Saturday, March 25, 2017

Forza del Destino at New Amsterdam Opera

I had the pleasure on Friday evening of hearing the New Amsterdam Opera perform Mr. Verdi's La Forza del Destino in concert. Forza isn't performed as often as it should be, partly because it takes over a half hour to explain the story. It sort of makes "Oops! Wrong baby in the fire!" seem like it makes sense.

New Amsterdam Opera and its Founder and Artistic Director, Keith Chambers, have been featured in these pages before. I've often stated I'm a big supporter of organizations that offer opportunities to young professional singers. The cast for Forza had singers still in the formative stages of their careers alongside veterans of the opera stage. The result was an evening with many exciting and electrifying vocal performances.

Stephen Gaertner
Photo: Arielle Doneson Photography
The male principals deserve the lion's share of my attention. The star of the evening was Stephen Gaertner as Don Carlo. His singing was powerful and subtle, with a beauty of tone that never failed and an intensity of character that was very convincing. Mr. Gaertner's program bio lists many impressive credits in Verdi baritone roles, all of which must surely fit him like a glove if his Don Carlo is any indication. Tenor Errin Brooks brought a very large, free sound and a gripping stage presence to the role of Don Alvaro. Mr. Brooks held one's attention and never wavered in his commitment to the dramatic intent of the story, even during the well-deserved lengthy ovation following his Act III aria. Mr. Brooks is capable of a great amount of range, subtlety, and delicate phrasing, and must be commended for that, but one occasionally wished for even more. When Mr. Gaertner and Mr. Brooks were together on stage, the effect was magic. Their shared dramatic intensity, commitment to their roles, and passionate singing nearly had the audience on the edge of their seats.

Kelly Griffin
Kelly Griffin also brought a large, beautiful voice and stage presence to the role of Leonora, but we did detect more scooping than we were comfortable with, and wished her pianissimo high notes were a little more secure. As the gypsy Preziosilla, Janara Kellerman brought a rich and ample voice, but we rather think the role doesn't fit her. We would love to hear her Carmen or Azucena instead.

Fra Melitone lends comic relief to an intense story, and he was well embodied by Daniel Klein. Stefan Szkafarowsky gave Padre Guardiano dignity and wisdom. Metropolitan Opera veteran Robert Brubaker ably sang the peddler Trabuco. Japanese bass Hidenori Inoue gave exciting vocal quality to the old Marquis.

Even in the capable hands of Mr. Chambers, the pick-up orchestra seemed a bit ragged at times. The chorus, too, seemed somewhat ill prepared. Budgets being what they are, these shortcomings are understandable. Neither prevented me from enjoying the performance. It seems a shame there was only one performance, for I would surely recommend attending subsequent performances if there were any.

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