Rigoletto – Boheme Opera Company – April 22, 2007

May 11, 2007 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fancy Shmancy, Music 

On Sunday, April 22, 2007 Carolyn and I trotted down to the Trenton War Memorial for the Boheme Opera Company’s performance of Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi.

This performance was a bit unusual.  The orchestra director (and co-founder of the company) Joseph Pucciatti also served as Artistic Director (as well as Stage Director and Set Concept).  He decided that rather than setting the opera in the traditional mid-1800’s, that this production would be translated to 1938 Italy under the Fascist Mussolini.  The Duke of Mantua was transformed into a high ranking official in Mussolini’s inner circle.

In my opinion, the transformation didn’t work.  Aside from an additional scene after the overture which included newsreel footage of WWII, Mussolini and Hitler, and some shouted salutes to “Il Duce”, the main transformation was limited to military costumes and more modern scenery.  By the third act, even the costumes and scenery seemed more appropriate to the original time period.  Nice idea, but not worth the effort.

Aside from the strange transformation, the rest of the production was excellent as usual.  The sets, while minimalist, were very good and most of the costumes were excellent.  The orchestra as always was wonderful – these folks are always solid and deserving of their ovation before the 3rd act.

One thing that I like about this company is that they often bring in a director who has the performers act, rather than just “standing and singing”.  Too many operas are produced like showpieces for the singing ability of their performers, with the actors simply standing in place and singing their lines.  This company actually expects the players to move around while singing (and even sing from the prone position when appropriate).  These opera feel less like concerts than they feel like plays with music.  The players actually display emotion while performing.  This production was very much in the “act” mode rather than the “stand and sing” mode.  This is what keeps me coming back every year to their theater.

The title character hunchback was played by Constantinos Yiannoudes.  We’ve seen him before as Figaro in The Barber of Seville and as the title character in Don Giovanni.  He was excellent as usual and continues to prove that opera singers should also be able to act (and he can).
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The Duke of Mantua was played by tenor Mark Schowalter.  Before the opening curtain, it was announced that he was under the weather but wanted to proceed with the performance.  His voice was a bit weak in the first act, but by the end of the performance he was up to nearly full volume.  He was EXCELLENT in the role of a powerful man who cares not for the consequences of his actions or their effects on others.

In my opinion, the overlooked star of the production was Cheryl Evans in the role of Gilda, the love interest of the Duke and daughter of Rigoletto.  As far as I can tell (and I have enough musical training to be able to hear the difference), she sang the whole opera nearly note perfect.  During one aria, she hit several notes without vibrato that were exactly on pitch with the orchestra – to the point where I couldn’t even hear a beat frequency difference.  She threw high C’s like confetti.  She also acted excellently.  I was disappointed to be one of very few who stood during her bow at the end of the opera – I believe that her contribution was overlooked.

One up-and-comer who was also excellent was Khary Laurent in the baritone role of Monterone.  He acted and sang his small part with energy and emotion.  I hope to see more of him with this company in the future.

I only have one complaint about the whole opera-going experience.  The people sitting around us this time were downright rude.  A row of senior citizens (apparently part of a bus trip from Brooklyn) loudly complained about the people sitting in front of them.  One woman said, “Can you see?  I can’t see – the woman’s hair [in front of her] is too big.” loudly enough that three rows of people heard her.  I realize that we aren’t going to get a crowd in Trenton that is similar to the audience at the Met in NYC, but some civility is expected.  Carolyn and I have been whacked with carelessly placed canes, hit by people’s coats, and been the subject of complaining about being too tall like the complaint quoted above.  Neither of us is particular tall (we’re both about 5′ 9″) but apparently that’s a problem for these folks.  And people wonder why the seats are going empty.

Next fall, the Boheme Opera Company is doing Verdi’s La Traviata and then in the spring of 2008 they will be experimenting with Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story.

Turandot, Boheme Opera Company, November 5, 2006

November 6, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fancy Shmancy, Music 

Here are two names to remember – Benjamin Warschawski and Olga Chernisheva.  If you follow opera, you WILL be hearing these names again.  You just might have to pay a lot more to actually see them.

Carolyn and I made our twice a year trek to the Trenton War Memorial to see Giacomo Puccini‘s Turnadot performed by The Boheme Opera Company.  The Franco Alfano ending was used.  This was a Sunday afternoon matinee.

