REVIEWS: Theater For the New City production (piano accompaniment), September 12-28, 2014
HUFFINGTON POST Posted: 09/29/2014 5:22 pm EDT Updated: 09/29/2014 6:59 pm EDT
Rappaccini’s Daughter: Opera Blooms at Theatre for the New City
- By Melody Breyer-Grell (Writer, Vocalist, Lyricist); regular contributor
In the double bill, “The Power of Love,” two new one act operas graced the stage of the TNC, a theatre complex that has been offering up original works in the East Village for many years.
While much entertained by the late Seymour Barab’s sprightly farce, “Out of the Window,” I was utterly enchanted by Michael Cohen’s (music) and Linsey Abrams’ (librettist) new version of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s dark fairy tale, “Rappaccini’s Daughter.”
Happily eschewing the avant-garde movement, composer Michael Cohen chose to honor the rich melodic vocabulary of the masters such as Debussy and Sondheim, while claiming his own place, creating a piece that soars to exotic and sensual heights.
Just as importantly, Abrams’ libretto provided a timely take on the classic tale, both romantic and intellectual in its arguments. The clever rhyming advances the plot — inventively and seamlessly. As the drama progresses in a Shakespearian way, there are also hints of a haunting episode of the “Twilight Zone.”
The plot presents a southern Italian medical student (Giovanni), taking residence in Padua to study at the university. The young man is wheedled by Lizbetta into taking a room overlooking the garden of her employer, Dr. Rappaccini. Although he finds his lodgings unsavory, he is promised that Beatrice, the doctor’s lovely daughter, appears in the garden regularly and is worth taking a look at.
Giovanni, becoming impatient, finally gets a glance when the girl shows herself in the garden. Beatrice is more than beautiful, she is incandescent, lolling around the animate flowers. He is hooked, but she has a profound secret.
The student has a meeting with Dr. Baglioni (an old friend of his father’s), and is warned by the man to leave his residence at once; there is evil afoot.
What is this evil? Some of the matters touched on are ethics in medical research — the greater good versus a doctor’s oath to heal, divining that every single life is sacred. Included in the subtext of the story are women’s rights — rights to their bodies and future. This question is not addressed directly (it is medieval times), but the story allows the audience to consider these issues while being intoxicated by the music and performances.
But what is an opera without adequate singers? Thankfully, the cast was more than adequate –they were superb. William Broderick’s Dr. Rappaccini was as warm sounding as he was cold-hearted. His nemesis (Martin Fisher), Dr. Baglioni displayed a commanding baritone that could make thunderous declamations, but was able to purr gently with his grounded instrument. In the smaller part of Lizbetta, Darcy Dunn was no mere comprimario; she had an evenly produced, saucy mezzo, as comfortable in her top voice as a lyric soprano.
Perhaps the most arduous role in the opera is that of Giovanni as played by Douglas McDonnell. A veteran of the Metropolitan Opera chorus, his tenor had stamina and range, and he projected the romantic hero with his looks and stance.
The real surprise of the night was Samantha Britt’s Beatrice — in the title role. Petite and lovely, she had the goods in all departments. Her acting was compellingly poignant, yet direct, and her voice was simply marvelous. Miss Britt had total control of her flexible, silvery instrument, and hit the mark every time, with lovely floated tones and plangent high notes.
The “curtain-raiser,” Seymour Barab’s “Out the Window,” is a cheery, manic farce, tuneful and wise. This battle of the sexes — portrayed a husband and a wife — although married to others, playing out the parts of the clueless male and the neurotic female and neither one of them are people you would want as friends. But it is always fun to laugh at these ever-enduring stereotypes.
James Parks was perfect as the overconfident yet nerdy husband, possessing a healthy legit voice; I could just envision him portraying the put upon accountant, Leo Bloom, in “The Producers.”
As the wife, Lauren Hoffmeier was lithe and game when it came to demanding physical comedy, but she might want to balance her hefty belt/soprano voice by backing off a bit and managing to focus it more.
Jonathan Fox Powers, pianist and musical director, gave credit to his last name by carrying the show by himself quite ably.
Both works were staged by director Lissa Moira and choreographed by Robert Gonzales Jr. Mr. Gonzales is clearly talented; the dancing flowers were fluid and graceful. The set and costumes, were more than adequate, the garden being as enchanted as it needed to be and the garments indicative of the eras they were representing. Moira’s direction kept everything well-paced
In this time of a disappearing New York City Opera, it is great to see opera produced intimately, on a shoestring budget, making the case that a multimillion dollar production is not what makes the stage come alive, but talent and ingenuity are…
An interview with Linsey and Michael in the September issue of BLEEP Magazine: how they met, how they collaborate, and their thoughts on “Rappaccini’s Daughter.”
RAPPACCINI’S DAUGHTER, a musical tale
MUSIC by Michael Cohen LIBRETTO by Linsey Abrams
Beatrice & Giovanni duet
Thanks go to the New York City Opera, The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, The Lake George Opera, The Minnesota Opera, and the Gamma Fisher Foundation for early support of Linsey’s work in the music theater, with her long-time collaborator, composer Michael Cohen. Arthur Masella, John Flaxman and Paulette Haupt were indispensable partners in earlier stages of this work, and deserve our immense gratitude. Several scenes of the newly minted one-act opera, were presented as part of Essential Voices USA’s “The Composer and Librettist Speak” series, in June, 2013, thanks to Musical Director and Conductor extraordinaire Judith Clurman.
“Just a Little Sky Away, aria and interlude for soprano, harp, piano and flute,” was performed in March, 2013, in a concert, Sounds of the Angels, at Enlow Recital Hall, at Kean University.