|Kofi Hayford, Kevin Johnson, Maestro Keith Chambers, Jonathan Green, Rachelle Pike, Sara Beth Pearson, Raymon Geis, and Eugenia Forteza
What a special Saturday night! We enjoyed a surfeit of aural, culinary, and intellectual nourishment provided by New Amsterdam Opera. The legendary culinary creations of Leslie Ritch were accompanied by appropriate libations; renowned artist manager Ken Benson was on hand to instruct us about Massenet’s rarely heard opera Hérodiade and how it differs from Richard Strauss’ Salome; the cover cast of the upcoming May 10th (SAVE THE DATE) production by New Amsterdam Opera provided the entertainment, teasing us with a selection of arias, duets and an ensemble from the opera.
As much as we enjoyed eating, drinking, and socializing with the luminaries of the opera world who attended (including Eve Queler and Jane Shaulis) let us get right to the music which was outstanding. We were wondering „If the cover cast is this stellar, what must the first cast be like?“ Maestro Keith Chambers was at the piano and the works were performed concert style, mainly „on the book“.
There were only two selections that are well known. „Il est doux, il est bon“, which we just heard at the Manhattan School of Music Ades Competition, is a tender aria upon which Massenet lavished abundant melody. Soprano Sara Beth Pearson as Salomé gave it a beautiful reading with bright tone in the upper register. As Mr. Benson pointed out in the introductory lecture, she is not the lascivious heroine of the Strauss opera, but an innocent young woman in love with the prophet Jean (John the Baptist).
There is an impressive duet between Hérode (sung by the fine baritone Jonathan Green) and his wife Hérodiade (given intense life by the excellent mezzo-soprano Rachelle Pike). Here the music was strange to our ear. „Venge-moi…Ne me refuse pas“ is a wife’s attempt to get her husband to soothe her injured feelings in a kind of „Let’s you and him fight!“. Ms. Pike sang with appealing resonance and fiery drama.
In „Calmez donc vos fureurs“, the lovesick Salomé tries to win over the resistant Jean, sung by the terrific tenor Raymon Geis.
The duet „Que ce philtre…Vision fugitive“ is the other selection from the opera that one gets to hear rather often. Here, Hérode acquires some kind of sleeping potion from a Babylonian woman, portrayed by soprano Eugenia Forteza, whom we are always happy to hear. Here, we got a clearer picture of Mr. Green’s pleasingly textured vibrato.
Just like at the Metropolitan Opera, we had an intermission special–an opera quiz which was way too challenging for us but not for the contestants–critic John Yohalem, pianist William Hicks, and OperaWire co-founder and editor-in-chief David Salazar.
Bass Kofi Hayford lent his interestingly textured voice to „Dors, o cité perverse!…Astres étincelants“ in the role of Phanuel, an astrologer. We look at the stars and see STARdom!
Awaiting execution, Jean sings „Ne pouvent réprimer“ and here we got to appreciate Mr. Geis’ delicate vibrato and emotional connection, as well as some lovely arpeggi in the piano accompaniment, so beautifully played by Maestro Chambers.
The Act III ensemble „Peuple juif“ brought all the singers together, along with Vitellius, the Roman Consul, sung by Kevin Johnson in warmly resonant low tones.
All of the singers exhibited fine French and were easily understood. We don’t know who has been cast for the May 10th performance at The Center at West Park on West 86th St. but we would not have a moment’s disappointment to hear any of the singers we heard tonight.
We hope you will be tempted to share this performance with us. We don’t believe New York City has heard this opera in twenty years when Maestro Eve Queler conducted it with Opera Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall. It’s about time to revive it!
We cannot close without lauding the encore which was from Richard Strauss’ comic opera Die ägyptische Helena. Soprano Kirsten Chambers has a voice made for Strauss and we loved her aria „Zweite Brautnacht“. Perhaps New Amsterdam Opera might consider giving us the whole enchilada!
If you like the sound of this gala evening, you too can become a member of the New Amsterdam Opera family. The post-salon reception lasted way longer than planned because the „family“ remained in lively and rewarding conversation long after the food and drink were stowed. Now that’s a memorable evening!
(c) meche kroop