The short version of the story:  It’s a fairy tale of ancient China.  The law states that in order to marry Princess Turandot, a suitor must ring a gong and then answer 3 riddles.  If he fails, he is executed.  If he succeeds, he wins his bride.  Calaf, the exiled Prince of Tartary and his father the exiled King, along with their servant Liu, come to Peking and Calaf is entranced with the Princess.  He rings the gong, and then the real fun ensues.  He successfully answers the riddles, and Turandot is horrified that she’ll have to marry.  She gets the unknown prince to agree that if she can discover his name by dawn, he will die.  Then the whole city spends the night trying to get the name under penalty of death.  He reveals the name to Turandot, and her heart melts and she marries him anyway.

This opera is interesting in part because Puccini died before he completed it.  Just after Liu’s funeral scene, Puccini died of a heart attack while undergoing experimental (in 1924) radiation therapy for throat cancer.  The opera was completed by Franco Alfano – a student of Puccini’s and a fully-qualified composer in his own right – under the direction of Toscanini.  I am not particularly fond of the duet that Alfano wrote, but the ending is every bit as magical as I’m sure Puccini imagined.

(For those who have read my opera tales before – nothing went wrong with the production.  I usually get some disaster, but for this night I only spotted one mistake by a chorus member.)

When sufficient blood is not delivered then the person will have problems achieving erection. viagra 10mg But the researcher observed People who are between 40 to 45 minutes of the intake of it. the original source generic sildenafil from india Mamma Nancy said to me: “I think you have shown your petticoat on this one.” That was her way of saying I had stepped over a social boundary cute-n-tiny.com tadalafil online cheap and revealed some unacceptable part of myself. Taking these two drugs in one time will as a result cause rapid drop in your blood pressure, a sildenafil tablets in india problem that will shake the stability of your body. Olga Chernisheva was fabulous in the soprano role of Liu, the slave girl to the Tartar King Timur.  She sang the entire night beautifully, particularly in her death scene (Tu che di gel sei cinta).  She can also act, and played a very convincing corpse for the following scene.

By far, the oral fireworks of the night came from Benjamin Warschawski in the tenor role of Calaf.  The character gets the most famous aria from this opera – Nessun Dorma – “None shall sleep”.  (HERE by Pavarotti)  Warschawski performed it note-perfect with as much emotion as I’ve ever seen.  It was clear that he both sings well AND understood the emotions behind the words.  In fact, he performed it just as well as Pavarotti in the clip that I linked to.  Unfortunately, Puccini didn’t leave a gap for a standing ovation at that point in the opera – we had to wait until the curtain call.

One thing about regional opera – you almost always get a standing ovation from some of the audience during the curtain call.  I think that people come to the opera in part to be a part of such a celebration.  However, this opera got a richly deserved Standing O from the crowd – about 80% of the crowd were on their feet before the minor characters had taken their bows and 100% were on their feet by the company bow.  As always, the Boheme orchestra was excellent and the sets and props and lighting and such were wonderful.  When Warschawski took his bow, the roar from the crowd was deafening.

The one downside to the production was the performance of Othalie Graham as Turandot.  This is a tough opera part for anyone – Puccini wrote more high C’s into this part than I’ve ever seen in a soprano role.  However, Graham didn’t seem up to the part in this performance.  Her high C’s were loud but she never quite reached the pitch, and her staging was wooden – even at the end when her heart had supposedly melted.  I have to wonder whether or not she had a cold for this performance.  However, she was creditable in this very difficult role.

Next up for the company – Rigoletto April 20th at 8pm and April 22nd at 3pm.  The company gives a pre-curtain talk about the opera 1 hour and 15 minutes before curtain – I strongly recommend arriving in time for it.

The Orange Couch

August 17, 2004 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Can't Make This Up, Fancy Shmancy, Life 

Michele, of A Small Victory, has posted an article on retro fashions coming around again – particularly ponchos. That leads me to believe that it’s time for the story of my Orange Couch.
(It helps that I’m listening to the 80’s channel off the net.)

