MISSION

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, August 29, 2014

RICHARD TUCKER DAY, HOORAY!

Bryan Wagorn, Erin Morley, Nicholas Pallesen, Ailyn Perez, Andrew Stenson, Stephen Costello, Anthony Ross Costanzo and Isabel Leonard

Thursday was Richard Tucker Day and New York opera lovers lined up to attend the recital at the Ethical Culture Society; they thronged to the stage afterward to congratulate the group of singers, none of whom were a hair shy of stellar.  All were accompanied by the versatile piano partner Bryan Wagorn.

There are advantages and disadvantages to a program of arias without orchestra.  One might miss the orchestral colors but one has an opportunity to focus on the voice.  The voice, so exposed, had better shine-- and these voices surely did.  The other problem is that the artists must jump into the material without the buildup; they have no sets, no costumes, no stage business to help things along.

Last night's singers succeeded on all accounts.  Tenor Andrew Stenson opened the program with a big bang in Tonio's  famous aria from Donizetti's Fille du Regiment.  He sang it with a clear ringing tenor and an abundance of enthusiasm. The high C's were knocked off with ease and the "money note" at the end was sustained so long and so beautifully that we wondered at what underwater sport Mr. Stenson gained his breath control.

Soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer gave a most moving account of "L'altra notte" from Boito's Mefistofele and an equally impassioned "Tu che di gel sei cinta" from Puccini's Turandot.  Her impressively large voice is never harsh or forced and her characterizations were completely convincing.

Nicholas Pallesen employed his fine baritone as Enrico, showing many sides of his character's mood in "Cruda, funesta smania" from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor.  We heard his anger, his fear and his despair.

Ailyn Perez and Stephen Costello have become the #1 opera couple and we love to see them perform together as they did last night in two duets from Bernstein's West Side Story.  They also performed alone with Mr. Costello's fine tenor enjoying a Broadway/Hollywood break in "Without a Song" and "Be My Love".  Ms. Perez was touching in  "Je dis que rien ne m'epouvante".  She absolutely nailed the faith that keeps Micaela's terror at bay.

Soprano Erin Morley, fresh from her brilliant success in Santa Fe as the titular character in Stravinsky's Le Rossignol, switched from Russian to German and was a complete knockout in selections from Mozart's Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail--the aria "Marten alle Arten"--and in the duet with Mr. Stenson "Welch ein Geschick!"

Mezzo Isabel Leonard took the deceptively simple lullaby "Cancion de cuna para dormer a un negrito" by Montsalvatge and made such art of it that we were close to tears.  We love her singing whatever but in Spanish she is sensational.  We never knew that gal could tap dance but tap dance she did in an hilarious duet with Anthony Ross Costanzo--"I Got Rhythm" by the Gershwins.  Such fun!

Counter-tenor Mr. Costanzo was also heard in "Venga pur, minacci e frema" from Mozart's Mitridate.  We are extremely fond of Mr. Costanzo's unusual voice.  There aren't many around like him!

All of these sensational artists have been recipients of awards and grants from The Richard Tucker Foundation.  They are all having brilliant careers.  Foundation support is instrumental in getting a career off the ground.  Let's have a big round of applause for the RTF!

© meche kroop


Sunday, August 24, 2014

FEATHERS, FUR AND FRUIT

Seth Shirley as Lysander getting the love potion from Drew Paramore as Puck
photo by Brian Long


The score of Henry Purcell's 1692 masque opera The Fairy Queen was lost upon his death and rediscovered a bit over a century ago.  This obsolete theatrical medium has been made relevant by Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble; they made good use of the directorial and choreographic artistry of the esteemed Christopher Caines.  One might say that Purcell's work was "more honor'd in the breach than the observance", to quote the Bard himself.  So, five hours was trimmed down to three, some original text restored and some contemporary references added as a framing device.  The melodic Baroque music was preserved and various types of dance included.

