|Christine Lyons telling the tale of Tristan and Isolde|
|Xiaomeng Zhang enlisting Charles Sy into the military|
ARE Opera was founded just a year and a half ago by Megan Gillis and Kathleen Spencer, two singers who want to make opera Accessible, Relatable, and Enjoyable. So far, they have succeeded admirably.
They have chosen their productions wisely and cast them with talented young singers. They stage them in ways that are up front and personal so that audience members feel involved. At one point Nemorino sat down in one of the very few empty seats in the house, right next to ours, and we almost put an arm around him to give him some encouragement in his struggle to win Adina's affection. Now that's personal!
The proof of the pudding is in the audience reaction. At a few points we tore our attention away from the performers to glance at the audience and what we saw was glee and rapt involvement. The "newbie" we invited was delighted with the experience and full of questions and observations.
Let us take a closer look at what makes this production such a delight. Of course, Donizetti's sparkling and tuneful music, played by pianist Andrew Sun (who is also Chorus Master), is at the foundation. Felice Romani's charming libretto is, well, felicitous! It allows the audience to identify with the underdog Nemorino (little worm) who is too shy and lacking in self-confidence to win the love of the landowner Adina, apparently the only literate person in her village.
Director Jessica Harika has wisely kept the action in the right time and place--a small village in the 19th c. She has added some pantomime to the overture showing us the two almost-lovers as children (Angel Figueroa and Alexa Sternchos) manifesting youthful crushes, their interaction giving us some backstory. She has credited Dean Anthony with the concept.
All of this excellent foundation laid the groundwork for some excellent performances. As Nemorino, Charles Sy exhibited a rich but flexible tenor that grew in impact from his opening aria "Quanto è bella, quanto è cara" to his final "Una furtiva lagrima". We have heard Mr. Sy often in recital but it was a revelation to witness his dramatic prowess. He created a character that we cared about. We could laugh at him without looking down on him. He was funny in his gullibility and ignorance, but did not ever invite scorn.
As Adina, the proud object of his romantic longing, soprano Christine Lyons was given reason to reject him, dating back to their childhood experiences. Her lustrous soprano won us over from the start as she read to the villagers in her aria "Della crudele Isotta". At the end she has trouble actually declaring her love in "Prendi, per me sei libero"-- until Nemorino actually forces her hand. Although Donizetti has written some fabulous fioritura, for Adina he has given us just enough embellishment to add to her emotional range-- and enough to show us what Ms. Lyons is capable of.
The role of Sergeant Belcore is an interesting one. He must be a "player" with a macho show of arrogance and yet be more than a tool for Adina to make Nemorino jealous. We sense his humanity underneath the bravado. Here, baritone Xiaomeng Zhang, whose work we have enjoyed on many occasions, lent his expansive and resonant instrument to the portrayal and gave us a highly memorable performance. His delivery of "Come Paride vezzoso" was masterful and we loved the moment when he comments on helping his rival to succeed.
The lovable snake oil salesman Dulcamara was given a fine performance by bass-baritone Brent Hetherington who was just right for the part. His patter song, promising the naive villagers a cure for all their ills, is always a highlight--"Udite, udite, o rustici". Donizetti wisely gave Dulcamara a clever and tuneful duet with Adina "Io son ricco e tu sei bella" and we have never seen it better performed.
Mezzo-soprano Rachel Arky made a fine Gianetta and the chorus was marvelously together, showing evidence of fine guidance by Mr. Sun and some substantial rehearsal time. Maestro Jonathan Heaney's conducting was as excellent as Mr. Sun's piano. We wondered if we were hearing Richard Wagner's piano reduction but there was no mention in the program. The costumes by Wardrobe Witchery were perfectly a propos with Dulcamara's plaid suit winning the prize for being the most colorful.
His entrance was marked by offstage trumpet and snare drum, played by Mitchell Curry whilst the lovely mezzo-soprano Alanna Fraize performed the role of Dulcamara's assistant, miming the trumpet playing--a moment the audience loved.
There will be two more performances at St. Veronica's church on Christopher Street--tonight and Sunday matinée. You could not find better lighthearted yet deeply enjoyable entertainment.
(c) meche kroop