Originally published on Voce di Meche by Meche Kroop.
A new chamber opera company on Planet Opera is always a cause for celebration. Bare Opera made a delicious debut last night with two tempting French bonbons. Although the name is Bare, we consider the fledgling company to be very well-furnished with talent and imagination to spare.
They call themselves an "alternative" opera company and have a mission to provide a more modern take on the opera-going experience. They embrace a collaborative spirit with innovative cross-arts productions, creating a casual and intimate experience in unconventional spaces-- in this case the Robert Miller Gallery.
For their debut, they wisely chose two infrequently seen works by French composers, sung in French, with good surtitles that were easily visible. The evening opened with Debussy's cantata L'Enfant Prodigue, a work which won the composer the Grand Prix de Rome in 1884 as he concluded his studies at the Paris Conservatoire. The text by Ernest Guiraud had been assigned, a simple story of a mother Lia who laments the absence of her son Azaël. His return to the family provides for a joyous reconciliation with her and the father Simeon.
Liana Guberman was convincing and ultimately moving as the mother, expressing emotions of grief and joy with wonderful colors in her beautiful soprano. We have heard her sing several times and are impressed with her artistic growth.
Tenor Sungwook Kim and baritone Dongkyu Oh, as son and father respectively, contributed their excellent voices to the creation of this happily restored family.
Conductor Sesto Quatrini accomplished the reduction of the score and guided his chamber orchestra through the beautiful music which presaged the composer's later impressionism. The orchestra comprised a string quartet augmented by bass, percussion, piano and winds--flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and French horn. The textures were lovely and the execution marked by clarity.
As far as the visual elements, there were some really beautiful images swirling on the screen projected above the singers. Fortunately they did not distract; but as to whether they contributed to our appreciation of the emotional landscape of the text and music, we cannot say. The abstract video created by Art Director Alexandra Posen of molten wax reminded us of nothing more than the light shows of the late 1960's. Not a bad thing!
For the second half of the program, Maurice Ravel's L'Enfant et les Sortilèges, Ms. Posen created a trippy landscape looking for all the world like a video game constructed of Lego blocks. For this, Ms. Posen collaborated with Voxelbox and Minecraft artist Kupo. In this case, the projection served to establish the world of the child, a very naughty boy.
We recently enjoyed a performance of this delightful 1925 opera given by Utopia Opera, another chamber opera company. It was amazing to enjoy it from another perspective with different performers and different direction (Anthony Laciura). The work began life as a ballet commissioned by the Paris Opera but became an opera with ballet sequences choreographed by none other than George Balanchine. The novelist Colette wrote the libretto. Ravel's score is eclectic with influences from jazz and popular music of that epoch.
It tells the story of a rebellious schoolboy who destroys his books, abuses the furniture and tortures animals. These objects come alive and teach the boy a lesson--meanness leads to loneliness and abandonment. In the happy ending, the boy bandages an animal's wounds and earns the praise of the other creatures.
Swiss mezzo-soprano Véronique Rapin made a very believable little boy, dressed in a sailor suit, throwing herself into the role with expressive gesture and voice. We were highly impressed by Francisco Corredor's performance as a googly-eyed frog and as the boy's neglected arithmetic lesson. We have enjoyed this character tenor's performance on more than one occasion. There is never a false note, not vocally, not dramatically. He also did the choreography which worked splendidly.
Another singer we enjoyed was Larisa Martínez in her role as Fire that can warm but also destroy. We did not see any credits for costuming in the program but hers was red and floaty and quite special. Similarly her Nightingale was a standout.
Ms. Guberman reappeared as a Shepherdess and a Bat, both excellently portrayed; Mr. Kim lent his tenor to the role of Teapot with Inbar Goldmann as his Teacup. Mr. Oh did a fine stand as the Grandfather Clock and again as a Cat with Briana Hunter as his mate in a fine meowing duet. What fun to see singers stretch themselves and reappear in completely different guise.
Kristina Bachrach portrayed a Princess whose life was left in limbo when the bad boy tore up his picture book. (During this scene we appreciated the projected artwork of a Disney-style castle.) She doubled as an Armchair with the Sofa played by Enrico Lagasca who doubled as the Tree which was bleeding sap from a knife attack by the naughty boy.
As the mother Sarah Miller left us with memories of a mincing walk that went far in defining character. We recalled her fine performance with New York Opera Exchange in Roméo et Juliette.
Not only did all of the above mentioned singers make significant vocal contributions but the chorus did as well. Who coached them? Mr. Corredor of course.
Laetitia Ruccolo, Artistic Director of Bare Opera and pianist, was responsible for the very readable translation with titles done by Elizabete Sirante.
All told, we witnessed a highly talented group of young artists collaborate to put on a production that delighted a very packed house. We foresee a fine future for this group and are eagerly awaiting an announcement of dates for their next production--Goyescas by Enrique Granados.
This is exactly what a boutique opera company should be doing--bringing neglected works to an audience hungry for surprises. There is certainly room in New York for small companies presenting the classics so that young artists can get experience with roles for which they may later be hired. But Bare Opera seems to have found their own niche. We heartily approve!
There will be two more performances. Take heed!
(c) meche kroop