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, April 1, 2017


Robert Davidson, Maestro Ian Shafer, Madison Marie McIntosh, Jonathan Hare, and Francesco Pavesi

This is  Christman Opera Company's second evening, the first having been reviewed 6 months ago. Pianist and keyboard teacher Theodore Christman seems headed for a future as a composer of works that are entertaining. This is the second time he has presented a short work of his own composition, with Anna Winslow as his librettist; he pairs his own work with a well-established work and casts them both with fine young singers.

As we pointed out in our prior (archived) review his music is anything but academic; it is meant to be entertaining and employs melody to enhance the story line. The tunes and the text work together well in the manner of a Broadway musical. 

The work we heard last night at the National Opera Center was called "The Dreamer" and involved an encounter between Aidan, a businessman visiting Chicago in the 1940's and Elizabeth, the daughter of the bookseller whose shop he is patronizing. Aidan becomes infatuated with Elizabeth who dreams of becoming a novelist. She rejects him because she believes him to be married, but there is a surprise twist that leads to a happy ending.

The lovely mezzo-soprano Marie Madison McIntosh, whose growth we have been chronicling, made a winsome Elizabeth, with the role of Aidan being taken by bass Derrell Acon whose melismatic singing had particular luster. Accompaniment was by one piano four hands, two belonging to Juan Condor and the other two belonging to Vesela Kirova. The arias were quite listenable with thematic repetition making the melody memorable--perhaps with a shade too much repetition. But, as we pointed out, it was a pleasure to hear words and music marching together. Unfortunately, the recitativi were a trifle awkward but the words were clear.  English diction was mostly good except for the high-lying passages of Elizabeth's arias. The best part was the harmonic writing for the duets.

It was a worthy entry as far as contemporary opera goes and held our interest far more than most entries in that field, even though it comprised a dialogue between two characters, without any activity.

Rossini was a composer who understood the concept of entertainment and if you do not find Il Barbiere di Siviglia wildly entertaining, your funny bone must be broken!  This opera has endured for two centuries exactly!  Rossini knew just how much repetition to use and just how far to carry a joke. The music sparkles and the plot moves along at breakneck speed. The characters are lovable although each has his foibles.

As the eponymous hero, baritone Jonathan Hare carried the evening with his pleasing and flexible voice, portraying a jack-of-all-trades with a winning personality and enough charm for several characters. He made ample use of gesture and facial expression to get this across. His "Largo al factotum" was as fine as one would wish and his excellence carried right through to the end.

Ms. McIntosh was a spunky Rosina, willful and devious when needs be, as she struggles to get out from under the domination of the controlling Dr. Bartolo. Ms. McIntosh has recently made the transition from soprano and her voice sparkles in the upper register; the breadth in her lower register keeps growing and there is a nice seamless quality from the tippy top almost to the bottom. The low notes are there and just a little work should integrate them more perfectly.

We love the way she delivered "Una voce poco fa" with plenty of razzle-dazzle in the fioritura; some of the embellishments seemed new to us. 

As Count Almaviva, tenor Francesco Pavesi sang the role beautifully, wafting garlic with every beautifully turned phrase. He had to portray frustration in the opening scene when Fiorello (baritone Clayton G. Williams) and his band of musicians fail to get Rosina to appear. He had to be conspiratorial with Figaro, romantic with Rosina, and drunk in his first appearance in Don Barolo's villa. His serenade of Rosina was ardent and beautifully modulated.

Soprano Erin Brittain shone in Berta's aria, lamenting her character's loneliness. She has a fine clear tone and an expressive manner. We look forward to hearing her in a larger role.

There were no titles but a minimal knowledge of Italian would have seen any listener through each scene, and for this we credit the fine direction of Eowyn Driscoll who did such a fine job as the Sorceress in Dido and Aeneas. She had no set to work with and no costumes, the only prop being a chair; wisely she focused on the interaction between the characters.

Bass-baritone Robert Davidson made a sturdy Dr. Bartolo who handled the patter well; he joined forces with Don Basilio (Mr. Acon) in an attempt to rule the unruly Rosina. "La calunnia" is always fun!  And so is the "Buona sera" scene when the conspirators try to get rid of the unwelcome Don Basilio. As a matter of fact, this opera has no mediocre arias, and especially notable are the ensembles which close each act, a Rossini trademark, in which all the characters are stupefied or chaotic.

Maestro Ian Shafer effected a suitable balance in this chamber orchestra, situated on half the stage, with the action taking place on the other half. Beside the string quartet there was a bass, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, and two horns which behaved very well in spite of the horrendous weather.  Mr. Condor played the continuo part on the piano, in the absence of a harpsichord. Daniel Moreno was responsible for the fine guitar accompaniment.

Judicious cuts were made and toward the end there was a loss of continuity due to the omission of the scene in which Bartolo turns Rosina against Almaviva. The singing lesson scene also was truncated. None of these compromises proved fatal. A good time was had by all!

(c) meche kroop

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