It must have been a challenge to find performers who could sing and dance as well. All the voices were fine but we were most impressed with sopranos Noelle McMurtry (whom we reviewed before) and Tamra Paselk (who was new to us).  They captured the Baroque style with pure tones that floated beautifully in the upper register.

We were familiar with baritone John Callison (also reviewed previously) and were impressed by how his voice has grown in depth.  It was always firmly structured and his phrasing was lovely.  Bass Andy Berry impressed with his secure sound.  Tenor Leslie Tay exhibited fine dynamic control.  Countertenor Brennan Hall was hilarious in drag in a duet with Mr. Callison in which he portrayed a maiden unwilling to be kissed.

The marvelous music was provided by The Sebastians, a well-known Baroque ensemble we have often heard at Salon Sanctuary concerts.  Co-director Jeff Grossman conducted his able musicians from the harpsichord and one could not ask for anything more. Notable were lutenist/theorbist Charles Weaver and cellist Ezra Seltzer.

The performer who virtually stole the show was Drew Paramore in the role of Puck, dba Robin Goodfellow.  We cannot sufficiently praise his wonderful dramatic skills and high energy performance.

Another high note of the evening were several pas de deux performed by Aynsley Inglis and Luke Tucker.  Classical ballet would not evolve from Baroque dance for another two centuries after Purcell's time but who cares!  We welcome any opportunity to see a beautiful couple using the vocabulary of classical ballet in such a fine fashion.

The effective framing device established by Mr. Caines is that a nanny named Carmen (Elisa Toro Franky) is walking in Central Park and her charge Ariel (Gabriel Griselj) is kidnapped by the fairies.  Not to worry, he gets returned at the end.  The fairies of Central Park just love to tease and pinch and tickle unsuspecting humans and, in this case, had a fine time with a pot-smoking slacker.

The scenes from Shakespeare were well directed and acted but the spoken dialogue lacked the poetry one would hope for.  Imani Jade Powers portrayed Titania and also Hippolyta.  Jason Duverneau enacted Oberon and also Theseus.  Seth Shirley was Lysander and Zach Libresco was Demetrius.  The scenes of their rivalry were particularly funny. Cassandra Stokes Wylie made a fine Helena but, as Hermia, Amanda Goble spoke without poetry in an unpleasant high-pitched voice.  Nonetheless, her very physical acting served her well.  A scene from Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest revealed just how fine their acting skills were without the challenge of speaking the Bard's poetry.

As Nick Bottom, Andrew Gelles excelled.  The "mechanicals" were transmogrified into an acting troupe and Nick Bottom wanted to assume ALL the parts.  His transformation into a donkey was achieved with a large construction that permitted his words to be heard.  If Titania's affection for the donkey did not make you laugh, then nothing would.

Costuming by Nina Bova was exceptional.  The fanciful fairies bore feathers, fruit and fur.  The two couples with their mating problems were meant to be Dalton graduates on their way to Ivy League universities.  They were identified by Puck by means of the Brooks Brothers labels in their clothing.

The program notes, written by Mr. Caines, contained a fine description of the origins of masque opera and the history of the period from whence it arose. It was clear from the performance that he labored long and hard to apply his artistry and to make the work relevant.  He absolutely succeeded!

(c) meche kroop

Friday, August 22, 2014

OH THOSE MERRY WIVES!

Heather Antonissen, David Morrow and Marie Masters (photo by Brian Long)

The film Amadeus would lead one to believe that Salieri killed Mozart.  This is a lie. But it is the truth that we nearly died laughing over his opera Falstaff as presented by Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble.  The libretto by Carlo Prospero Defranceschi departs from Shakespeare's comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor in many ways but it does preserve the theme of some high-spirited women collaborating to puncture the pride of the womanizing fat guy.  Furthermore, the lively and tuneful music serves to advance the plot.

Readers may have observed how contemptuous we are of "concept" and updating the classics; in this case we applauded it.  First of all, this is not a beloved classic that is rooted in time and place; it comes without baggage.  Secondly, it has no references to period and the only reference to place is Windsor.  Surely there are towns in the USA named Windsor.

