Category Archives: opera and romance

Women make the ‘Marriage’ in Philadelphia

Operatoonity.com review: The Marriage of Figaro presented by Opera Philadelphia, a co-production with Lyric Opera of Kansas City, San Diego Opera, and Palm Beach Opera
Live performance: Sunday, April 20, 2:30 p.m.
The Academy of Music
Music: W.A. Mozart
Libretto: Lorenzo da Ponte
4.5 out of 5.0 stars

4.5strslg

 

 

 Susanna (soprano Ying Fang) and the Countess (soprano Layla Claire)

The stellar performances of Susanna (soprano Ying Fang) and the Countess (soprano Layla Claire) made for a happy ‘Marriage’ at Opera Phila. | All photographs by Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia

Art imitates life, it has been said. If women are the glue that holds many marriages together, surely the women performing in Opera Philadelphia’s spring production made for a happier Marriage of Figaro. Soprano Ying Fang, soprano Layla Claire, and mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall reminded us over and over in their arias (and they have many arias in this l-o-n-g show) why we love Mozart. And how much Mozart must have loved women to give them so many glorious opportunities to be the glittering stars in his operatic firmament.

(mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall)

Mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall was delightful in her trouser role as Cherubino, who is smitten with all women.

Perhaps because the show runs long, conductor Corrado Rovaris chose a presto (molto!) tempo for the most beloved overture in operatic music, a tempo to make Mozart-loving hearts race. The Kentucky Derby should only run as briskly. The music and the performance of it by the orchestra and by the principal singers, eclipsed every other aspect in this production–the silly story, the heavy and cumbersome stage units, the occasional nonsensical set decor (what was living room furniture doing in a garden scene?), the confusing costuming. So allow me to vent some minor annoyances with this production so I can turn my attention what made this show really work.

Lamentation #1: This production premiered on May 1 in 1786. The merry month of May is Mother Nature’s gift to the Western Hemisphere. May is typically a fusillade of pink and white apple and dogwood blossoms, tidy and trim tulips, fragrant lilacs, and lush peonies. It’s when the earth comes alive again and reminds us why life is beautiful. So why the dark, heavy, colorless, lumbering set pieces in this show? Even the garden set looked more like a sepulcher–like the gloomy cemetery scene from Don Giovanni–than a garden full of romance.

Lamentation #2: The costume choices, especially for Figaro, were also an annoyance. In order to get this show past the censor, the creators played up the comedy and played down the political satire. Why confuse the audience any further by dressing Figaro like every other servant or valet? It’s an overly silly story and production companies shouldn’t rely on the arrival of any of the many popular arias in this show to clarify just who is who?

Lamentation #3: Lastly why was this production so dark? I longed for lightness, brightness, and flowers. Finally, the bright green gardener shows up to blow Cherubino’s cover, but it is too little greenery too late.

 Susanna (soprano Ying Fang) pretends to sing her love for the Count, as Figaro listens on.

Susanna (soprano Ying Fang) pretends to sing her love for the Count, as Figaro listens on, a very humorous conceit. But the garden looks more like a mausoleum hit by a tornado than a setting for romantic intrigues.

But, enough about some of this reviewer’s minor disappointments. If the voices are expected to thrill in this production, then thrill they did.

As Susanna, Figaro’s intended, Chinese Soprano Ying Fang was a sheer delight in every scene, in every way. In voice, carriage, appearance, Fang, who New York critics called “a star in the making,” was the ideal soubrette. She has a sweet clear soprano voice like a silver bell, eager to make a favorable impression. The audience hung on every note of the renowned Sull’aria, perfectly sung with Canadian soprano Layla Claire. It was one of those treasured opera moments that would have been perfect to capture and then replay on a gloomy day to make your soul feel light and bright again.

 Susanna (soprano Ying Fang) overhears Marcellina loudly declaring Figaro will only marry her for money

In this scene, Susanna (soprano Ying Fang) overhears Marcellina loudly declaring Figaro will only marry her for money.

