Friday, August 29, 2014
Sunday, August 24, 2014
Friday, August 22, 2014
Thursday, August 21, 2014
|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
|Scene from Die Walküre--Santa Fe Opera Apprentices-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
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
|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