Stage director Louisa Proske has chosen to set the opera about a half-century ago, which is nearly as remote as the late 18th c. but a lot funnier--a time when husbands were still possessive and when people could still afford servants.  Stewart Kramer's excellent titles were created by Artistic Director Christopher Fecteau, Karen Rich and J. Spence. The translation from the Italian employed modern American slang without trashing the original language.

Maestro Fecteau had his work cut out for him, lacking a decent manuscript, but the end result was some mighty gorgeous music not very different from Mozart's. With only eleven members of the Festival Orchestra occupying stage left and Maestro Fecteau conducting from the harpsichord, nothing seemed missing.  We particularly enjoyed the frothily charming overture and Samuel Marquez' clarinet solo.

Soprano Marie Masters (a winner of the Osgood/Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble Prize) brought a bright resonant sound to the role of Mrs. Ford.  Her intonation was as secure as her acting.  In this opera, Mrs. Ford is a bit naughty, or rather, mischievous.  She is curvy and dresses provocatively; no wonder Mr. Ford (tenor Erik Bagger) is suspicious.  His friends try to talk him out of his jealousy but he is relentless.

As Mrs. Ford's friend, the excellent Heather Antonissen sang in perfect harmony in her duets with Ms. Masters.  Her voice has the sparkle of a soprano and the weight of a mezzo.  Her character, Mrs. Slender, mostly supports Mrs. Ford's plot to trap Falstaff.  She has a very funny moment with a pair of floral shears in her hand.  Use your imagination!  Her husband was portrayed by baritone Scott Lindroth who was one of the finest male voices onstage; he sang with beautiful tone and phrasing.  His second act aria was superb.

Soprano Joanie Brittingham was a sprightly Betty, servant in the Ford household. Her major moments came in the second act when she imitated Falstaff trying to emerge from the ditch into which he was thrown with the laundry.

Bass-baritone Jonathan Dauermann, sporting a hippie wig, created the character of Bardolfo as an overworked and somnolent fellow.  

As the obnoxious, corpulent and bibulous Falstaff, bass David Morrow created a character that was self-important and self-deluding.  He imagines that he is irresistible to women and means to extract money from them.  In the opening ensemble, he has crashed a party and is making a complete pest of himself.

The ladies spend the entire opera making a fool of him.  But Mr. Ford also suffers the indignity of being proven wrong.  It's a rather feminist opera and way ahead of its time.  

Sets were simple and costumes seemed to be appropriate to the mid 20th c.  Which brings us to the dance moves.  There were entirely too many, not only in the party scene with its line dancing, but all through the production.  There was also an excess of mugging. At times it felt like a sit-com on TV.  But these are tiny flaws in a gem of a production.

We cannot close without mentioning the two female members of the ensemble who portrayed laundry boys.  Sara Ann Duffy and Kristin Gornstein assumed a total deadpan look and were all the funnier for it.  Brave to all the fine women onstage.

There will be one more production on Saturday.  LYAO!

(c) meche kroop



Thursday, August 21, 2014

THAT SCOTTISH OPERA

Mary Ann Stewart as Lady Macbeth (photo by Brian Long)
Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble's "Summer of Shakespeare" is providing an oasis of opera for thirsty opera-lovers in the midst of summer's desert.  We have only good things to say about the production of Verdi's Macbeth which was given some admirable direction by Myra Cordell.  We favor the traditional and Ms. Cordell hewed closely to period, place and dramatic intent.  (The last Macbeth we saw at the Met involved some peculiar artistic choices so we were especially pleased with this production.)  One coup de theatre that we appreciated -- when Banco is murdered, his body is left on the floor, only to rise as his ghost in the banquet scene.

Musical value were excellent all around.  Maestro Christopher Fecteau marshaled the forces of his twenty excellent musicians and from the very first oboe solo we knew that they and we were in good hands.  The strings were situated to our left and the winds and percussion at the rear of the playing area, leading to a most interesting stereophonic effect.  We particularly liked Ellen Hindson's English Horn; Barbara Allen made some interesting sounds for the witches sabbath.