American soprano Cecelia Hall deftly delivered another jewel from Mozart’s ‘Marriage’ hit parade in her song of love “Voi che sapete.” Simply splendid in tone, pitch, and voicing! And expectations loomed high for this and all the beloved pieces from this well-known opera. In her trouser role, Hall turned in a charming overall performance and later in the show, she tossed in a few strains of “Finch’han dal vino,”  replete with boyish charm and hubris as a bit of stage business. Your cleverness was not lost on this Don G. fan, Ms. Hall.

 Cherubino (mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall) serenades Countess Almaviva (soprano Layla Claire) with a song.

Cherubino (mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall) serenades Countess Almaviva (soprano Layla Claire) with a song.

Cast as the lovelorn wife whose husband has a roving eye, Layla Claire sang and acted the role with sensitivity and believability–not always easy to do in an opera with an over-the-top storyline. She was brought to Philadelphia for her “virtuosic singing,” and her Broad Street debut didn’t disappoint. While the Countess doesn’t have the pluck Susanna does, she isn’t without contrivances, having agreed to exchange outfits with Susanna for the gloomy garden scene in order to trick her philandering husband. And of course she forgives him (but, without getting too political), isn’t it entertaining when women don’t let their men off the hook for the indiscretions? Politicians’ wives, take a note.

The men’s cavatinas and arias were sturdily sung by Pennsylvania’s own bass-baritone Brandon Cedel as Figaro and German baritone John Chest as Count Almaviva. Cedel’s comic timing was at its best during the scene when he learns that Marcellina is his mother and Bartolo his father.

The propensity for infidelity is hardly the most attractive quality in any man, but truth be told Chest made himself hard to resist in this scene because of his leading man qualities in voice and stature. (But resist she does because she loves Figaro.)

 The Count (baritone John Chest) thinks he has seduced Susanna (soprano Ying Fang); all the while, Susanna plans to reveal his infidelity.

The Count (baritone John Chest) thinks he has seduced Susanna (soprano Ying Fang); all the while, Susanna plans to reveal his infidelity.

All the buffo or stock characters–mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer as Marcellina, bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi as Bartolo, and tenor Jason Ferrante as Don Curzio–delivered scene-stealing comic turns.

Figaro (bass-baritone Brandon Cedel) comes to grips with the news that Marcellina (mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer) is, in fact, his mother and Bartolo is his father.

Figaro (bass-baritone Brandon Cedel) comes to grips with the news that Marcellina (mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer) is, in fact, his mother and Bartolo is his father.

However, all the men were stellar when singing in company with the women in every Mozartian ensemble piece (and there are so many powerful ones in this show): the glorious 20-minute finale of (the traditional) Act II, the sextet in Act III , and the music and singing featured in the opera’s explosive conclusion, perfectly timed for a standing ovation.

Bartolo (bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi), Marcellina (mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer), Figaro (bass-baritone Brandon Cedel) and Susanna (soprano Ying Fang) rejoice over their newfound happiness.

Bartolo (bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi), Marcellina (mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer), Figaro (bass-baritone Brandon Cedel) and Susanna (soprano Ying Fang) rejoice over their newfound happiness.

The applause for the ladies of the ensemble was the most generous at curtain call, and deservedly so. However all the performances were strong in this show, with many virtuosic moments. I just wish that the design elements worked in tandem with the essential springtime spirit of the show to lift the soul as much as Mozart’s well performed music.

***

Opera Philadelphia opens their 2017-18 season with a blockbuster festival, Festival O17. More details available here.

 

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Filed under Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Favorite arias, Mozart, music and humor, North American Opera, Opera and humor, opera and romance, opera overtures, Reviews

fresh and frothy ‘Barber’ kicks off Opera Phila’s 40th season

Operatoonity.com review: The Barber of Seville presented by Opera Philadelphia
Live performance: Sunday, September 28, 2014
The Academy of Music, Philadelphia, PA
Music: Gioachino Rossini
Text: Cesare Sterbini
4.5 stars

4.5strslg

 

 

The principals in Opera Phila's season opener delivered a real crowd-pleaser of a show on September 28

The principals in Opera Phila’s season opener delivered a zany crowd-pleaser of a show at the Academy of Music on September 28, 2014

Bravo! Bravo! Bravissimo! The planets must have been aligned (as were all the creative forces in play) over the Academy of Music on September 28, 2014 for Opera Philadelphia’s 40th season opening production The Barber of Seville.

