.

Our only criticism of the evening was that the actors were "on the book", somewhat impairing the dramatic impact.

The music we heard did not come from the play but was written in that epoch. Selections were chosen to amplify the spoken word.  Christopher Morrongiello has a soft touch on the lute that was unusually pleasing to our ear (if not to Shylock's guilty daughter)!

We do so love duets! Although most people who enjoy "Pur ti miro, pur ti godo" believe it was written by Monteverdi, Ms. Gould's scholarship tells us this is not the case. Monteverdi's death left his final opera L'Incoronazione di Poppea unfinished and this gorgeous duet from that opera was written by one Benedetto Ferrari, who probably lifted it from one of his own operas, Il pastor regio.  Whoever wrote it, we loved it and were saddened to learn that none of Ferrari's operas have survived.

Another delightful duet was Thomas Campion's "Come cheerful day". Ms. Gould's soprano harmonized beautifully with the countertenor of Nicholas Tamagna.

Our favorite aria was "Ohime, se tanto amate" written by Salomone Rossi, a Jewish composer of that period whose excellent music delighted both Christian and Jew in 17th c. Venice. We have heard his music before at Salon/Sanctuary Concerts and have always enjoyed it.

We have been slowly learning about Early Music and tonight we focused on the use of the dissonant interval of a second. It took a while to take that in but now we love it.

There was one curiosity on the program--there was an Ashkenazi Hebrew chant from 16th c. Venice entitled "Ma'oz Tsur" which Ms. Gould performed with an Italian accent.  Hmmm.  We hope it was an authentic Venetian accent and, if we know Ms. Gould, it probably was!

(c) meche kroop

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