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.

Friday, December 7, 2018


Joseph Tancredi and Carolina Lopez Moreno
(Photo by Carol Rosegg)

In the best of all possible operatic worlds, one witnesses art and enjoys entertainment simultaneously. This was the case last night at Manhattan School of Music when a group of young singers, comprising mostly graduate students, presented a felicitous choice of two one act operas--one we have often heard and one we had never even heard of.

The first opera was Nino Rota's I due timidi, a work written for radio performance on RAI with libretto written by screenwriter Suso Cecchi D'Amico. The work was broadcast live in 1950 and later adapted for the stage in London and in Bari. This epoch seems as remote from today as the 19th c.

The work is set in a pensione run by the crabby Signora Guidotti (mezzo-soprano Polixeni Tziouvaras, as excellent vocally as she was dramatically) who has her hands full with plumbing problems and irate guests. The superb set by Lee Savage is the courtyard of the pensione which has three cameriere (soprano songbirds Heather O'Donovan, Kaitlin Turner, and Bridget Casey) gossiping whilst doing their chores. Flowers grow in window boxes and laundry hangs in the sun to dry.

Director Dona D. Vaughn (Artistic Director of the MSM Opera Theater) created a sense of time and place that hasn't been equalled since the Metropolitan Opera's late production of Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana.  People shout out of windows and lower baskets for groceries and payment. Very realistic.

The protagonists are the shy pianist Mariuccia (superb soprano Carolina Lopez Moreno, so fine of voice and so successful at creating empathy) and the equally shy suitor Raimondo (the promising tenor Joseph Tancredi who is still an undergraduate, singing with fine tone and phrasing). 

This is a comedy with a bittersweet ending which we will not divulge, but which seemed just right. Through a series of misunderstandings, Il dottore Sinisgalli (terrific tenor Zhiyu Shi) persuades Mariuccia's mother (marvelous mezzo-soprano Erin Reppenhagen) that the daughter needs his love, whilst La signora Guidotti mistakes Raimondo's intentions for love for herself.

In the playing out of this comedy of errors, the principals were each given a lovely aria so we could savor their vocal gifts. Acting as a one-man Greek chorus was the Narrator, bass Yi Yang whose rich voice convinced us that he was a worldly-wise observer.

Rounding out the cast were Laureano Quant as the porter and Sidhant Seth as another resident of the pensione.

Nino Rota would go on to compose film scores and had a particularly fruitful relationship with Federico Fellini.  But we doubt that his music was ever played as well as it was last night when the esteemed Maestro Giovanni Reggioli led the MSM Opera Orchestra in a lively reading of this colorful score.

Although Ms. Lopez Moreno was completely convincing as a pianist, the sound came from the beguiling offstage piano of Anna Smigelskaya.

Tracy Dorman's costumes looked just right for post-war Italy. Tyler Micoleau's lighting created a sunny Italy. Italian diction was excellent, thanks to Glenn Morton's coaching. Steven Jude Tietjen's supertitles were excellent for those who couldn't understand the very clear Italian.
Michelle Blauman and Xiaotong Cao (photo by Carol Rosegg)

Giacomo Puccini's Suor Angelica, celebrating its centennial, has been heard many times, mainly as part of an evening's production of Il Trittico, comprising Il tabarro, Suor Angelica, and Gianni Schicchi. There was something special about seeing this work up close and personal that resulted in our experiencing the work anew and being moved in ways that we had not been before.

Instead of a collection of nuns, we observed each one exhibiting a different personality behind the nearly identical ecclesiastical habits. We consider it a major triumph of director Dona D. Vaughn that we had different feelings for each one!

The eponymous Suor Angelica was portrayed by superb soprano Xiaotong Cao. She seemed on a different level from the others.  Apparently she had adjusted to the cloistered life although her admission to the convent had probably been not exactly elective. Culture at that time was not kind to girls who got pregnant out of wedlock, especially if they came from aristocratic families. Hiding the "sinners" away in convents was considered the only solution to deal with the family's shame.

This in itself seems tragic but tearing a mother away from her infant seems even more tragic. Poor Angelica has harbored secret wishes for a visit from her family but when the visit finally comes it is her aunt, La zia principessa who arrives with no love or forgiveness, just disdain and some documents through which Angelica must sign away her inheritance.

The role of the aunt was played by Michelle Bauman with rigid posture, icy demeanor and wonderful mezzo-soprano tone. We tried to figure out why she was costumed in the Italian version of Dior's post-war "New Look" with a silly hat. It was probably done to provide some chronological resonance with the first opera on the program but it served to undercut her critical authoritarian stance and gave the lie to her arrival in a coach with a family crest.  We far prefer the character wearing a long black dress and veil!

Another mezzo, Erin Reppenhagen, shone in the role of the Monitor, doling out corrective punishment to the nuns for their minor infractions. Yet another mezzo, Gabriella Chea, excelled as the Abbess.

Among the nuns, our favorite character was Suor Genovieffa, sung by the sweet voiced soprano Hannah Friesen. When she sung of her longing to hold a lamb, we were quite moved.

But the most moving moment was toward the end when Angelica rips off her wimple and collapses on the floor in tears, lamenting the death of her son. Having poisoned herself she believes herself to be damned and thereby separated eternally from the boy. We confess to a bit of water in the eyes.

We enjoyed the two Lay Sisters played by Michelle Capano and Cambrey Willhelm. The Mistress of the Novices was sung by mezzo Mengran Jia and her charges comprised Amanda Larkin, Lauren Curet, Duqingna, and Nicole Rowe.

Xiao Xiao and Sophie Blatt portrayed the Begging Sisters who brought provisions via bicycle. Corinne DeJong was Suor Osmina and Bridget Casey was Suor Dolcina.

The set was repurposed from the first work, this time with the second story shutters tightly closed and a fountain in the center of the courtyard. Mr. Micoleau's lighting was effective but we would have loved to see the golden light which purportedly illuminates the fountain only three days a year!

This is such a great opera with so many female roles, giving opportunities to so many female singers. Each one was wonderful in her own way.

There are three more opportunities for you, dear reader, to share in this outstanding experience--tonight, Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon. The newly redecorated Neidorff-Karpati Hall has excellent acoustics and is just the right size.  Don't miss out!

(c) meche kroop

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