What a wonderful romp! From the brisk and beautiful opening overture–from conception to execution–this was a frothy, foamy, and wholly hilarious show that made opera buffa as relevant and entertaining today as it was when it was written.

Credit the over-the-top direction by Michael Shell for the show’s overwhelming success. He envisioned a production as eye-opening as the one audiences experienced in Rossini’s day. Hence, we see carnival performers to dancing chickens to the lead tenor masquerading as a hippie-dippy music teacher. His entire creative team, including the whimsical set design by Shoko Kambara, carried out Shell’s vision to a tee.

The flavor of this Barber was rollicking, fresh, and fun. Director Shell credits Pedro Almodóvar for inspiring his treatment for this show. I suppose I am late to the Almodóvar party, but I do know the work of Almodóvar’s muse–Blake Edwards–and I guarantee you will recognize and appreciate the same absurd qualities of this show if you are a fan of the Pink Panther movies. This marked Shell’s directorial debut with Opera Phila, and I certainly hope it won’t be his last effort with Philly’s premier company.

The entire company was emotionally invested in pulling off this wacky ‘Barber’ from the moment that Figaro sung by baritone Jonathan Beyer rolled onto stage in a bright blue frock coat on a bicycle.

Jonathan Beyer cut a dashing figure as Figaro.

Jonathan Beyer cut a dashing figure as Figaro.

Beyer faces some daunting expectations playing one of classic opera’s signature roles and singing one of the most beloved and also challenging arias to kick off the show. He played a sturdy Figaro, but it was not a mind-blowing performance.  Clearly, he is not a Rossini baritone. And while the end result was solid, he seemed to be laboring very hard to achieve his sound. Since Figaro gets the last bow, you want to feel as though you loved that character the best. But in this production, Figaro was simply outsung, outplayed,  outperformed by Dr. Bartolo.

Dr. Bartolo?

Bass Kevin Burdette stole the show as Dr. Bartolo.

Bass Kevin Burdette stole the show as Dr. Bartolo.

There were many fine performances in this version of Barber, but bass Kevin Burdette as the ludicrously evil Dr. Bartolo absolutely stole the show–hands down.  I hardly recognized Burdette from his earlier star turn with Opera Philadelphia singing the loathsome Prophet in their stunning 2012 production of Dark Sisters. What a versatile talent Burdette is–as convincing in great comedic roles as he is in great dramatic ones! He is also obviously a human rubber band with the ability to twist his body into more convolutions than an unbaked pretzel all while seamlessly carrying off his vocals to great effect. He simply put the audience in stitches with each appearance.

Taylor Stanton sang the lovelorn Count Almaviva.

Taylor Stanton sang the lovelorn Count Almaviva.

Tenor Taylor Stayton as Count Almaviva was a great boon to the show’s success. His singing was also strong but not as effortless as Burdette’s.  However, his comic timing was spot on, particularly impersonating the psychedelic substitute music teacher.

Jennifer Holloway sang the role of Rosina.

Jennifer Holloway sang the role of Rosina.

As Rosina, apple of Count Almaviva’s eye, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Holloway was lovely to see and hear. In this zany production, Holloway reminded me of Marilyn in the old TV show The Munsters, in which everyone and everything around her is off-kilter, yet she has the grace and good looks to go with the flow and win everyone’s affection in the end. I would love to hear her in other roles. A very impressive performance!

Wayne Tigges turned in a hilarious Don Basilio.

Wayne Tigges turned in a hilarious Don Basilio.

As Rosina’s music teacher, bass-baritone Wayne Tigges delighted the audience with his rock-star aria delivered with bump, grind, and a fake microphone.  He proved a wonderful foil to soprano Katrina Thurman’s Berta, who took what might be considered a cameo or throwaway role and transformed it into a lustrous showcase of all her assets.

Katrina Thurman turned heads as the dishy Berta.

Katrina Thurman turned heads as the shapely Berta.

