PRINCIPALS ALEXANDRA RAZSKAZOFF, MARCUS DE LOACH, AND JOHN BELLEMER
(PHOTO BY GUSTAVO MIRABILE)
Teatro Grattacielo is known for producing realismo operas that one is unlikely to see elsewhere. We have lost count of the the number of worthy works they have brought to our attention. So many of them have been heavyweight tragedies but yesterday's production of Mascagni's L'Amico Fritz was just what we needed after the prior night's tragic impact. For this we thank General Director and Artistic Director Stefanos Koroneos.
Cavalleria Rusticana is Mascagni's masterwork and we never ever turn down a chance to see it. We recall seeing a rather odd production of his rather odd opera Iris at Bard College's Summer Festival a few years ago. But this may be our first exposure to the simple story of L'Amico Fritz. Of course, any opera lover would have heard the "Cherry Duet" performed as a set piece.
This is a slight work but the simple story is easily relatable. A confirmed bachelor is tricked into marriage by his well meaning friend. In this case, the local rabbi David (baritone Marcus DeLoach) loves to get people married off but Fritz, a local landowner,(John Bellemer) is a confirmed bachelor. The nubile daughter (Alexandra Razskazoff) of one of his tenant farmers seems like a good match and David figures out a way to get them together. Bravi tutti! A happy ending!
The outstanding features of the evening were the voices and the musicianship of the Queens Symphony Orchestra, conducted by James Bagwell. If the other two principal roles had not been so well sung, we would have said that Ms. Razskazoff ran away with the show. What made her performance so outstanding was not just her sweet finely produced soprano voice but her acting. She completely embodied a shy young country girl trying to deal with a crush on a man of high social status.
Due to the lack of a firm directorial hand by Mr. Koroneos and Malena Dayen, the cast pretty much stood around woodenly with nothing to do. Indeed it was billed as "semi-staged" but the fact that the theater has wrap around balconies that were put to use indicates that there was an attempt at story telling. The absence of set was unfortunate; a mere stepladder for Suzel to climb to pick cherries would have been welcome; we supplied one in our mind's eye. There was a huge chandelier that was eye catching but did not contribute anything.
Mr. Bellemer came alive dramatically as the evening progressed and Mr. DeLoach did his best but they seemed to be floundering onstage with nothing to do. We understand a concert performance in which singers use music stands but this was not the case. It would have been simple to have a couple pieces of furniture or props.
An attempt to involve multi-media seemed to us to be a complete failure. We will not mention the names of those involved but the projections were nothing if not distracting. We would not have minded a still shot in the background of a farm or a living room but the kinetic falling ellipses (cherry blossoms maybe) distracted from the singing. Even worse were the closeups of the singers' faces as they sang.
Costuming by Theresa Miles was generic but serviceable. Since the story is not particular to epoch or locale, it was fine. Except for Beppe, a gypsy of indeterminate gender whose costume was just weird. Nonetheless, Mariya Kaganskaya did a lovely job with her aria.
There was a servant (Kiena Williams) and a couple friends (David Santiago and Rick Agster) who mainly just stood around and a chorus who made a nice vocal contribution.
Mr. Bagwell drew a lovely performance from the orchestra and we just loved the melodic arias and the aforementioned duet.
In sum, it was a delightful evening of music that only needed some directorial ideas and a few props to make it work as drama.
© meche kroop