“PopOpera”; a panacea for us aficionados Reply

Review by Danny Gaisin

An evening of operatic aria selections, especially differently chosen from the ‘same old, same old’ fare of the most familiar, is a palliative for those of us unable to zip down to the Glimmerglass festival (this year – Porgy & Bess plus Oklahoma) and that other Cooperstown icon. Boris Brott’s N.A.O. enlisted the talents of ten professional vocalists to interpret sixteen compositions ranging from eighteenth century to 1966. Some choices were well-known and proverbial but most were new to us scribblers … a nice personal anniversary (54th) gift.

All the soloists (& audience) singing “Libiamo”

The (minor) difficulty in accessing the Mohawk College entries was offset by a perfect evening weather-wise; and an almost full moon on departure. The opening Verdi overture to ‘Forza del Destino’ affording the opportunity to recognize the NAO musician’s discipline and technical proficiency. The podium alternated between Brott and apprentice Roï Azoulay with each conductor imbuing his own interpretive approach to backing the soloists.
All the guest singers are on a par of vocal ability, range and talent, so it was the selections that made a difference. Gounod’s ‘Jewel Song’ was offered by Lauren Margison with oodles of emotion. One could imagine her ‘marguerite’ posing &admiring herself in front of a large imaginary mirror. A Mozart aria from ‘Clemenza di Tito’ was sung by Bessie Kalender accompanied on clarinet by Le Lu of the NAO. He & his instrument are so sweet-sounding as to evoke the Benny Goodman of the 50’s and his Ziggy Elman interpretations. The ‘Beautiful daughter of love’ quartet from Rigoletto, closed the first half and it was more than sung – it portrayed the involvements of Rigoletto; Gilda, Mantua and Maddalena and their individual agendas. A highlight moment.
Post interval, after the NAO performing ‘Temporale’ from Barbiere; Chelsea Rus offered from Estacio’s 1966 Filumena; the aria sung in English about an upcoming storm. Fortunately, it wasn’t meteorologically correct! Then the highlight moment – Johnathon Kirby rocked the house with his dramatic & forceful tongue-twisting Largo al Factotum, Figaro’s autobiographical description of the myriad duties & responsibilities of being the local barber/manipulator & servant plus loveable Svengali. The overwhelming reception should have resulted in a reiteration like an Italian audience would have demanded.

Johnathon Kirby emoting Figaro’s LARGO

Mozart’s follow-up to the above – Figaro’s marriage has a hilarious sextet of misunderstandings between Bartolo; Marcellena; Figaro; the count & the Don plus sexy Susanna. All six, ably backed by the musicians, animated their reading with almost hammy drama that was enjoyable for the audience and obviously enjoyable for the performers.
There is an early potent moment in Verdi’s Traviata, where hostess Violetta asks 1st time guest Alfredo to make a toast. She responds with her own philosophy of life. Written as a duet it has become a full-company closer, oftimes with the audience joining in the chorus. Alas, the lyrics are somewhat difficult, so, my muse and I simply repeated ‘L’Chayim’ over and over in tune with the music!

Next week (Thursday), it’s CARMEN; Bizet’s take on the 1954 Preminger movie starring Belafonte & Dandridge. I imagine it’s already a sell-out, but if you’re not booked, call the N.A.O. office!

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