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.

Thursday, April 26, 2018


The cast of Victor Herbert's The Enchantress

Our enthusiasm for the oeuvre of Victor Herbert is exceeded only by that of Alyce Mott-- Founder, Stage Director, and Librettist of the Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live! Ms. Mott has devoted her life to this composer, and the last four years to producing a dozen musicals written by this prolific composer who delighted early 20th c. audiences with his Broadway shows. He could be considered the Rossini of his time and place.

The fact that he can delight 21st c. audiences with his music is testament to his compositional joie de vivre. It is true that Ms. Mott has written new libretti for the operettas she has produced, but the songs are the real McCoy.

The plots are quite silly by contemporary standards but that only contributes to our delight. The roles are always well cast and sung, the choreography delightful, the direction right on point. And now the performances are even better, due to the presence of a "salon orchestra"--what today would be called a chamber orchestra--conducted by Michael Thomas.

The plot that so enchanted us last night involved an impossible romance between the Prince of Zergovia and the beautiful Vivien, made possible by a plot device equivalent to a "hail Mary pass" on the football field.

Prince Ivan, performed by terrific tenor Tom Carle, risks the survival of his nation by his womanizing. The sinister Regent, Prince Miloch (Brian Kilday) would like to take over, with the assistance of the slimy Minister of War Ozir (Drew Bolander). Their plotting against him is continually hilarious.

Trying to protect the Prince are his tutor Poff (the always enjoyable David Seatter) and Troute, the head of the Secret Service (Jovani Demetrie).

Five princesses are vying for the Prince's attention. Pardon our rambling association but we thought we had wandered into Act II of Swan Lake! And then "Odette" appears in the person of the beautiful and sought-after Vivien, sung by the beautiful and sought-after Claire Leyden, who has a magnetic stage presence and a crystalline soprano with an appealing vibrato. She captures the heart of the fickle prince. And the hearts of the audience as well.

She is a commoner and the Prince cannot marry her. Will he abdicate? We speculated that the original librettists (Fred De Gresac and Harry B. Smith) might have been inspired by the love-fueled abdication of King Edward VIII of England but this could not be so. Wallace Simpson was only a teenager when the operetta premiered in 1911.

Complicating the plot is the arrival of a wealthy American woman named Marian who wants to use the money of her lard king father to buy herself a title. Soprano Joanie Brittingham did a great job creating this character, complete with a broad Midwestern accent and exaggerated American mannerisms.

More comedy was provided by Vivien's aunt Mamoute, played by soprano Vira Slywotzky with impressive comic chops. Apparently aunt and niece are one step away from poverty and the plan is for Vivien to snag a wealthy husband.

As usual in these productions, the chorus adds much to the proceedings. The female chorus comprised the five hopeful princesses--Haley Vick, Jane Hoffman, Sonora Dolce, JoAnna Geffert, and Susan Case.

The male chorus comprised Colm Fitzmaurice, Andrew Troup, and Jonathan Fox Powers.

We particularly enjoyed the love duet "Rose, Lucky Rose", Prince Ivan's aria "The Best Little Girl Is You", and Vivien's aria "To the Land of My Own Romance". Jane Hoffman performed a song entitled "Art is Calling for Me" which we recognized as the oft heard "encore song"--"I Want to Be a Prima Donna".  Just to think that we never knew where it came from!!  Indeed!  Now we know.

If we continue telling all the numbers we enjoyed, we will have named them all! But let's just mention one more which brought down the house--"Come to Sunny Spain", sung by Mr. Demetrie (disguised as a Spanish nobleman) and Ms. Slyvotzky who was so tragically ready to be seduced. Susan Organek choreographed their flamenco inflected dance, as well as the many captivating waltzes.

Over the past four years we have observed the growth of the audience and the evolution of a repertory company. Mr. Seatter and Ms. Slywotzky are founding members and several other artists joined the company over the past three years. 

Others made their debuts this year. Ms. Leyden brought charm and freshness, as well as a stunning voice, to the production. Many of the artists are known to us from other companies. It is always fun to see what artistry singers bring to different roles.

Next year will be VHRPLive!'s fifth season and the theme is Season of Love. We will be looking forward to Orange Blossoms, Love Songs, and Sweethearts.

(c) meche kroop

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