The Orange Couch

In the very early 90’s, I had just graduated from college where I lived in the dorms. I was living in an apartment that was the converted 2nd floor of a Cape Cod in Fairlawn, NJ. The owners had installed locking doors between the hallway and their two first-floor front rooms, and a locking door at the top of the stairs for the upstairs apartment. There was a full bath upstairs, a little kitchen, and two big rooms with window air conditioners. The old husband downstairs was a nice guy and good landlord – unfortunately he died three weeks after I moved in and his wife was a real pain in the neck.

Since I was just out of school, I had no furniture. My bed was a twin from my parents – the same one I’d had since I was 5 years old (I have it again in my guest room now). My dresser was bought from a neighbor for $10. My desk was also from Dad – the one he had at college.

I needed some living room furniture. Luckily, my boss had a couch and loveseat set that he wanted to get rid of. I said I’d go to his house to look at it and take it if it was acceptable.

So, one Saturday afternoon, my father and I took the 1974 Gran Torino Station Wagon (the wagon version of Starsky & Hutch’s ride – I’ll do a story on that car sometime – the picture is correct except that it’s a 1973 and ours was brown) up to his house in Nanuet, NY.

We entered the room where the couch was kept, and discovered that they were ORANGE. Bright, flaming orange velvet. The upholstery was a little worn, but otherwise they were in great shape. Rather than look a gift horse in the mouth, we took them.

The Gran Torino wagon was a trooper – we fit the couch inside with the back window rolled down, and tied the loveseat on top. We drove it to my apartment.

We got the loveseat up the narrow stairs, around the tight corner into the tiny hallway, and into the living room. Then, we started on the couch. We got to the top of the stairs and found that the couch was long enough that it didn’t fit through the doorway upright. It didn’t even fit on a diagonal – the ceiling was very low. The hall was so tight that we couldn’t even go in horizontally. The couch was a loss.

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It was another week or so before we were ready to do the dis-/re-assembly. We carefully pulled out the upholstery staples and peeled it back from one end of the couch. We found that the end was attached to the frame by three supports – one at the top of the back and two at the front and back of the bottom. If we cut through them, we’d be fine. So, we peeled even more upholstery back from the end to expose the side of those pieces of wood and then we were ready.

I can’t remember now whether we used a power tool or a saw, but we cut through the supports carefully. Once all three were cut, we then reassembled the end and drilled holes. We installed 5-inch lag bolts into the holes and tightened them down. My father did a really good job – he even countersunk the bolt heads so that we didn’t have them sticking out.

Once this was complete, we took it apart again and loaded up the wagon again. Off to the apartment, and up the stairs. In two pieces, the couch made it into the living room. We then re-bolted and stapled the upholstery down again. The couch was once again complete.

At the end of the lease, I’d had enough of my crazy landlady. I moved to a “garden” apartment in a worse neighborhood on the Bergenfield/Teaneck border – near the Teaneck National Guard armory. This was a borderline bad neighborhood – at one point I had to call the police for domestic abuse in the apartment next door. There was no parking, either – to get your reserved parking place you had to be home by 7 or 8pm.

We took the couch apart carefully, moved it to the new apartment, and re-assembled it. That was the last move I ever made with the Gran Torino wagon – it was mercifully donated to the Jewish Heritage Federation for the Blind the next year as a tax writeoff after a total brake failure on Route 17 – at the grand age of 18 and over 130,000 miles. The couch was put back together again for good – the new apartment didn’t require it to be in pieces for moving.

The couch and loveseat stayed with me for a while longer. I moved them to my one-bedroom Hamilton, NJ apartment where it remained for 16 months. Then, it moved to my house (which I’ve now owned for almost 9 years). It stayed in the family room for about 6 months until we got 2 new couches. It was then left out at the curb and the loveseat kept in the living room of our 4 bedroom house until we finally got around to getting better furniture for that room.

The couch wasn’t dead yet. Our house was bought brand-new – and the neighborhood was still being completed. The site manager’s office was the garage of the house across the street and we discovered that the couch hadn’t been picked up by the township – the builders had grabbed it to use in their office.

My boss and I were able to trace the couch’s lineage – I was the 5th known owner. It had been passed around from formerly-single person now-married to a new single person since it’s creation (presumably in the 70’s). It was a really comfortable couch for snoozing! My new couches were chosen to match the shape and feel of this ancient wonder.

I wonder where it is now …..

Il Barbiere di Seviglia

April 25, 2004 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fancy Shmancy, Music 

On Friday night, my wife and I went to see the Barber of Seville presented by the Boheme Opera company at the Trenton War Memorial in Trenton, NJ.

