Monday, August 30, 2010

Opera Manhattan's Eugene Onegin

Opera Manhattan Repertory Theatre has always been a scrappy, ambitious troupe of players. From its beginnings with a single pick-up concert, the group has grown to heights that include acclaimed performances of Schönberg's Erwartung and Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle (you look up the Hungarian--I'm tired!) and a planned production of Susannah in June, 2011, in celebration of Carlisle Floyd's 85th birthday. The upcoming season also includes an anniversary gala, a fully staged La Boheme, a revival of its very popular Hansel and Gretel, and separate festivals of one-act operas and newly-composed operas. Merely typing that list leaves your intrepid reporter breathless!

OMRT's Summer Concert Series began with an Anna Bolena about which I raved two weeks ago, and ended its run this week with an even more stunning Eugene Onegin. I've never made a secret about my extreme fondness--some might call it idolatry, to which I say po-tay-to, po-tah-to--for Mozart and the bel canto boys Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini. I have been known to enjoy later composers, but it always comes as a surprise to me that beautiful music happened after 1850. I had seen Eugene Onegin once before, but to tell the truth, all I remembered was a stunning visual for the opening scene and the very bad wig and iffy singing of Lensky. Imagine my delight when I learned how beautiful and compelling this opera can be.

First and foremost I must once again rave about the leading soprano in Sunday's cast. Anna Noggle sang beautifully and inhabited her role completely, gracefully overcoming the limits of a concert format to show Tatyana's many conflicting emotions. Onegin was mad to turn down her impetuous overtures of love. This beautiful young lady has already accomplished a lot, and one sees a bright future for her.

Lensky was sung quite well by Eric Sampson. An even, stentorian sound, a bigger voice than is usually cast as Lensky, but that is certainly not a criticism in this case. Anna Yelizarova sang the role of Olga quite beautifully, and because of a late cancellation, also sang the nurse Filippyevna's role. (It was a bit confusing, and no announcement was made about this.) A rich, creamy contralto and clear understanding of her roles were her considerable offerings to the party. Special mention goes to John Wasiniak for his charming portrayal the neighbor Triquet. His too-brief song in the party scene delighted the audience.

It's clear that a tremendous amount of preparation went into this concert and into the Anna Bolena of two weeks ago. From all appearances, the concert Die Zauberflöte of last week suffered middle child syndrome. It seemed under-rehearsed, and in context of these other two concerts, such an effect was felt quite distinctly. James Siranovich, who did a fine job as music director of Onegin, seemed in a hurry to get home when he served as pianist for Zauberflöte. Jenny Greene is a good young soprano and will blossom into a very good Pamina indeed. Duncan Hartman was the biggest standout as Sarastro, largely because of his assurance and the very real sense that he knew what he was singing. This reporter had to stifle a murmured "Oh, Daddy!" as Mr. Hartman finished "In diesen heilgen Hallen". Which is a constrast to much of the rest of the cast, which inspired murmurs of "Oh, brother!"

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Beverly Sills on TV

Gentle readers--and the rest of you lot--today I bring to you dear Beverly Sills, specifically some of her television appearances. Bubbles was a frequent guest of The Tonight Show (back when it was watchable), and all of these clips are from appearances there. Wikipedia (see link) states:
Sills popularized opera through her talk show appearances, including Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett, David Frost, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, and Dinah Shore. Sills hosted her own talk show, Lifestyles with Beverly Sills, which ran on Sunday mornings on NBC for two years in the late 1970s; it won an Emmy Award. In 1979 she even appeared on The Muppet Show. Down-to-earth and approachable, Sills helped dispel the traditional image of the temperamental opera diva.

"Italian Street Song", 1975

"Son vergin vezzosa" from I Puritani, 1973

"Vilja", 1974

Polish folk song "Mother Dear", 1980, toward the end of her singing career. We know she had a few careers after singing! I believe she liked to end her concerts with this song. I think this arrangement is by her long-time voice teacher and mentor, Estelle Liebling. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

ZOMG! I'm getting noticed!

OK, I'm no Joe.My.God, but then, who is?

Keri Alkema's web site quotes my review of Norma at Caramoor.

Chelsea Opera links to my review of their Amahl and the Night Visitors--the only review linked to that production.

Who knew Henry VIII had his own Facebook page? He very much liked my review of Anna Bolena.

The blog Se Voui Pace seems quite fond of all the clips I like to post. I should do some more of that to keep her happy.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I can't make up a headline more catchy than the opera's title

Today I saw a performance of The Pig, the Farmer, and the Artist, part of the New York Fringe Festival, which I suppose is now called FringeNYC. Music and libretto are by David Chesky. I haven't written about opera by living composers before in this space. In fact, it's not that common for me to write about opera performed by living singers. I was intrigued by this opera, however, because of the catchy title, and because it afforded me another opportunity to hear one of the singers, whom I'd heard sing quite beautifully before in an opera that much better suited my late 18th-century ears.

The story of the opera is as old as time itself. Reformed hooker heifer (heart of gold is an interpretive matter) and her transvestite bull husband escape the abattoir and an amorous farmer by running off to the big city--in this case NYC's East Village--with a hapless artist, and in a cynical maneuver become much more successful in the art world than their artist friend. There is also a pig with what can only be described as a flesh-colored garden hose long enough to jump rope with--literally--growing from his codpiece.

I can hear your sighs: "How many times must I hear that same story retold?!" Your intrepid reporter found himself sighing during the course of the opera himself, but this was accompanied by furtive glances at his watch to see how much longer it would last. I don't mean to say I didn't enjoy the show. I actually did very much. I think I'd have enjoyed it more were it a bit shorter. The opera was very clever in ways both new and derivative (*sighing* "Oh yes, they did that in Urinetown, didn't they?"), but I don't think the story or the writing supported the length of the opera.

