Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Little Opera Company That Could

On Friday September 12th and Saturday September 13th, 2014 Utopia Opera celebrated its fourth season with a production of Carlisle Floyd's Susannah at the Lang Recital Hall at Hunter College in New York, NY. The little company did much more than expected in such an intimate space usually reserved for recitals and master classes. The hall, which maybe seats 175 people, was filled with enthusiastic opera goers of all ages - something that is quite unique in a world that claims opera and its audience are dying.

The cast was combined with young professional newcomers and established professional artists. Standouts were: Metropolitan Opera tenor Adam C.J. Klein as Susannah's brother Sam whose voice, musicianship, character development and language ability (yes that was a genuine Appalachian dialect he was using) make many of us wonder why we can only get this Broadway quality of performance occasionally in major opera houses and a bit more so in regional opera houses; Steven Fredericks, whose rich basso would normally be a comforting balm to a cold and harsh world (indeed yours truly portrayed Pamina to his Sarastro and felt warmed to the toes and a return to the womb every time he sang his aria), convincingly and creepily juxtaposed his portrayal of a monster molester whose baser, animalistic needs won out over his common sense as the role of Reverend Blitch; Shannon Jones and Sara Beth Pearson - both in the roles of Susannah - gave nuanced and believable performances as a kind young woman whose earthiness is used against her by her fellow townspeople and whose life is forever marred by hearsay, gossip and lies. It is not fair to compare their performances so this writer choses merely to point out the differences. Jones had a fuller voice and her Susannah was an old soul while Pearson's voice was lighter and her characterization more innocent up until the second act. Both performances and vocal quality were perfectly acceptable for the role.

Along with the 14 cast members there was an ensemble of 14 instrumentalists which unfortunately had to split the stage with the singing actors. The artistic director William Remmers, who also served as stage director and conductor, assured the audience that eventually they would have a larger venue that would accommodate a pit for the orchestra. "Huzzah!" this reviewer exclaims: however, with what little space they had all the artists sharing said space managed splendidly.

This young opera company has truly burst out of the gate for its first production of the season. May it grace New York City for years to come. With its young crack team and innovative, hip thinking that should not be a problem. The only criticism is that perhaps there should be more of an effort to get sponsorship and/or grants solely dedicated to paying the singers who currently go without a salary/stipend. Production values (sets, props, costumes, lights, sound effects, sir titles, etc.), larger halls and orchestra - all of which require money - are very important to opera, but necessary to opera are the opera singers which is the primary reason why audience members go to an opera. That said, do not miss a performance. For more goings on with this little opera company that did, can, could and continues to do go to: http://utopiaopera.org/

Tami Swartz is an actor, opera singer, director, producer and when summoned an occasional critic who resides in NYC with her husband and stuffed rabbits…