|Soprano Amanda Zory onstage at National Opera Center
Accustomed as we are to reviewing emerging talent, we spend a lot of time enjoying bel canto and the lighter repertory to which the flexibility of young voices lends itself so well. We rarely get to hear large voices so it is a special treat for us to hear Verdi and Verismo opera arias and duets.
Thanks to Opera With a Twist we had a satisfying exposure to some works that we love. The "twist" was a surprise--some outstanding unamplified singing of cabaret and jazz which we will get to later.
There were several highlights to the operatic portion of the evening. The Executive Producer of Opera With a Twist is Amanda Zory, one of those big beautiful girls with big beautiful voices. As much as we love duets, we would have preferred to have heard her solo, since we didn't find her male stage partners to be as interesting.
What we liked about Ms. Zory, other than her richly textured instrument, was her total commitment to whatever role she sang. As the seduced and abandoned Santuzza in Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, she was totally convincing in her revenge seeking aria ("O Signore vi mando"), exposing Lola's transgressions to Lola's husband Alfio, a moment which sets the tragedy in motion.
As Alfio, we heard promising baritone Joseph Gansert who sang with power and fullness of tone. To take his performance to the next level, he would do well to take some acting lessons. He needs to learn how to react to what his scene partner is revealing.
He would also do well to learn to color his words to suit the material. This was particularly clear in "Eri Tu" from Un Ballo in Maschera, an aria in which Renato must express a wide palette of emotions toward the wife he suspects of infidelity. He sounded far more believable singing Alfio's joyous aria "Il Cavallo Scalpita" from Cavalleria Rusticana, an aria not requiring as much variety.
Ms. Zory's other scene partner, seasoned tenor Salvatore Motisi, certainly knows how to act and sang with a lot of "garlic", but with such volume that one could smell the garlic all the way to Seventh Avenue. We don't know why an experienced singer did not know how to scale his voice to the size of the hall. There was a deafening level of shouting. This was unfortunate because Ms. Zory's acting and singing were impressive in her aria of confrontation with Turridu "Ah lo vedi".
Another performance we enjoyed in the operatic part of the evening was that of mezzo-soprano Vivien Shotwell whose choice of "O Don Fatale" from Verdi's Don Carlo was a good one, exploiting the rich texture of her voice.
The aforementioned cabaret/jazz performance highlighted the gifts of vocalist Leah Reis-Dennis. Our favorite of the set was "Bewitched" by Rodgers and Hart. To hear it performed without affectation and just enough gesture delighted us. There are probably lots of songs we would enjoy outside the realm of opera if we could hear this lovely lady sing them. She also performed Wardell Gray's "Twisted" and Duke Ellington's "Hit Me with a Hot Note". Christopher Wilson, the excellent Music Director/Pianist easily made the transition from op to pop and gave her the instrumental support that was required.
Should we consider Sondheim's Follies an opera? Don't mind if we do! "Too Many Mornings" was given a nice performance by Ms. Zory and baritone Brian Michael Henry. We don't know this show but felt tempted by this duet to explore further.
Soprano Heather Petruzelli and tenor Byron Singleton performed a not terribly convincing "Ah, soave fanculla" from Puccini's La Bohême. Once again, the tenor shouted. We longed for a floated high note! Soprano Karen Luna did not capture our ear with a lackluster performance of "Se come voi piccina" from Puccini's Le Villi, an opera/ballet which we have never seen.
Perhaps the low point of the evening was the trashing of the "Flower Duet" from Leo Delibes' Lakme, a work which we usually find transporting. Ms. Luna and Ms. Petruzelli were upstaged by a distracting "modern dancer" named Kristen Mangione who reminded us of the satirical cartoons of dancers by Jules Feiffer in the late lamented Village Voice. The duet is about beauty of nature and flowers so why the harsh angular movements and pained facial expression? Why the hideous costume in two shades of maroon with bra straps showing? It was so appalling that we did not photograph it. Just in case you don't remember Jules Feiffer you can see these cartoons by googling "Jules Feiffer dancers'.
As per our custom, photographs of the other artists can be seen on our Facebook page Voce di Meche.
If you are a fan of large voices you will want to attend a subsequent performance on Friday August 9th at 7:00 PM at the National Opera Center. Even when your picky reviewer was disappointed, the rest of the audience seemed to be having a wonderful time.
(c) meche kroop