Sunday, July 11, 2010

Wanted: One Sassy Gay Friend

Hubby and I are home from our European vacation, and ventured up to Katonah, NY, last night for yet another opera performance--a semi-staged concert performance of Mr. Bellini's Norma at Caramoor. I've always been crazy about Norma, and now Mikey understands why. Norma is an incredibly demanding role, requiring a very high level of technical and declamatory skill. It's no wonder when we find a successful Norma--Callas, Caballe, Sutherland--she sings it everywhere.

After bearing two children to the chief of the occupying Romans and then losing him to one of her novice priestesses, Druid priestess Norma seriously needs a sassy gay friend. "What are you doing? Look at yourself! Look at your choices! Your boyfriend--who, by the way, is an enemy of your people--leaves you and you're going to kill your children? For a Roman? A Roman?!!!!"

Mikey was excited because Angela Meade, one of the featured singers in the documentary The Audition, was singing the title role, and I was quite looking forward to hearing her myself. We were not disappointed in the lovely Miss Meade. She sang beautifully, with an even tone throughout, clear coloratura, and a beautiful line, and she very clearly conveyed Norma's conflicting emotions. Although she sings big Verdi roles, I'm not convinced her voice is as big as she thinks it is. Overall, however, I have almost no criticisms of her performance. (Her dress, however, is another matter. She needed a sassy gay friend to advise her to use a brooch to keep the accompanying shawl in place. Much more flattering that way.)

Norma's beloved, the Roman proconsul Pollione, was sung by Emmanuel di Villarosa. In researching this review, I found YouTube videos in which Mr. di Villarosa sang much better than I heard him last night. If he was under the weather, no announcement was made. If it was a matter of warming up, it is unfortunate that Pollione's most demanding music is his first scene, with the aria "Meco all'altar di Venere". Having seen the YouTube videos (such as this one), I am convinced the man can sing, but there was something wrong last night. In addition, another sassy gay friend was needed to inform Mr. di Villarosa that his suit did not flatter him, and in fact accentuated his shortish, stoutish stature. (A little advice on his bio-blurb and his web site, where he hasn't quite found the right way to feature his accomplishments without sounding like he's writing fluff, would also be beneficial. He's got the goods and doesn't need to write fluff.)

The other principals were quite fine. Keri Alkema, who sang Adalgisa, is a mezzo who is transitioning to soprano, according to her bio. She has a beautiful mezzo sound, which complemented Miss Meade's soprano quite beautifully in their duets. Based on what I heard last night, I believe she could see a great deal of success as a mezzo. Her duets with Miss Meade require more than one mention, so beautiful were they. The two women faced each other and sang perfectly timed parallel vocal lines with precision and care. A joy to hear.

Bass Daniel Mobbs was a very fine Oroveso. One wanted to hear more of of the exceedingly handsome Mr. Mobbs. One subsequently found YouTube videos and web site and was satisfied.

Sharin Apostolou, whom this reviewer has seen sing quite beautifully before, was very good with the thankless role of Clotilde.

The conductor was Will Crutchfield, and the orchestra was the Orchestra of St. Luke's. With a few exceptions, the orchestra played quite beautifully and details in Bellini's music were brought out clearly. Once or twice there seemed to be differences of opinion where rubato was concerned. Mr. Crutchfield brought some interesting new ornaments into play, which made for a few surprises to those of us who have listened to Sutherland, Callas, and other famous Normas from the mid-20th century repeatedly.

One last thing. Mention must be made of the provincial manners of the northern Westchester County audience. Considering the wealth of the area, one hoped for an audience that knew what to expect and how to behave at a concert. One knows the audience that arrives uniformly on time is not to be found anywhere, but one did hope for an audience that would wait until the last act was over before making a mad dash for the parking lot. One hoped for an audience that recognized the sad irony when Norma asked Adalgisa which one of the temple youths had won her love, rather than laughing. (Mr. di Villarosa played into this unfortunate situation with his "What?" gesture when he entered immediately thereafter, which this reviewer found unprofressional.) One especially resented the gaggle of women of a certain age sitting in front of one, who clucked and laughed at every sign that Pollione was yet another lying, cheating, typical man. Having the performance under a tent does not make this the same as if this were a performance in the park. Perhaps the potential presence of mosquitoes confused them. Although far from ruining a perfectly satisfactory performance, the audience did detract considerably.

