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.

Monday, June 24, 2019


Matthew Zimmerman, Lisa Monde, David Serero, Ashley Brooke Miller, David Mohr, Patrick Clark,
and Felix Jarrar

Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet has survived post-modern productions, filming, ballet, West Side Story,and marionettes. The story is timeless and impresario/baritone David Serero has put his unique individual Jewish spin on the tale of star-crossed lovers, moving the action from Verona to Jerusalem, and pitting the Sephardic Capulets against the Ashkenazic Montagues. Contrary to our pre-performance expectations, they were not hurling matzo balls and falafel balls at each other! 

Frankly, we never thought the two branches of Judaism had any animosity toward one another and an interesting conflict might have been between a Jewish family and an Arab family. But that would have deprived the audience of the pleasure of hearing folk songs from both cultures--the Ashkenazic family sang in Yiddish (which our knowledge of German did not help us understand), and the Sephardic folks sang in what we took to be Ladino, because we caught a few words that sounded at times like Italian and other times like Spanish. There was even a lovely song in Russian which we did not understand but liked a lot.
That Mr. Serero has a devoted audience is undeniable; the entire run was sold out and the standing ovation was generous. Mr. Serero is well known for abridging the classics (both opera and theater) and if this brings people into the theaters and opera houses to get a deeper exposure that is all to the good.

Most of the important speeches were there and Mr. Serero made sure that the basics of the story were told. Minor characters were eliminated as well. Although we didn't understand the music, the interpolated non-Shakespearean dialogue was mostly in Yiddish-peppered English. In any case, we all know the story. The production reminded us of a singspiel.

The costumes were gorgeous, giving Mr. Serero some funny lines at the curtain call about most of the budget going toward the costumes. In place of sets there were appropriate projections. Well known composer/pianist Felix Jarrar slid easily between his own improvisations and the various types of music.

No one minded the injection of humor into this tragedy and most of it came from stereotypes. The very elegant Lady Capulet (portrayed by Lisa Monde) donned a wig and became Romeo's guilt-inducing cheek-pinching Jewish mother. Matthew Zimmerman did double duty as the pugnacious Tybalt and Juliet's stern controlling father who had picked out "the wealthy Mordechai" to be Juliet's husband. Paris was booted right out of the play.

Friar Laurence became Rabbi Laurence who prayed a lot. The role of Romeo's friend Mercutio was well performed by Patrick Clark. And as for the fair Juliet, Ashley Brooke Miller was convincing in her innocence and willfulness.

Mr. Serero himself took the role of the ardent Romeo and garnered most of the laughs with his English dialogue. The sword fights between Tybalt and Mercutio were well executed and ended in Mercutio's death (of course) and the retaliatory fight between Romeo and Tybalt ended in Tybalt's death (of course). We didn't quite get the part where Romeo stabs himself after being banished, but then reappears in the next scene. Neither did our companion.

Mr. Serero made sure that everyone had a great time. What more could one want after all that tragedy, leavened with laughter and tunes? Well, there was more. The evening ended with the cast performing a popular song which was just as unknown to us as the Ladino, Yiddish, and Russian ones; disco dancing filled the stage. That was the one thing we could have lived without as it seemed to undercut the tragic ending.

But Mr. Serero wants everyone to have a good time!  And they did!

Watch out for an upcoming Nozze di Figaro next month, also presented by The American Sephardi Federation at the Center for Jewish History. Mr. Serero was quick to point out the Jewish connection. Lorenzo DaPonte was indeed Jewish. But David, tell us, was he Sephardic or Ashkenazic?

(c) meche kroop

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