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, August 22, 2019


Cory Gross and MaKayla McDonald in front; 
Kristina Malinauskaite, Brian Alvarado, and Jessica Harika in the picture frame
(Photo by Brian E. Long for Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble)

We have written at length about how Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble contributes to the development of young singers; so let us get right to the point--the performances of last night's program Voices from the Tower.  What a great theme for this summer's festival--presenting operas composed by women. Last night's program involved three separate parts. The first part was a one act opera composed by Pauline Viardot entitled Cendrillon.

Faithful readers will recall my ecstatic reviews of Ms. Viardot's melodies; that she wrote a chamber operetta was news to us. The work was performed in 1904 at the salon of the composer, then in her 80's. One immediately observes a youthful freshness that belies her age. We were struck most by the thrilling bel canto singing of the delightful score, written long after such tuneful music was in fashion. Clearly the work was not written to impress the academic establishment but to delight her friends. Delight it did!

Whilst the music is Italianate, the libretto contains much Gallic wit, particularly when Papa discovers some commonality with the Prince's assistant who has been masquerading as the Prince. The storyline echoes the original Perrault fairytale but is more lighthearted than the Rossini and the Massenet versions.

The two step-sisters are not wicked and are only slightly vain. There is no nasty stepmother. The Fairy Godmother not only transforms Cendrillon but appears at the ball and sings a song. The scene at the ball in Act II provides opportunities for improvisation according to the gifts of the members of the cast. Anarka Fairchild made a fine contribution.

Cendrillon, here called Marie, was winningly sung by soprano MaKayla McDonald whose instrument has a pleasing vibrato and whose expressive face contributed to the characterization. Her two sisters were named Maguelonne (sung by the superb soprano Kristina Malinauskaite) and Armelinde (sung by the marvelous mezzo-soprano Jessica Harik). A highlight of Act I was the trio sung by the three sisters in the most gorgeous harmony.

The entrance of La Fée was marked by soap bubbles and the performance marked by the lofty coloratura singing of the splendid soprano Heather Bobeck.  Baritone Brian Alvarado (in a very ugly wig) threw himself into the humour of the role and sounded great as Le Baron de Pictordu. Tenorrific Tyler Dobies exhibited some fine singing and winning stage presence as Le Comte Barigoule. The role of Le Prince Charmant was handled well by tenor Cory Gross.

The piano score was ably handled by Beau Dream and Lauren Hlubny's direction was apt. And if she created the humorous dances in Act II she deserves double credit. In an imaginative display, the transformation of elements into a coach for Marie involved the two stepsisters rotating wheels.

Jessie Chen's set was simple but effective--a couple of chairs and a suspended gilt picture frame which doubled as a mirror. Marie swept up rose petals which created a lovely picture. Heather Denny's costumes were simple. Marie's red jump suit hid under a drab black outfit just waiting to be removed. 

The mark of an opera's success for us is wanting to hear it again and the presence of melodies running through our head. This succeeded on both counts.

Geddy Warner and Anna Woiwood (photo by Brian E. Long)

The second part of last night's program comprised a few scenes from Victoria Bond's Mrs. President. We are not a fan of contemporary opera in English but--SURPRISE!--we truly enjoyed the scenes so much that we will be looking for a performance of the entire opera in the future!

Although we didn't leave humming the tunes, we did enjoy the music, the story, and the arresting performances. The story is that of Victoria Woodhull whose interesting life offered enough material for several operas or plays. Ms. Woodhull was quite a character--not only was she the first woman to run for President, a champion of women's suffrage and free love, but also a medium-- not to mention the fact that she had a seat on the New York stock exchange!

The scenes we saw began with choral music in which the voices of her seance attendees joined in strange affecting harmonies as they strove to reach the spirits of men they lost in the Civil War. Soprano Woiwood did a splendid job interpreting the role of the headstrong and independent title character as she roused her followers to her cause and as she seduced the hypocritical preacher Henry Ward Beecher, a man who practiced "free love" in secret while putting up a false front to his congregation. Tenor Geddy Warner was scarily convincing in his role, at first threatening Ms. Woodhull but succumbing readily to her advances, but only after she threatened to expose him.

Emily Bishai's excellent direction made the story both effective and affecting. Jessie Chen's set design included a desk stage left and a pile of pillows stage right. Nothing more was needed.

Tenor Tyler Dobies sang superbly as the rejected lover Joseph Treat. Other excellent cast members included Addie Rose Forstman as Beecher's sister, Jessica Harika as Victoria's mother,  and Robin Clifford as Elizabeth Tilton.

The excellent singing and riveting drama captured our interest from the first moment. We wish all contemporary opera was as well written. Hilary Bell's libretto lent itself readily to the music and was dramatically valid.

Lisa Faieta and Gabriel Hernandez (photo by Brian E. Long)

We wish we could say the same about the third part of the evening. We have seen a number of plays and films about Mary Queen of Scots which fascinated us but Thea Musgrave's opera missed the mark in spite of Emily Bishai's apt direction and some superb performances by soprano Lisa Faieta as the titular character, tenor Gabriel Hernandez as James, Earl of Bothwell who was supposed to be her protector, Connor Lidell as her brother James, and Jonathan Harris as Lord Gordon. Andrea Howland was affecting as the Queen's companion, also named Mary.

The problem for us lay in the unmusical music and awkward libretto. Although Ms. Musgrave has an excellent reputation in academic and critical circles, we simply could not get involved. Ms. Musgrave wrote her own libretto but the words seemed shoehorned into the vocal line, which was, in any case, non-melodic. The hoped for marriage between language and line was woefully missing. Much as we cared for Mrs. Woodhull in the prior scenes we found ourselves not caring at all for the destiny of the Queen. So unfortunate to have an excellent evening end in disappointment!

Director Emily Bishai succeeded in keeping the story moving, although the sword fight was somewhat less than convincing. Jessie Chen's set comprised a bed and a chair. Whitney George effectively conducted the chamber orchestra.

Well, two out of three ain't bad! We are looking forward to tonight's performance of Princess Maleine, composed by Whitney George, whose work is unfamiliar to us, with libretto by Brittany Goodwin, whose work we have always admired. Perhaps we will have an opportunity to get a better appreciation of the versatility of the singers.

(c) meche kroop

No comments:

Post a Comment