|Javor Bracic, Suchan Kim, SungWook Kim, Liana Guberman, Kirsten Scott, and Laetitia Ruccolo|
Regular readers may recall how highly we prize a little education along with our entertainment. Sunday afternoon we were fortunate enough to see a group of rising stars of the opera world participating in an unusual presentation, hosted by Javor Bracic and The Art of Listening. The Afternoon of Literature and Opera Scenes at the National Opera Center included member of the splendid Bare Opera, of which Maître de Chant Laetitia Ruccolo is the co-founder.
We have been a great fan of Bare Opera since their very first production. Nothing they have presented has been anything short of wonderful and everything has had an unusual and creative twist that has brought innovation and delight to operas in the standard repertory and some that are not often seen/heard.
Sunday's presentation comprised a selection of well known scenes from opera which were inspired by literature, prefaced by readings that shed light upon the scene to follow. Readings were performed by the glamorous mezzo-soprano Kirsten Scott who dazzled us by the potent drama of her readings as much as by the luster of her voice. We shouldn't have been surprised since we have observed her throwing herself into every role she has performed.
We had never known that E.T.A. Hoffman was a critic of The Enlightenment and favored the dark emotional nocturnal life. Hence, Offenbach gave us "Belle nuit" in his opera Les contes d'Hoffman which was here given a lovely performance by Ms. Scott as Nicklausse (a role we had watched her grow in some years ago) and soprano Liana Guberman as Giullietta with their voices melding in luscious harmony.
After hearing a reading from Schiller's Don Carlos, we were in a position to relate more intensely to "Per me giunto" from the Verdi opera of the same name, performed by lyric baritone Suchan Kim. This is an aria we will forever associate with Dmitry Hvorostovsky but we have nothing but positive things to say about Mr.Kim's sincere delivery, marked by a pleasing vibrato and subtle dynamic variety.
Ms. Scott read both voices from the scene in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in which the two young lovers meet for the first time--a truly magical moment filled with as much wit as romance. We learned that Gounod translated Shakespeare's words into French word-for-word with consummate respect for the text. Perhaps because much of the imagery of the text is religious, Gounod used a melody he had written originally about the Virgin Mary!
Ms. Guberman was lovely as Juliette, singing with pure youthful tone. Her Romeo, SungWook Kim, impressed us with the ease of his tenor instrument. Both handled the French just fine.
La dame aux camelias was the only novel written by Dumas Fils and it was based upon a true story. We heard an excerpt from the novel, followed by one of our favorite scenes. Germont Père arrives at the home of the courtesan Violetta determined to break up the relationship between her and his wayward son. Suchan Kim's interpretation was spot on as he softened the color of his angry voice in response to the gracious dignity of Ms. Guberman.
Indeed, just watching the expression on Ms. Guberman's face as she heard about Germont's innocent daughter, and hearing the change of color in her voice, was a revelation. She is hearing about a young woman who will have a socially acceptable lifestyle that is closed to her and is feeling pangs of envy. We experienced an empathy for Violetta that was greater than any we had felt before. This was really opera up close and personal!
There was only one sentence in Dante's 13th c. La Divina Commedia which inspired Puccini's one-act opera Gianni Schicchi. SungWook Kim made an expansive Rinuccio as he praises the glories of Florence and the resourcefulness of Signor Schicchi, whose daughter he is wooing. We loved the ease of his tenor and his Italianate phrasing in "Avete torto", an aria which showed off his ringing top notes and his lively personality.
Just as Puccini looked back several centuries for inspiration, so did Purcell, who wrote Dido and Aeneas based upon Virgil's Aeneid, from which Ms. Scott read an excerpt. We learned why the witches conspired to destroy poor Dido; Aeneas had a destiny to go on and found Rome, or so the mythology goes. Ms. Guberman and Ms. Scott are far too pretty to portray witches but they sounded wonderful together in the "Witches Duet".
The final work on the program was the quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto which was prefaced by a reading from Victor Hugo's The King's Diversion on which the opera was based. Suchan Kim as Rigoletto was on one side of the room comforting the highly distressed Gilda of Ms. Guberman, whilst SungWook Kim was on the other side of the room portraying the licentious Duke of Mantua who is having a grand old time flirting with an increasingly willing Maddalena, sung and acted in grand style by Ms. Scott. It was literally stereophonic!
Throughout the evening, Ms. Ruccolo appeared to be 100% at the piano and simultaneously 100% with the singers. Now that's some accomplishment!
Javor Bracic seems to have as much interest in enlightening and educating his audience as in entertaining them. He encouraged questions from the audience which the singers seemed to enjoy answering. Many of the questions were about the acting and how singers can draw from experiences to act without letting the emotions affect the quality of their vocal production.
In such an intimate format as this was, without orchestra, sets, costumes, or distance to "hide behind", how does the singer manage the exposure and intimacy? There is really a back and forth between singer and audience and we concluded that this intimacy is at the root of opera. When opera began, it was a means of socializing and forming community. These days, we have the Met for spectacle, but we have small opera companies such as Bare Opera which provide this sense of community and intimacy. We relate to the singers. We relate to the characters. We relate to the music. We leave fulfilled!
We can scarcely wait for Bare Opera's next season. They will be doing Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea in November and Piazzolla's Maria de Buenos Aires in the Spring. We have seen both operas before but we are sure we will be seeing them as if for the first time.
(c) meche kroop