Mary Ann Stewart, a winner of the Osgood/Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble prize. just about stole the show with her riveting performance as Lady Macbeth.  Her sizable soprano was used effectively with notable skill in the coloratura embellishments that lingered from Verdi's bel canto predecessors.  Moreover, her acting was first-rate as she rotated through encouragement, importuning, shaming and manipulation to get Macbeth to do her bidding. Her "Vieni! t'affretta" in Act I was a real show-stopper.

As the eponymous (anti)hero, tenor Jason Plourde was equally convincing as the weak Thane who becomes greedy for power at the behest of his wife.  One could almost feel sorry for him as he was seduced by the predictions of the witches.

The three witches were outstanding. Soprano Monica Niemi's voice rang out in clarion tones with mezzo-sopranos Elizabeth Bouk and Jackie Hayes in fine collaboration.

We are always delighted to hear new voices in small roles that we hope to hear more of in the future.  Tenor Marques Hollie sounded just grand as Malcolm; we noticed his beautiful sound earlier in the evening as part of the ensemble.  Isaac Assor, reviewed twice before at the Manhattan School of Music Summer Voice Festival, also stood out with his fine full sound.

Milica Nikcevic always gets our attention; she won the Osgood/dell'Arte Opera Ensemble prize in 2013.  And bass Hans Tashjian excelled as Banco, sounding better than ever.

With minimal resources, Nina Bova created costumes that were simple but effective.  The three "weird sisters" wore tattered capes over tights and sported wild hair and gruesome makeup.  The men wore sashes of their respective clans and Lady Macbeth a long dun-colored dress with impressive jewelry around her neck.

Karen Tashjian's simple scenic design comprised a low platform upstage, flanked by slender tree trunks.  Lighting designer Scott Schneider cleverly produced a cauldron substitute into which the three witches could throw their nasty bits.


There will be two more performances on 8/22 and 8/24.  We hope there will still be a couple seats available.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

HOJOTOHO! HEIAHA!

Scene from Die Walk├╝re--Santa Fe Opera Apprentices-Photo by Ken Howard
Ensemble from Il Viaggio a Reims--photo by Ken Howard

The second and final recital of opera scenes by the Santa Fe Opera Apprentices left nothing to be desired.  The packed house greeted these promising young artists with an avalanche of appreciative applause.  Everyone benefits since the apprentices thrive on onstage experience and profit by learning new roles.  No expense is spared in terms of production values: direction, costumes, staging and accompaniment are all first rate.  The only thing missing is the orchestra.

That was an advantage, not a deficit, in the strong opening number "Ride of the Valkyries" since the young singers were not obliged to shriek over massive orchestral forces. Clad in fabulous steampunk inspired costumes by Kelsey Vidic, the lovely ladies entered through the aisles and terraces (direction by Shawna Lucey) and joined voices for Wagner's thrilling music.  Alexandra Loutsion, Rebecca Witty, Sarah Larsen, Daryl Freedman, Bridgette Gan, Allegra De Vita, Katherine Carroll and Annie Rosen were the glamorous warrior maidens.  Manuel Jacobo and Amanda Clark were responsible for the stunning wigs and makeup design.  WOO!

That was a tough act to follow but soprano Amanda Opuszynski was a lovely Lucia in Donizetti's masterpiece Lucia di Lammermoor, effectively negotiating the scale passages and acting up a storm in the scene with her brother Enrico, beautifully portrayed by baritone Joseph Lim.  The two succeeded in showing various sides of their characters and eliciting our sympathy-- both for the panicky Lucia who does not want to marry her brother's choice and for Enrico who is desperate for this political marriage to save his own hide.

Hearing baritone Ricardo Rivera and mezzo-soprano Annie Rosen animate the characters of Robert and Kitty Oppenheimer in John Adams' Doctor Atomic was a special treat.  We didn't relate at all to the production at the Met and we were surprised and happy to change our opinion.  Sung English is often difficult to understand but their diction was perfect and we didn't miss a word.  Vocally and dramatically the scene was a hit.  Kathleen Clawson directed.

