Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Off-Broadway Opera

Opera lovers wanting an alternative experience to the Metropolitan Opera will be pleased to hear about some exciting options. Chamber opera is alive and well here in Manhattan. Just as one doesn’t need to compare apples to oranges, one doesn’t need to measure the works of these small companies to that of the Met. In place of famous singers, lavish sets, huge orchestras and ground-breaking (but not always cherished) productions one is offered an intimate experience with talented young singers, conductors and musicians without the distraction of binoculars and dubious cinematic production values.

Literally one block from Broadway the Calhoun School offered an 1812 Rossini opera never produced commercially in New York, a delightful farce entitled “L’Occasione Fa Il Ladro” that would make a perfect companion piece for “Gianni Schicchi”. The Calhoun School supports this company calling themselves Gotham Bel Canto and one certainly heard some uniformly excellent bel canto singing from the cast of 6. No programs were provided but the FB page identified the tenor lead as Nicholas Simpson, the baritone as Diego Matamoros, and the very funny bass as Pablo Provencio. The soprano roles were beautifully sung by Stacey Stofferahn and Sharee Seal. Brian Joyce also did justice to his tenor role. The director was Giovanni Pucci who missed no opportunity for “funny business”.

What pulled this entire collaborative enterprise together was the astute conducting of Ms. Ü Lee who accompanied the recitativi from the keyboard and drew a fine reading from her 18 musicians. Attacks were precise where they should be and equally gentle in appropriate places. The balance among the sections was perfect. One could detect a great deal of effort that went into making the music sound so effortless and effervescent. Some of the musicians came from the Calhoun School, as did the director and Mr. Provencio. Others knew each other from Manhattan School of Music.

There was also some magic present. The audience was more than half children, many of whom could not read the titles, but the wriggle quotient was nearly zero and the young faces were rapt. The story of the opera is one of misplaced suitcases and mistaken identity. If anyone asks how to deal with the aging of the audience for opera, we now have the answer. We must introduce our children at an early age to tuneful music and a story with lots of physical humor. They will “get” it even if they don’t speak the language which is sung.

© meche kroop for The Opera Insider

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