All of the cast members worked hard and were fully committed to their characters and story. The biggest standout is the has-been heifer ho. (I can't resist little bons mots like that. Sort of like it seemed the composer/librettist, Mr Chesky, threw in a few too many clever bits.) Mezzo Wendy Buzby showed a beautiful voice and fine musicianship, as well as a platinum bee-hive wig. She was an udder delight. (I'm so sorry!) The farmer, bass-baritone Cory Clines, sang and acted very well the part of the perverted farmer. I hesitate to describe just how perverted for fear of action by PETA. The Greek chorus of Ami Vice, Megan Marino, and Steven Uliana certainly were fit! They adapted to their multiple characters (various farm animals and Manhattan archetypes) with ease and alacrity. Mr. Uliana, in particular, impersonates a chicken very well. Soprano Melanie Long also quite successfully sang and acted her multiple characters.

With many of the roles in this opera, one had the feeling the vocal writing wasn't executed in a way that featured the voices at their best. Having heard Mr. Clines before, I must say that this role didn't give him the opportunity to shine as he can, and I know the same must be true for Ms. Buzby and many of the other singers. In fact, I can make the broad generalization that in nearly every case, the writing for men's voices didn't suit the highly capable men who were singing the roles. James Kryshak as the Harvey the bull and Christopher Preston Thompson as the artist were two pretty darn good talents, delights in their roles, not allowed to shine as singers.

Would I recommend this opera? Certainly. Would I sit through it again? Not on your nelly!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Moar penguins plz!

The divine Joyce di Donato blogs about the divine Idomeneo, and yes, there are penguins involved!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I'm Henry the Eighth, I am, I am!

I've certainly been on a bel canto binge lately, and loving it! Your intrepid reporter braved unspeakable humidity and the fear of actually getting wet in the rain* to hear Mr. Donizetti's lovely Anna Bolena on Sunday, August 15. (Having seen and reviewed the Munich production of Roberto Devereux recently, I lack only Maria Stuarda to make it a "Tudor trilogy" summer. I have no plans to see Maria Stuarda soon, largely because I know of no nearby organization presenting it, so I must make do with my DVD of the scandalous Baby Jane-inspired Berlin production of a few years ago. As soon as the scoundrel who borrowed it returns it to me.) Anna Bolena was presented by Opera Manhattan Repertory Theater as part of their summer series of operas in concert. As founder and General Manager V.W. Smith (a.k.a. barihunk Bryce Smith) explained before the concert began, these are mostly young singers at the beginning stages of their careers. In addition to providing beautiful music for an eager public, these concerts also give the singers valuable experience and credits on their resumes.

Anna Bolena is, of course, the story of Anne Boleyn, one of Henry VIII's wives. The opera tells of the plotting to remove Anne from the throne so that Henry could marry Jane Seymour. (He'd already gotten rid of Catharine of Aragon, wife no. 1, by that time. Inexplicably, Mr. Donizetti didn't write an opera about that story.) Infidelity, blood lust, conspiracy--normal opera stuff. Henry himself was sung by bass David Morrow, who was among the better singers. He has an impressive, blustery bass sound, and understood how to act his role.

The true star of the evening, however, was Michelle Trovato. The lovely Miss Trovato sang with passion, intelligence, commitment, and most importantly, a beautiful, rich, even tone. She convincingly portrayed the wronged queen's many emotions, from conflicted fear and joy at seeing her former flame Percy returned to England (it's all part of a plot, of course) to the the obligatory near-mad scene finale. Speaking of that finale, I've never enjoyed not breathing more! From "Piangete voi?" to the final chords of "Coppia iniqua!", Miss Trovato held the entire room in her sway. Rarely does your reporter leap to his feet and shout "Brava!"--who are we kidding? he never leaps to his feet to do anything except get to dinner--but in this case his emotions got the better of him! As we say in journalistic parlance, Woo-hoo!

The music director and accompanist for this extravaganza was the lovely Susan Morton, known around town as a very fine coach and accompanist of singers, as well as an Italian language coach for singers. One could detect her skillful hand in the quality of Italian diction in the singers, and the general level of preparation.

Opera Manhattan has two more of these concert opera productions. They will perform Die Zauberflöte on August 21 and 22, and Eugene Onegin on August 27 and 29. I highly recommend them.

*Actually, having hied me on foot from Grand Central to the performance space on West 54th St., I found myself mysteriously moist anyway. It was like my body was crying! What's that about?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

In a blatant attempt to increase readership

According to, the keywords and phrases that send the most readers to this blog from search engines are as follows:
  • Maria di Rohan(as it should be, since that was my latest review)
  • "Pavol Breslik is gay" (which I never suggested, cute as he is--it can only be explained by the fact that my Don Giovanni review appears on the same page as the review in which I suggested Norma needed a sassy gay friend)
  • Pedro Lavirgen (!) and
  • Emmanuel di Villarosa
Well, then.

In order to quench the thirst of my public, here we have:

The amazing Virginia Zeani, whom I've featured before, singing "Havvi un dio" from Maria di Rohan:

The amazing (and sexay!) Pavol Breslik singing Lucrezia Borgia with Edita Gruberova:

Another Breslik video, because I can. He's singing Idamante in Idomeneo:

A link to my long-ago post about Pedro Lavirgen: Click here

And several videos of Emmanual di Villarosa singing really beautifully (my obligation to share, since I kicked him while he down in the recent Norma review):



Oh, and y'all--would you click my advert links, and rank me at the Blog Catalogue links below? And I moved the link to the bottom because it was just in the way, but i still want you to click that as well! Thanks!