Alone among the eight scenes, the one from Mozart's La finta giardiniera was updated to the mid 20th c. and made no sense at all. What director Michael Shell seemed to be going for was the awkwardness of waking up in bed with a "one-night-stand".  The audience laughed but the libretto could not be believably bent into that situation and was not what Mozart and his librettist intended.  Nonetheless, the singers sounded lovely and did what was asked of them.  Soprano Jenna Siladie was the disdainful hussy Arminda, smoking under a lamppost.  Mezzo Emma Char portrayed the importuning Ramiro.  As the two "hookups" soprano Abigail Mitchell and tenor Rexford Tester did justice to Mozart and had the audience in stitches.

The opening scene of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, directed by Bruce Donnell, took us back to more traditional territory with Rebecca Witty's lovely soprano convincing us as Amelia who believes she is an orphan.  As her lover Gabriele, tenor Daniel Bates was soulful and ardent.  Erin Levy's costumes were appropriate as to time and place.

In the trio from the final act of Puccini's Madama Butterfly, we were impressed by Joshua Conyers' firm baritone and sympathetic portrayal of Sharpless.  Julia Dawson sang Suzuki and Christopher Trapani portrayed the remorseful B. F. Pinkerton.

William Walton's Troilus and Cressida was a strange choice.  This is not an opera we would care to hear in toto but the scene from Act I was well directed by Shawna Lucey who seems to have a knack for placing singers where they ought to be.  Tenor Jubal Joslyn sang the role of Troilus and mezzo Sarah Larsen brought some beautiful tones and fine diction to her portrayal of Cressida.  Tenor Aaron Short made impressive use of word coloring as Pandarus.

The closing scene was the spirited ensemble from Rossini's Il viaggio a Reims. The spoiled aristocrats were devastated that there were no horses for their carriages to attend the coronation of King Charles X.  As is typical of Rossini, the musical excitement grows and grows. We particularly noticed the gorgeous coloratura work of Amy Owens who handled the embellishments perfectly.  The stunning empire costumes were by Lauren Pivirotto and the direction by Kathleen Clawson was charming with one exception; we did not relate to the ensemble breaking into late 20th c. dance moves.  It was jarring and anachronistic.

We would call the evening a total success and hope to see much more of the rising stars selected by the Santa Fe Opera to participate in this fine program.  Bravissimi e Gloria Tutti!

© meche kroop





Sunday, August 17, 2014

CARMEN



Ana Maria Martinez and Roberto De Blasio (photo by Ken Howard)



The current trend in opera is "concept".  Directors are falling all over themselves trying to make opera relevant, changing locations, changing time periods, doing all kinds of things to attract new audiences.  We are not among those that appreciate this trend.  Occasionally this fiddling works but more often than not the audience is left baffled.  Such was the case last night at the Santa Fe Opera's Carmen; Bizet's masterpiece was updated to mid-20th c. and moved to somewhere on the Mexican-American border, although that was only revealed piecemeal. The time is ripe for an opera about illegal immigration and the plight of Mexicans but grafting that concept onto an opera that we adore in its original time and place seemed ill-advised.

Bizet's music trumps everything else and if you closed your eyes and listened to Rory Macdonald's apt conducting of the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra, you might have had a fine time.  With your eyes open, you might have expected to be in Spain with vintage black and white films of bullfights projected onto the set.  The picture of the dead bull might have made you wonder if this was meant to be symbolic of Don Jose's stabbing of Carmen in the final scene. Interestingly enough, that scene does take place in an arena-like area.  But why was Carmen trying to escape through locked doors when she was resigned to dying?

