Archive for the ‘press reviews’ Category

the barber of bleecker street
One week after my visit to Amore Opera, it was time to turn my attention to Bleecker Street Opera — another heir presumptive to the throne of the defunct Amato Opera.  Both companies claim that succession explicitly in their press releases. Amore Opera, headed by Nathan Hull, has perhaps the stronger claim, having inherited Mr. Amato’ s sets and costumes, the orchestra, and, perhaps most importantly, his mailing list. They will honor the maestro with a special gala in February.
The main connection between BSO and Amato Opera is the presence of Irene Frydel Kim, a niece of Sally Amato, the founder of Amato Opera together with her husband Anthony. Ms. Frydel Kim, who grew up artistically within Amato Opera’s embrace, has given life to BSO, bringing along a number of former board members of the older company, and serves as its the general manager and artistic director.
These parallel claims notwithstanding, both BSO and Amore Opera categorically deny any notion of conflict between them. No matter how hard I have tried to investigate and elicit any kind of admission of antagonism, both companies offer essentially the same bland reply: the alleged feud is nothing more than gossip, and there is enough space in New York City for both of them, even in this gloomy period of financial difficulties for the arts. (Rumor has it, however, that there is significant friction between Ms. Frydel Kim and her uncle Tony. )
Although Amore Opera announced its formation earlier, BSO was the first to actually stage an opera. To program for their inauguration back in October such a rarity as Montemezzi’sL’amore dei tre re clearly indicated not only a bold ambition but also the desire to follow Amato’s custom of including unfamiliar repertoire among popular chestnuts. Choosing Montemezzi’s work, a demanding opera, once very popular, that still carries a sort of mystique, was a most consummate move to attract attention and manifest artistic curiosity. Amore Opera, in contrast, has opted to present more conventional fare, at least this season.
Interestingly, the two companies share a number of artists. For instance, Sabrina Palladino, who sang Mimì in the Amore Opera’s production of La Bohème I attended last week, was the female lead in the Montemezzi opera. More importantly, Richard Cerullo, Amato’s set designer, collaborates with both troupes.
The second opera in BSO’s season is the immortal Il barbiere di Siviglia. The opera’s premiere was postponed one week, apparently because of casting problems.  BSO operates in one of the two halls of the Bleecker Street Theater. I accidentally entered and took a seat in the wrong hall, where the play Circumcise Mewas about to be performed. Only when the legitimate ticket holders of my seats arrived to claim their places I realized I was sitting in the wrong location and was directed to the other hall.
I regret to say that this is not the most welcoming space. It is basically a boiler room in the basement, with all sorts of pipes and cables exposed, and it hosts 116 seats. There is no stage; the orchestra and the conductor are lined up in the far left part of the room. With nothing dividing them, the distance between cast and audience is too close for comfort. I am a big fan of small and even miniature opera houses, but here you had the constant impression that one of the singers could end in your lap at any moment.
The supertitles were projected in an extremely small screen on the upper left, allowing only part of the audience to be able to read them. And, most importantly, the ceiling is too low, creating excessive reverberation and thus resulting in rather unbalanced acoustics. The orchestra placement obviously doesn’t help. The comparison with Amore Opera’s tiny but traditional and inviting venue is inevitable.
The performance itself had a few rough spots, where singers and orchestra were not exactly aligned, giving the impression of being somewhat under-rehearsed, but for the most part I found conductor David Rosenmayer’s tempos appropriately brisk and coherent. However, I cannot quite comprehend the decision to include two female voices in the small chorus.
The cast featured a soprano Rosina, an oddity these days where the mezzo-soprano reigns, and rightly so, almost uncontested in this role. Jordan Wentworth Farrar performed the role in the original keys, resorting only occasionally to the traditional stratospheric soprano variations. A petite, delightful woman with a winsome personality, Ms. Wentworth Farrar has a light, charming, almost child-like instrument: a pleasant throwback to the perky Rosinas of Mercedes Capsir and Toti Dal Monte.
Anthony Daino has long been a well-known name in the New York opera scene, having appeared with many of the smaller opera companies as well as with OONY. While perhaps it can be argued that he is too much of a veteran for the role of Count Almaviva, his high register still rings secure and sonorous.
Bass-baritone Sam Smith offered a stentorian Don Basilio;Richard Michael Cassell (Don Bartolo), while quite effective and funny on stage, needs considerable improvement in his Italian diction to be a truly successful buffo.
William Browning was the capable, genial, energetic Figaro, with the right physique du role and an attractive lyric baritone. Soprano Nozomi Kawaguchi as Berta and baritone John Petrozino as Fiorello completed the cast.
The production by Teresa K. Pond is extremely traditional. To describe the sets as spartan is a euphemism, but this must not be taken as a slight. It’s just the reality of small opera companies.
If one doesn’t mind the incommodious space, an evening of good old-fashioned fun is what this production will provide.