Update: The New York Times also loved Misses Meade and Alkema and Mr. Mobbs. For some strange reason they were kinder to Mr. di Villarosa than I was. The New Yorker also praised the performance, but with a few very small reservations. They agreed with my assessment of Mr. di Villarosa. Also Mainichi News (I haven't heard of it either). Most other reviews I've found via Google are retreads of these three.

Further update: Read an interview with Emmanual di Villarosa.


Lucy said...

Always exciting to hear of a good Norma, not to mention introducing more people to the love of it! Also, the idea of a much-needed "sassy gay friend" intervention for Norma made me giggle helplessly and share it with other Norma-lovers. Next stop: a YouTube sensation. :)

Emmanuel di Villarosa said...

Thank you for taking time to research my videos. As a matter of fact I was under the weather. I had been struggling with a sinus infection and was unable to see my doctor due to scheduling conflicts. I sang the final dress well and I thought the worse was behind me, when in fact the worse was far from over. After my performance on Saturday I went back to my hotel and became very ill. I actually lost my voice on Tuesday and with the help of my incredible doctor, I was able to sing the next performance. I was not even at half my ability tonight and not more than 75% on Saturday, July 10th. In retrospect I should have had an announcement made in the first show.

As to my attire, I have gained a few pounds in the last year and I was trying to mask it the best I could.

Thank you for taking the time to look into my career a little further, most people just say the bad and not look at what might be.

All the best,

Emmanuel di Villarosa

Taminophile said...

Oh my goodness! You're the first singer I've written about to actually post a comment. That could be because most are dead--more of my posts are about mid-20th century singers than reviews of current performances.

I hope that you understood that I really think your singing is beautiful, and I quite like the YouTube videos. I was very sorry that being sick interfered with your performance last Saturday, and more sorry to read your mention that you were even more sick last night. I hope I will hear you do another Pollione one day.

My comment about your suit looks mean, and I apologize for that. (And believe me, I know a lot about weight fluctuations!) You're a handsome guy, as the picture I ganked from your web site clearly shows, and I hated to see anything detract from that. I think a classic cut would have been more flattering. The suit you chose would surely read differently in a bigger house, where most of the audience is viewing you from a better angle. (I'm serious when I say a sassy gay friend is an invaluable aid in so many decisions, big and small!)

Erika Beth, the Messy Chef said...

OMG. Cracking up. "Sassy gay friend." I am sad to hear Miss Meade needed help...once again. Last time I saw her in concert her dress was super wrinkled and smushed her breasts so much it hurt to look at. But all was forgiven when she sang. Hmmm...maybe I should concentrate more on my voice and less on my appearance and get rid of a couple of my sassy gay friends...I mean...lend them out.

kitty said...

I was at the Caramoor for the Friday performance on July 16th - when they announced about the tenor's illness. I thought with the exception of a little things in the beginning, Emmanuel de Villarosa sounded beautiful. I loved Angela Meade and yes, the duets with Keri Alkema were someting special.

Even though I am a resident of Northern Westchester, I'd have to agree with the comments about the audience manners. On the bright side - while there were empty seats, the theater was almost full and there were quite a few younger people in the audience not just the usual over-60 crowd. On the other hand, it took forever to get started as so many people came late. Additionally, a lady sitting behind me felt the need to drink and maybe even eat during the performance and when she opened her water (I hope) bottle she managed to get the water spraying all around her. Ditto about other things mentioned above.

In general, I enjoyed this performance a lot better than a couple of years ago at the Met. And since, we have Emmanuel de Villarosa posting here, I'd like to thank him and the rest of the cast for a wonderful evening.

Khatz said...

I agree! I have told Emmanuel countless times that he could well use a sassy gay friend! :D He called me Tuesday morning and sounded like his throat had been ripped apart by rabid dogs (seriously!). Dr. Jahn, fortunately, came to the rescue and after a few intensive treatments, antibiotics, steroids and a lot of prayer, he was able to perform the last show. I know he felt horrible but what could he do? I think he showed immense bravery directly in the face of adversity. He's the quiet, unsung hero of this show.

I've added one of his websites to my handle. Please have a listen! Thank you!