Many other inconsistencies and questions about Stephen Lawless' direction distracted us from enjoying the music.  Why were the girls of the tobacco factory behind bars?  They were dressed in identical uniforms so one wondered whether they were meant to be in prison and given time in the yard for a smoking break.  Why was Escamillo's entrance so tacky, passed out on a mechanical bull?  Why was Micaela standing on the American side of a chain-link fence?  We could go on and on about the inconsistencies and ill-conceived ideas.

Carmen is not just a factory-worker (if that is even true) but she and Frasquita and Mercedes don wildly colorful costumes (by Jorge Jara) as onstage entertainers in Lilas Pastias' tavern while the customers dance the lindy to Bizet's music!  There is more coke-snorting than we would ever want to see onstage-- to no meaningful effect.  Were the smugglers smuggling drugs or were they smuggling "wetbacks".  Why are the "wetbacks" pushing the truck right up to the Border Patrol?  Did we need to see a trashy hooker distracting the border guard so a few illegal immigrants could climb the chain-link fence?

Well, let us move on to what we did like about the production.  Most of the video projections by Jon Driscoll served to open up the story in a cinematic way.  The scene of Micaela tending to Don Jose's critically ill mother gave us some insight into their relationship.  The scene of Micaela and Don Jose attending his mother's funeral showed us that Micaela still had some affection for him; she made sidelong glances meaningful.

Benoit Dugardyn's set design was simple enough not to interfere and was flexible enough to create the soldier's locker room, a prison, a bullfight arena, ramparts and a background for projections.  Pat Collins' lighting was sometimes effective,  creating shadows that highlighted the action; at other times the light fell in the wrong place and the action was cast into darkness.

As Carmen, soprano Ana Maria Martinez created a character that had very little by way of redeeming qualities.  Perhaps it is only that we prefer the role to be sung by a mezzo-soprano but her voice seemed uneven through the wide range Bizet wrote; her voice improved as the evening wore on.       Her acting was forceful but appeared to be based on something that she or the director considered to be sexy. The sexiness did not seem to come from within but rather was based on gyrations and cliched mannerism. 
Tenor Roberto de Biasio also got off to a weak start but improved vocally in the second act. He produced a fine messa di voce.  However, his acting was stiff until he reached places where he was given over to violence.  Baritone Kostas Smoriginas struggled to achieve some dignity and the arrogance the role requires; the direction was not kind to him, what with that mechanical bull and having to hold a microphone onstage and gyrate like Elvis Presley.

We liked Joyce El-Khoury's performance as Micaela; she has an expressive soprano and managed to evoke sympathy which the other principals did not.  Her duet with Don Jose was tender and their hands reaching out toward one another was perhaps the most moving moment of the evening.

The smaller roles were more effective.  Bass-baritone Evan Hughes was outstanding as Zuniga, using his booming voice, imposing height and dramatic skills to create a more interesting character than we are accustomed to.  He too has his eye on Carmen and, by the time his pants are around his ankles in her prison cell,  she has escaped.

Baritone Ricardo Rivera was a strong Morales, also making much of a role that usually makes no impression.

We liked baritone Dan Kempson as Le Dancaire and tenor Noah Baetge as Le Remendado, the two smugglers.  It was amusing to watch their interaction with Carmen's two friends Frasquita (soprano Amanda Opuszynski) and Mercedes (mezzo-soprano Sarah Larsen).  Grant Neale made a slimy Lillas Pastia.

Before ending. we would like to contribute this factoid.  In Mexican bullfights, they do not kill the bull.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, August 16, 2014

DOUBLE FEATURE

Brenda Rae, Anthony Michaels-Moore and Erin Morley (photo by Ken Howard)











Erin Morley (photo by Ken Howard)











How could one make a marriage out of a 1786 Mozart singspiel and a 1914 Stravinsky fairy tale?  With great imagination!  Did the pairing work?  It depends upon who you ask.  Director Michael Gieleta has presented Le Rossignol as a production of the eponymous impresario of The Impresario and his company of performers.  The two wildly divergent works are bound together by the same cast and by the same scenic elements transformed in shape and purpose.

