May 28 & 29 and June 5 & 6 marked the debut performances of THE NEW YORK CHAMBER OPERA (NYCHOP).

Their choice as an opening vehicle was Handel's florid setting of Ariodante (1734), a medieval tale of love and infamy among some royal Scots, taken from Ludovico Ariosto's 16th Century epic poem, Orlando Furioso.  It also served as an opening vehicle for London's Covent Garden in 1735, with the castrato, Carestini, in the title role.

Since this opera was to receive its NY premiere at the City Opera this fall, NYCHOP's performances offered an inexpensive preview in a church on 114th Street and Broadway, and opportunity for interested New Yorkers and friends of the singers.  Since the show was double cast, and I had met some of the singers at social events and on-line, I decided to attend at least two performances.

Those of us who plan to hear this opera at NYCO later on in the year are in for a treat!  Da Capo arias with highly florid sections abound--ideal vehicles for baroque specialists and virtuoso singers.  I know there are some opera lovers who definitely do not love Handel and florid singing.  To them, I say:  Don't bother to attend.  But I love the stuff, especially as an expression of a singer's great talent and accomplishment.

Now back to NYCHOP.  With the exception of the title role, most impressively sung and acted by Kathryn Moore, all but one of the other the roles were double-cast.  Moore served as the vocal and histrionic backbone of the performances, displaying a richly burnished voice, wide vocal range, and excellent coloratura technique.  As Ginevra, princess of Scotland, I would like to single out Patricia Johnson.  Her committed performance, vocal skills, expressiveness, and excellent Italian diction, all indicated an artist ready to "strut her stuff" on the major opera stages of the world.  The performance of Tamara Kaufman (heard on May 28) was, despite her lovely voice, marred by a severe pitch problem.  Nerves?

Kathleen Berger, as Dalinda, Ginevra's lady-in-waiting, displayed an extremely secure and impressive technique, a sweet lyric-coloratura voice and acting skills that were professional in calibre.  Here is another singer ready for bigger things.  With more performing experience and coaching, I think that Jennifer Shark, who shared the role of Dalinda, will reach a similar level of accomplishment.

I do not know whether the role of Lurcanio, Ariodante's brother (in love with Dalinda) will be done at City Opera by a countertenor, a tenor, or a mezzo.  NYCHOP's Lurcano was shared by two tenors, Samuel Lloyd Kinsey and Ben Schuman.  Kinsey exhibited a highly secure technique and excellent Italian diction; he also appears to have attempted the stylized movement patterns and poses often seen in baroque opera.  However, neither he nor Schuman, who could use some coaching in Italian diction, found the extremely high tessitura of the role very comfortable.

Polinesso, the opera's villain, was shared by Lara Wilson and Desirée Halac, both accomplished mezzos who easily dispatched the coloratura of their role.  Of the two, however, I would single out Ms Halac as the more intense actress.  The King of Scotland was shared by Jeffrey Tucker and Cezary Doda, one who exhibited an attractive voice, the other, superior acting ability.  A courtier to the king was sung by Christopher Fuller.

The nine-piece chamber orchestra, conducted from the harpsichord by Nicholas Armstrong, provided just the right baroque touch.

As with most neophyte performing companies, each performance presented a mixed bag of achievement and experience.  On the negative side there were problems with pitch and with diphthongs in the Italian diction.  On the positive side was the obvious enthusiasm, and even chutzpa, exhibited by these performers.  I believe that, as an audience member, I have to take that into consideration when attending such a performance.  I certainly cannot use the same assessment standards I would use at the Metropolitan Opera or City Opera.  And I also must develop an ear that "hears possibility." and "goes for the gold".  As far as NYCHOP is concerned, I look forward to their future performances.

Howard L. Levin, aka Howard in Brooklyn

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Copyright:  © 1999 Howard Levin

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