The performance was excellent. Most of the actors (and I call them that intentionally, rather than singers or soloists) were very good. And it was FUNNY!

The opera is a comedy by design. It’s clear to me that Warner Bros. didn’t have to work hard to have the Bugs Bunny version be hilarious. In fact, it was clear to me that some of the gags in this production were stolen from the cartoon (or maybe it’s vice versa).

I won’t go into the story here – this page has a synopsis. You may want to read it before finishing this review.

Constantinos Yiannoudes filled the baritone part of Figaro. He did VERY well in his Boheme Opera mainstage debut. Figaro is a relatively easy part to play comedically in this opera – it’s impossible to be too over the top. The role of the title barber is a tough one to sing – he has to do his most famous and hardest aria (“Largo al Factotum”) as he walks onto stage for the first time in the first act. The audience gave him a well-deserved and long round of applause until he was forced to gesture for a stop. He was also very funny in the little “extra” comedy that this production added to the script. When he encouraged Count Almaviva/Lindoro to sing to his Rosina, he had to find something to sing. He finally walked up to the box centerstage and asks for a piece of music. He sings “Some Enchanted Evening” and then complains rapidly in Italian that he wants a piece “en Italiana”.

Mika Shigematsu sang the soprano part of Rosina. She also did a good job of comedic acting. Unfortunately, her voice was rather weak in the first and second acts. She improved for the third act, and turned in a good performance.

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The show was stolen by John Easterlin singing the tenor part of Count Almaviva pretending to be Lindoro wooing Rosina. His singing was extremely good (possibly the best of the cast), but that was overshadowed by his comedic acting! He could easily get a role as a comedy actor – preferably in a sitcom with lots of slapstick. He received the loudest applause at the end – and it was totally deserved.

The singing was powerful. No amplification was used in a full-sized theatre. I was seated in the 6th row of the right hand side of the house. When the singers faced us directly, I could actually feel the pressure of their voices.

Those who have read my story of a previous trip to the opera (A Night at the Opera) are probably wondering if any unplanned hilarity occured. I have to disappoint you on that score – as far as I can tell the production was staged perfectly. There were only two problems that marred the whole experience. For some reason, the printer failed to deliver enough programs, and only those patrons who arrived for the pre-show lecture were given them. I have had to use an article printed on Friday in the Trenton Times to keep my details correct. The other problem was a begging speech made by a woman from the opera company for 10 minutes before the overture began – begging for money to support the company and make sure that it will be able to continue next year. This was inappropriate at a performance from a company that calls itself “professional” on its website. I did enjoy the opera and would have been willing to make a donation – unfortunately, I was unable to find out HOW to make a donation by reading the program!

I did hear two Bugs Bunny references. My wife and I arrived early enough to have to sit in the lobby before seating began. Two men entered, and I heard one of them clearly saying “welcome to my shop … let me fix your mop.” During the overture, a woman seated in the row ahead of us had trouble not laughing, since the Bugs Bunny Rabbit of Seville cartoon used the overture as the main body of music.

All in all, a god time was had by my wife and me. I will be checking out the Boheme Opera Company’s schedule next year, and might be willing to see TWO operas as a balance to all of the hockey games that I drag her to.

A Night at the Opera

April 20, 2004 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Fancy Shmancy, Music 

As some of you know, I have season tickets to the Trenton Titans minor league hockey team. My wife often accompanies me to the 30+ games per season. As compensation, I am expected to take her to an opera at least once a year.

This Friday, I will be going with her to the Trenton War Memorial to see the Boheme Opera Company‘s production of The Barber of Seville.

Now to be totally honest, this isn’t that much of a burden to me. Back in my youth, I was a somewhat accomplished musician. As a percussionist, I auditioned for and made the New Jersey All-State Band three years and the All-State Orchestra once. I love all sorts of music, including Classical. I also have some experience with the theatre, having been my high school’s Lighting Director for 2 years and therefore doing stage crew work all 4 years.

Besides, opera music is Cartoon music! (see also Rabbit of Seville)

This trip is not my first experience with opera. We went to see a production last year of Tosca at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, NJ on January 23rd, 2003. This was more like a cartoon than opera. Click to continue reading.

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