April 30, 2012
Review from L’elisir d’amore opening at Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia
By David Patrick Stearns
When The Elixir of Love raised its frivolous head on the Post a comment Academy of Vocal Arts season, one had to remember that this organization functions to train singers for the real world, which can mean making something out of very little. Comedian Artie Lange writes about In the up-and-down opera world, singers never know when they’ll end up in a revival of, say, The Pajama Game to make ends meet.
But such a low opinion of The Elixir of Love was defied, possibly smashed, from the first moments of AVA’s Saturday opening. In the tiny Warden Theater, where productions are best regarded as sketches of the real thing, here was a handsome set that appeared to have suffered no compromise. Costumes were stylish. Wigs fit! An updated concept placed the opera in Mussolini’s Italy in World War II, giving it new life.
The director was Nic Muni, a seasoned innovator who ran the Cincinnati Opera for years and often works with the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto. His contention is that Elixir was intended to have serious underpinnings — composer Gaetano Donizetti called the 1832 opera buffa a melodramma giocoso — and, in any case, gave deeper motivation to the simple plot about a boy seeking a girl with a fake love potion. In this production, when the stereotypical minx Adina appears to be spurning the bumpkin who loves her, she’s actually saving him from execution by a jealous, well-armed Blackshirt. Such touches counted for a lot. The opera went from being casually formulaic to purposely lightweight.
The oddest part: AVA’s latest star in the making, mezzo-soprano Margaret Mezzacappa, was very much seen but very seldom heard. The setting was a library, and in a role seemingly created for this production, Mezzacappa was the stern librarian who not only dominated the room but, amid the happy ending, seemed to end up with a guy of her own. This created an implied secondary romantic plot that was obligatory in 1950s Broadway musicals, and for a reason: It takes a bit of weight off leading characters who may be too stereotypical to really carry an entire opera. And what a fascinating opportunity for her to create a character using everything but her primary strength.
Of course, this opera wouldn’t be done at all were it not a good vocal showcase. And the big discovery, for me, was soprano Sydney Mancasola in the leading role of Adina. She’s a classic soubrette with a voice that’s bright, focused, accurate, and projects an air of effortlessness, partly thanks to the solidity of her vocal technique, partly due to her comfort level onstage. She sashayed around as if she owned the place. And she did.
The other principal singers were promising but not at home in this genre. Though Luigi Boccia delivered the goods in Nemorino’s famous Act II aria, “Una Furtiva Lagrima,” his promising lyric tenor perhaps has a bit too much meat for
this type of bel canto opera. Much the same could be said for Wes Mason as his rival Belcore and Musa Ngqungwana as Dr. Dulcamara, the elixir salesman, though it’s hard to imagine anybody minding amid such a satisfying overall package. One would be lucky if any future Elixir encounters are this good. A small but chronic problem: The AVA chorus is made up of divas and divos in training, and they don’t exactly stay in the background. Given a chance, they steal focus.
CCM’s Spring Opera Studio Production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare opens this weekend. To learn more about the creative team click here.
Giulio Cesare in Egitto
by George Frideric Handel
Friday, May 27th – 8:00pm
Saturday, May 28th – 8:00pm
Sunday, May 29th – 2:30pm
The Cohen Family Studio Theater
For ticket information contact the CCM Box office at 513-556-4183 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
April 28, 2011
Two Jilted Lovers Sharing a Stage, but Not Their Men
By STEVE SMITH
At the heart of both “El Amor Brujo” and “La Vida Breve,” striking works by the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla, is a woman of low social standing, jilted in love. Each incorporates the
influence of flamenco music and Gypsy culture. Where they part ways drastically is in how each central character deals with betrayal: one bedevils, the other expires.
Stylistically, though, the pieces have little in common. “La Vida Breve,” composed for a 1905 contest and first staged in France in 1913, is potent verismo, with Italianate lyricism and French
iridescence. “El Amor Brujo,” in its original 1915 version, is effectively a monodrama created for a singing flamenco dancer, with secondary roles mostly spoken. French Impressionism wafts
through its orchestrations, as well.
In staging these works for a Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater production — part of “Visiones,” the school’s season-long focus on Spanish and Latin American music — the director Nic
Muni conjoined them through shared stage resources and duplicate casting. Presented at the John C. Borden Auditorium on Wednesday evening, the double bill represented one of the more
audacious, intriguing operatic undertakings to hit a New York stage this season.
“El Amor Brujo” — usually translated as “Love, the Magician,” but rendered here as “Love, Bewitched” — posed the greater challenge: few opera singers, students or otherwise, are also
accomplished dancers. Mr. Muni addressed this by casting a dancer to shadow each singer and actor.
As Candelas, a prostitute who sells her soul to ensnare her lover, the striking mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis sang and spoke potently and moved vivaciously. Kaitlyn Costello, her
counterpart, writhed alluringly in seductive dances choreographed by La Meira.
Secondary players from “El Amor Brujo” took on primary roles in “La Vida Breve” (“The Brief Life”), in which Salud, a poor Gypsy girl, is abandoned by her wealthy lover, Paco, then turns up at
his wedding to die of heartbreak. Rebecca Krynski, a vibrant soprano who played an unwitting rival to Candelas, sang Salud with a secure, appealing sound and eye-opening volume. The tenor
David Sauer, previously Candelas’s ensorcelled lover, sang handsomely as Paco.
Nicole Weigelt and Robert Mellon were admirable as Salud’s grandmother and uncle. Ms. Bryce-Davis returned as Carmela, Paco’s bride. Brian Wahlstrom, charismatic as a silent Devil in “El
Amor Brujo,” sang strongly as Carmela’s brother. Brett Sprague’s honeyed tenor floated sweetly in selections sung offstage; as a wedding singer, Jhosoa Agosto showed an impressive grasp of
flamenco’s throaty, melismatic “cante jondo” (“deep song”).
Abetting the cast’s impressive achievements was solid work from choristers and dancers. The conductor José De Eusebio conjured fire and refinement from the orchestra. And in minimal sets by
Andrew Jackness and moody lighting by Japhy Weideman, you were reminded that ingenuity doesn’t always require an extravagant budget.
Next month CCM Opera faculty member Nic Muni will travel to Boston to direct Paul Hindemith’s enigmatic opera Cardillac.
Click here to read more about this rarely peformed opera from Wikipedia.
Click here to visit Opera Boston’s website and read about the production.
The CCM Opera department is proud to announce that 4 opera productions from last season have been recognized by the National Opera Association.
Each year the NOA accepts submissions from institutions from around the country and awards accolades based on the quality of the production.
Division V (the top resource category):
Nic Muni’s Of Mice and Men – 1st place
Robin Guarino’s The Rape of Lucretia – 2nd place
Robin Guarino’s Les Mamelles de Tiresias 1st place
Kelvin Chan’s Il combattimeno di Tancredi e Clorinda production – 2nd place.
This was a strong showing for the CCM Opera department and a testament to the efforts of the students and teachers who make these excellent productions possible.
Congratulations to professors Muni & Guarino and to DMA student Kelvin Chan!