Saturday, March 1, 2014

Rossini Romp in Midtown East

Cabiria Jacobsen
Dear Mr. Rossini had 40 or more operas performed in his lifetime, so it's no suprise to learn of yet another little gem previously unknown to me. Little Opera Theatre of NY is bringing to life an early example, Opportunity Makes the Thief (L'occasione fa il ladro), first produced in 1812, before any of the more famous Rossini operas. (L'italiana in Algieri, the first of Rossini's operas still commonly performed, came a year later, in 1813. Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Mr. Rossini's most famous work, came along in 1816.) Typically for the time and type of opera, the story involves assumed identities, thwarted romance that is put right in the end, and coincidence. You don't really need to know more than that.

Julie-Anne Hamula
As I've stated before, I'm a big supporter of opera at this professional level, using eager young talent and making opera performances available at more reasonable ticket prices than most tickets at the Metropolitan Opera. And talent was in abundance at the performance on Friday, February 28! Some of the singers I'd heard before and written about in glowing terms in these pages, and some were new to me. I expect to hear great things about all of them in the future. As I've also said before, I'd love to hear most of these voices with another year or two of training and experience.

The two young female leads, soprano Julie-Anne Hamula and mezzo Cabiria Jacobsen, were a delight to see and hear. Ms. Hamula is a lovely young soprano who, judging by the wide range of roles in her credits, is still finding the best repertoire for her beautiful voice. While I think she will wind up singing meatier roles than the ingenue Berenice, she sang the role quite capably on Friday night, coping with the vocal challenges in range, tessitura, and fioritura, and throwing herself into the silliness of the storyline and her character. I first saw Ms. Jacobsen in Bronx Opera's The Poisoned Kiss, and I thought she was among the best of a very capable cast. I say the same about her Ernestina Friday night. Seizing many comic opportunities and singing with great ease and comfort, she was a highlight of the evening.

Eric McKeever
Baritone Eric McKeever was the male star of the evening, with a solid tone, ringing high notes, and a magnetic stage personality. As Parmenione, the rakish deceiver, he was charming and likeable. Adelmo Guidarelli was equally charming as Parmenione's Schleporello-like valet, Martino. A veteran comedy performer, with his own operatic cabaret/comedy show due to premiere at Lincoln Center in April, Mr. Guidarelli stole nearly every scene he was in.

I fear tenor Nicholas Simpson was miscast in the role of Alberto, the ardent young lover. His program bio and his web site both list much bigger roles than Alberto, and based on what I heard Friday night, I think those roles suit him better vocally. I also hear a young sound in need of further polish. Not to complain about his performance on Friday night, which in many ways was quite good, but I would quite like to hear him after another year or two of study.

The show sparkled with clever directorial touches. I liked having conductor James Bagwell interact with the audience and the singers, at one point pouring himself a strong drink. One of my favorite parts was Ms. Jacobsen's moment of mock self indulgence, bemoaning the fact her role had no aria, begging Mr. Bagwell to let her insert one from another Rossini opera at that point. [Sorry for that spoiler.] Mr. Bagwell and his very small orchestra played admirably, and it seemed communication between pit and singers was very clear.

Alas, there are only two more performances of this show, and I do believe both are sold out, so my recommendation to see it would be moot. But recommend it I do, for the show is great fun.

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