We have previously seen Mozart's Der Schauspieldirektor but never like this.  The hijinks occurring between the frustrated impresario and his three sopranos are here performed with much additional dialogue and interpolations of additional music by Mozart.  For some reason it is given in English.  Some of the dialogue is clever and some isn't.  It comes across as a backstage farce.

Before the opera even begins, we are treated to images of Salome with Jochanaan's head and a Tosca stabbing a Scarpia.  The stage is filled with performers of various disciplines, notably a troupe of very good dancers and three sopranos vying for parts in the new production of Le Rossignol.  The time is 1914 and the place is probably Paris; the impresario himself speaks with a Russian accent and is likely a fugitive from the Revolution.  The Countess who has supported his company is assassinated in front of our very eyes and Mr. Yussupovich fears he will have to close up shop.  Baritone Anthony Michaels-Moore handled the role well both dramatically and vocally.

His business manager Otto van der Puff (bass Kevin Burdette) proposes that Mr. Y produce operas that the public enjoys instead of radical experimental works.  Ahem!  They compromise.  There will be a Don Giovanni but there will also be this new work by Stravinsky.  And that's what we get in the second half of the program.  But not before we hear the three divas perform audition arias.  Soprano Erin Morley is filled with self-confidence as Adellina Vocedoro-Gambalunghi.  Soprano Brenda Rae has an enormous amount of fun as the over-the-top Transylvanian Vlada Vladimirescu who has brought along her husband, sung by the fine tenor Bruce Sledge.

Stepping in to replace the deceased Countess is financier Heinrich Eiler (bass-baritone David Govertsen) who wants his mistress Chlotchilda Krone (contralto Meredith Arwady) to be cast.  If the names of these three divas don't make you laugh then their shenanigans will.  Ms. Arwady is particularly funny as she sings Mozart's male roles in several registers.  We were reminded of Ira Siff's La Gran Scena Opera Company, gone but not forgotten.

After the intermission, we see the same singers onstage in the same roles but a transformation takes place as the clever set design (James Macnamara) is converted into the setting for Le Rossignol.  The piano becomes a boat and Mr. Sledge becomes a fisherman.  The outrageous Poiret-influenced costumes are stripped away and Ms. Morley becomes the eponymous nightingale.  The impresario is dressed as a Chinese emperor and Ms. Rae becomes a cook.  The costumes by Fabio Toblini are as sumptuous in the Stravinsky as they were in the Mozart.

The myth taken on by Stravinsky is that of a nightingale who sings so sweetly that she brings tears of joy to the eyes of the listener.  And that is EXACTLY what Ms. Morley achieved.  Most of her part is without words, a divine vocalise.  The cook will get an important position in the Emperor's court if she brings this splendid creature.  The nightingale does enchant the Emperor and the entire court until some Japanese envoys bring a mechanical bird (the lovely dancer Xiaoxiao Wang) that astonishes everyone.

The real live nightingale flies off; the Emperor is enraged and banishes her.  But when he is on his deathbed she returns and promises to sing 'til dawn if Death will return to the Emperor his symbols of power.  She succeeds and is offered a grand reward but the only reward she wants are the tears in the Emperor's eyes.  The opera is beautifully sung in Russian.

We loved the story.  Our thoughts ran along the lines of how in today's world we have been seduced by the faux, the virtual, the mechanical/electronic.  We need the real and the natural to heal.

Not everything worked.  We found the projections of modernist art to be ugly; they distracted from the gentle beauty of the myth and the music.  The dancers, wearing fake moustaches and glasses and rolling around on the floor dressed in knee breeches didn't make any sense whatsoever.  Sean Curran was the choreographer.

Conductor Kenneth Montgomery went all the way in limning the shimmering textures and dramatic orchestration of Stravinsky's score.  If we have nothing to say about the Mozart it is because the action onstage was so distracting that the music got very little notice.

As the myth concludes, the dancers are stripped of their lavish Oriental costumes and returned to their 1914 clothes, bringing the entire affair to a mostly satisfying conclusion.

(c) meche kroop