Ercole Farnese | 9:56 am | 12.22.2009

Barbiere in NY Post

Music lovers were depressed this year when downtown’s mini-Met, the Amato Opera, closed shop. But since you can’t keep a great idea down, it’s been reincarnated: Meet the Bleecker Street Opera (same vibe, same family), whose production of Rossini’s brilliantly funny “The Barber of Seville” opens Sunday at 7 p.m. Not only is it sung (in Italian, natch) in intimate surroundings (the Green Room at 45 Bleecker Street Theater), but it’s got a full-size orchestra, which is more than you can say about Broadway’s new “A Little Night Music.” Tickets, $36.50 and $46.50, at— Barbara Hoffman

Bohème in NY Times

Music in Review
Chorus members in 19th-century Parisian garb greet you on arrival at the Connelly Theater for Puccini’s ”Bohème.” Home-baked snacks are on sale in the lobby. Patrons of the Amato Opera, the scrappy, beloved company that mounted homegrown opera in New York for six decades before closing in June, surely feel right at home at the inaugural presentation by the Amore Opera, a new company established by Amato veterans.
The basics of the production, last seen at the Amato in April, are mostly unchanged, though a slightly larger house prompted adjustments. The Connelly stage is seven feet wider than the Amato’s, a difference most noticeable in the bustling Café Momus scene of Act 2. Throughout, the director, Nathan Hull, maintains the best of Anthony Amato’s original vision, while making savvy use of new resources.
Paige Cutrona and John William Gomez were a passionate, vocally striking and handsomely matched Mimi and Rodolfo on Friday night. Greg Kass brought a solid sound and rubbery comic flair to Marcello; Mia Riker-Norrie played Musetta with sterling control and brassiness worthy of Ethel Merman. Secondary characters were capably managed; choruses of adults and children did solid work.
The orchestra, expanded from the Amato’s handful to a chamber ensemble with six string players and double winds, sounded less than settled in its initial outing. But Richard Owen, the music director, generally kept the performance on track and accompanied the singers with sympathy and insight.

Published: December 15, 2009
PHOTO: A scene from ”La Bohème” with, from left, Alan Gorden Smulen, Jason Thoms, Greg Kass and John William Gomez. (PHOTOGRAPH BY JENNIFER TAYLOR FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES)
Amore Opera

Connelly Theater
220 East Fourth Street,
East Village
(888) 811-4111,
Through Jan. 3 (with different casts)

Bridgewater church hosts a magical opera
The casual concertgoer knows George Frideric Handel‘s “Messiah” and perhaps a few snatches from the rest of his work, but during his time the composer gained some of his greatest renown in the opera house. For over three decades, mostly in London, Handel wrote operas that were all the rage.
They tended to have outlandish plots that would have been hard to keep straight even if the operas had not been sung in Italian; house lights were kept on so English operagoers could follow the translations in their programs. They were filled with heroism, magic and sorcery.

When they went out of fashion in London, Handel turned to the oratorio, and his operas were largely forgotten. In modern times they have seen a revival, though their stylized conventions make it tricky to stage them for today’s audiences. The music endures, however, with its emotional clarity, melodic richness and stylistic variety.

On Saturday the Bridgewater Congregational Church presented Handel’s “Alcina,” in a production that took advantage of the church’s intimate space and fine acoustics. Staging was simple but effective, scenery minimal and accompaniment just a piano. The program book outlined the plot (it took several readings, but one finally got straight all the twists, turns and disguises). The small cast of singers did the rest and the work came across both musically and dramatically.

Handel usually wrote the big, heroic roles (male or female) in his operas for high voices — female singers or castrati (we don’t go there in today’s operatic world). Of the four women in Bridgewater’s cast, two portrayed men; a third took the part of a woman who spends most of the opera disguised as a man (yes, it gets complicated). Alcina, the title role, is an enchantress with a knack for turning people into beasts. Soprano Linda Burton sang the part with a fine feeling for line and a strong dramatic presence. Soft singing was especially effective; when she pushed for more volume the sound suffered, and the voice sounded covered and not free.

Ruggiero, Alcina’s lover who eventually spurns her, is one of those male-sung-by-female characters (known to opera buffs as “pants” roles). The young mezzo-soprano Allegra de Vita was a standout in the part on Saturday. She showed a strong stage presence from the start and a flexible coloratura style that got better as the evening went on. Her top register rings out and the bottom is dramatic and strong. The production had her sing from various spots in the church and she moved with grace and conviction, like the ardent youth she portrayed. Her “Sta nell’ ircana,” a showpiece aria for Ruggiero, capped off a bravura performance, in a breathless tempo (a slightly slower one would have been fine) and high-flying ornamentation that displayed her virtuosity while still respecting the original vocal line.

Valerie Sorel sang Bradamante, Ruggiero’s former lover who wins him back. The program noted that she is a soprano, though the role is meant for a lower voice. She showed her versatility in a rich-toned voice that was smooth throughout its range. Her recitative singing (the sung speech that carries the dialogue along in opera) was especially sensitive and expressive. Faster, more agile passages sometimes sounded rough.

Soprano Rachel Antman, as the boy Oberto, sang with a rich sound and stylish ornamentation. Nimble coloratura passages were clean and bright, perhaps the best of any in the cast, and her top notes rang out freely. As Orante, commander of Alcina’s troops, tenor Caleb Stokes was an ardent figure, convincing in his devotion to Alcina. He is a fine singing actor with a ringing tone that sounded frayed towards the top register and labored in some fast passages. Bass David Mimran was a solid Melisso, guardian to Bradamante and all-purpose schemer.

Eric Trudel directed imaginatively, making the best of the space in a way that helped clarify the story and move it forward. He was also a sensitive accompanist, giving the occasional subtle prompt when needed, and dealing graciously with a temporary glitch caused by a missing page in the score.

There are many three-person recitative scenes in the opera and one was struck by how well the singers played off each other and mastered Handel’s varied and intricate writing. A trio toward the end was wonderfully detailed, with Alcina, Bradamante and Ruggiero each clearly etching their parts and still blending in a brilliant ensemble.
Published: 01:00 a.m., Friday, September 19, 2008

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1Bridgewater church to present ‘Alcina”08.29.2008 01:00 a.m.