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Voices in My Head: Opera Manhattan Festival in Review

Opera Manhattan is in the midst of presenting its third annual Opera Festival. After going to see the triple bill of operas, La Voix Humaine, Suor Angelica, and The Medium-three operas in which the main characters are touched by a voice- presented at the Historic Theater St. Clements, you will be craving to hear more of those voices in your head.

The triple bill began with Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine, a mono drama about a woman who is virtually breaking up with her lover over the phone. In the revealing phone conversation, periodically interrupted by the infamous Parisian telephone lines, we learn Elle(The name of the character, even though I’m almost sure her name isn’t brought up during the performance. Sort of like the way that La Cenerentola’s real name is Angiolina.) has attempted suicide, struggled with loss, and hasn’t eaten for days.  It takes a physically strong soprano to play the role, which involves an hour on stage with intense and passionate singing. The character, portrayed by Kala Maxym, did just that in her searing interpretation of a woman scorned. The type of role-an emotional woman, putting her heart and soul into her situation-is not unlike that of say, Lady Macbeth, of Salome. Maxym, who is electrifying to watch, delivered a convincing portrayal Elle. Even though her timbre is not necessarily beautiful, she maintained a good grasp of the French libretto and had a good grasp of the various tempi and diction the opera requires. This opera, a hard one to stage, was given an emotional portrayal that made the most sense with the libretto. Elle’s apartment was torn apart. Letters were thrown all over the floor, rugs decorated the floor and an unmade mattress lay in the corner, all as a testimony to the emotional anguish we don’t see in the piece. Her voice was powerful and filled the theater with ease, but during the quieter passages, she sometimes failed to sing over the piano and at one point, you could hear someone warming up backstage. The description of her suicide attempt by sleeping pills, and then a potential strangling that we see were both described to perfection and she used her vibrato(A tool that will serve her well in future years.) spectacularly.

The second opera on the program was Puccini’s Suor Angelica. Suor Angelica is a story about a nun who was sent to a convent by her family after having a child out of wedlock. During her time in the convent, her aunt appears, tells her her son is dead,(You may see that dead children are a recurring theme in these operas.)and in anguish, she kills herself as the Madonna takes her soul to heaven. Puccini said this was his favorite out of the two operas that are paired with this one(Il Tabarro, Gianni Schicchi). The opera opens with a nun’s chorus. While there were only eleven women making up the nun’s chorus, the entire ensemble gained a beautiful and honeyed tone from the intricate choral passages down to the religious chanting. Out of the ensemble, I found Ema Mitrovic as the Monitress to be the standout. As Suor Angelica, Diana Wangerin sang with a beautiful honeyed tone, evoking the most internal feelings of grief and piety through her singing, and through her phenomenal and intense acting. She turned throw-away lines into emotional statements and evoked the feeling of deep nostalgia when talking about her little sister’s impending marriage. In true ‘Vissi D’arte” fashion, she began ‘Senza Mamma’-the opera’s most famous aria-on the floor. She sang through the aria with passion and beauty of tone, even taking the optional high note. However, towards the end of the opera, she experienced a wobble in the higher reaches of her voice. The Princess who tears it all apart was played by Sahoko Sato, and when she entered, her appearance and voice were the definition of elegance. Her gleaming mezzo fit the role of the princess very nicely. In the final scene, after Angelica is dying, the director decided to have the Madonna enter with Angelica’s child. When one of the singers, strode on dressed in blue and white, it garnered chuckles from the audience in a scene that should have been intense and emotional. This made the end of the opera a less moving spectacle. Please enjoy Barbara Frittoli sing ‘Senza Mamma’:

Finally, the third opera was Menotti’s The Medium. The Medium is a story of a Madame Flora(Baba) who has pretended to contact the dead for her entire career, only to stop abruptly after believing to have had an encounter with the spirit world. Under Baba’s care, are two youths, Monica, and Toby, a mute. The production really toyed with the idea of Toby and Monica involving in a romantic relationship, including them coming close to kissing on multiple occasions. Monica, sung by Mary Langston, brought a searing portrayal of an abused child to her interpretation of Baba’s daughter. She spun creamy legato lines in her famous lullaby ‘Black Swan’ and more perfection in her waltz. As Madame Flora herself, Caroline Tye sang with an unmatched intensity, impeccable diction, and a true embodiment of the role. She was definitely the standout performer of the night. She WAS the crazed fortune teller who resorts to violence in the end. She brought new terror to the opera’s shocking finale(I’m not telling you what happens. You have to go see it!) and each of her terrified exclamations as she feels the spirit world creeping ever closer to her. As Toby, Tyler Wayne Smith was a convincing actor as the mute, and Baba’s punching bag. As Baba’s clients, desperate to contact their children from the beyond, Tabitha Liggett, Nicholas Connolly and Anna Petrie created a nice ensemble, especially when Baba revealed her tricks and scams to them. In her final aria, she emphasized every terrifying detail of all the terrible things she had seen in her life, creating an eerie and palpable theater experience.

The triple bill of operas runs through Monday the 21st. Tickets to the individual operas are available, but I urge you to go to all three for the unique theater experience. All three really are spectacular. Go and hear the voices.

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