It was surprising to see how young many of the performers appeared in the program versus how they carried off older, more mature characters on stage with such aplomb. Credit must go to costume designer Amanda Seymour to wigs and make-up by David Zimmerman for the inspired platform they created for the performers to succeed.

Credit Opera Philadelphia conductor Corrado Rovaris for the glorious and controlled sound of the orchestra. The Barber of Seville is a long opera, and while the tempos were brisk, this is one opera that needs to keep moving.

In actuality, the production flew by. In no time at all, it seemed, everyone was on their feet at curtain call, rewarding the cast and conductor with a standing ovation for their efforts.

I am still hoping to see and hear a Figaro for the ages, which is why I gave this production 4.5 instead of 5 stars. But what a successful start to Opera Phila’s 40th season! I hope this augurs many more wonderful productions in 2014-15, for their 40th anniversary.

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for opera lovers who also enjoy reading …The Fussy Librarian is here!

Fussy Librarian is a new free ebook matching service that comes right to your email inbox.

The Fussy Librarian is a new free ebook matching service that comes right to your email inbox.

If you’re like me, you LOVE when new sites and services emerge that make the most of the technology available to make our lives easier and more pleasurable!

That’s why I like THE FUSSY LIBRARIAN. it’s a new free email subscription service that sends you with ebook recommendations matching your precise (and I do mean precise) interests and content preferences.

This is one smart librarian, cats and kittens.

She remembers not only what genres you prefer but also your preferences about salty language, graphic violence, and explicit sexual content. If you like squeaky clean mysteries, she only sends you an email listing mysteries without sex, violence or profanity.

On the other hand, if you like everything, she sends you lots of suggestions each day.

I am a subscriber, so I’ll tell you how it works.

After entering your email address, you get a series of checkboxes to fill out. I checked All Fiction and All Audiobooks. Under fiction, there are 29 categories to choose from! I mean, you can really drill down on exactly what you like to read with this service.

Of course they offer nonfiction books, too–eleven categories.

Then you can set your preferences for language, sex, and violence. The whole thing takes but a minute or two.

Be as fussy as you like, friends. Believe me, The Fussy Librarian can handle it.

This is the perfect service for our day and age, when people enjoy being catered to and customers like me appreciate feeling valued as individual and (a bit) idiosyncratic readers.

My debut novel DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA loosely inspired by Mozart’s Don Giovanni is being featured today, Sunday, November 17, at The Fussy Librarian. So, why not subscribe to this service today? To arrive in your preferred email inbox would put a huge smile on my Don’s handsome face!

Yours in fussy listening and reading,

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when does the baritone win the girl?

Nathan Gunn in Camelot

Baritone Nathan Gunn gets the girl in Glimmerglass’s ‘Camelot’ | photo by Karli Cadel

When he’s not in an opera–of course!

Take that same operatic baritone and give him a principal role in musical theater? All of sudden the villain, the rake, the tortured king/prince/swami is raking in the babes instead of handing them off to the precious tenore to have and to hold.

“Sure I get the girl. But only fleetingly–for a few seconds. Then she’s off to a monestary,” American baritone Nathan Gunn said, after an artist Q&A presented yesterday at 2013 Glimmerglass Festival, NY, following the matinee of Camelot. Gunn plays Sir Lancelot du Lac, extramarital love interest of Guenevere.

When it comes right down to it, I’m not entirely sure why baritones rarely get the girl in the world of opera. Or who decided baritones constituted the leading man vocal part in musical theater.

It would be awfully nice to show operatic baritones a little more love. What say you, composers? Turn this classic art form on its head. Stop making perfectly good baritones look for love in all the wrong places (like great musical theater roles). Start giving baritones some cred (and a fighting chance to bed).

Change it up a little, for pity’s sake. The tenor doesn’t always deserve the girl anyway, whereas the baritone always knows what to do. He’s got swag and swagger. He’s been looking on at the climactic love scenes unfolding before him while hiding in the wings. He’s been practicing for centuries.

Whaddya say? Put him in, coach. He’s ready to play.

 

 

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Filed under Classic Opera, opera and romance