Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Candidely Charming

To pursue yesterday’s line of thought about the importance of chamber opera companies on the New York opera scene, much credit must be given to Coopera: POM as in “Project Opera of Manhattan” (or, as the case may be, “Pom Wonderful”). Last weekend’s production of the 1973 one-act version of Candide, credited to Harold Prince, was wildly entertaining, cast with uniformly talented young professionals and supported by a fine orchestra conducted with panache by the equally talented Jorge Parodi.

Discussions of whether Candide is an opera or musical theatre are pointless. According to Anthony Tommasini’s criteria, it is both an opera because it is musically-driven and it is musical theatre because it is dialogue driven. One might consider the music to be one of Leonard Bernstein’s finest creations while the lyics by Richard Wilbur are extraordinarily witty and clever. I suspect that much or perhaps most of the wit was provided as “additional lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and John La Touche”. The Sondheim contribution is most evident. The story is loosely based on Voltaire’s “Candide”. The master himself was played by John Martello who stepped easily into the role of Dr. Pangloss.

Evan McCormack has a meltingly beautiful tenor and played the title role to innocent benighted perfection. Soprano Rosa Betancourt certainly has the high notes and portrayed Cunegonde most winningly. Their duet about marriage was charming. Sophia Benedetti was a very frisky Paquette while velvet-voiced Jorell Williams had a great deal of fun portraying the vain self-involved Maximilian. Laura Virella (cofounder and artistic director of the company) used her rich mezzo to great advantage in the hilarious role of “The Old Lady” who gets by with one buttock. The audience went wild for her big aria “I Am Easily Assimilated”.

The final choral number integrated their voices with those of Aaron Mor, Scott Power Elliot, Dorian Balis, Gregory M. Spock, Gerad O’Shea, Tricia Ostermann, Meagan Amelia Brus, Monica Hershenson Thuris and Christine Price who all had assumed various roles in the production. There wasn’t a single disappointing voice in the cast.

Coopera has a mutually beneficial relationship with the Players Club, a lovely venue for chamber opera with a large flexible room that permits a variety of seating and staging options. In this case the stage was a slightly raised platform in front of the 13-member orchestra. There were only minimal costumes and virtually no scenery to compete with the music and acting and one quickly forgot about the lack. The New York City Opera presented the work in 2005 and 2008 and I distinctly recall the cast comprising both Broadway people and opera people. Sadly, it was amplified. Yes, the sets and costumes were lavish but I prefer the intimate production I just saw. Never mind that NYCO called itself “the people’s opera”. I would say that Coopera is REALLY opera for the people!

© meche kroop for The Opera Insider

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