2012: A Magical Year for The Bronx Opera

A season round-up by Christopher Sirota
Photo provided by Andrew Liebowitz/WrightGroupNY

Hansel & Gretel

Often in both film and theater intended for children, directors lose track of this goal in the hope for a wider audience.  Such was my experience last Saturday night during the Bronx Opera’s performance of Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel.  This 19th century German light opera, was performed in English with a solid cast of singers, recounting the famed story that warns kids who are tempted by strangers and their “candied houses.”

Of particular note was Gretel played by soprano Allison Pohl, whose sparkling voice was coupled by an equally sparkling face of various emotions.  Hansel, female-casted, played by Jennifer Caruana also held her own.  Also holding it’s own was the set by Meganne George, and lighting by Joshua Rose which included flying witch silhouettes, and colorful forests.
Outstanding, as always with the Bronx Opera was the full orchestra, enthusiastically conducted by Michael Spierman.  Unfortunately, the Engelbert Humperdinck score did not enthrall me much, not being dynamic in progression nor affording much excitement for the singers, which is not the fault of any of the performers. Lastly, although the audience was full of children, I don’t think they were given instruction on proper behavior during an opera…for kids!  No cheering or applause when (spoiler alert?) Hansel and Gretel triumph over the witch in the end?!

 

Next time, I would recommend that the directors also direct their young unfamiliar modern audience so that they feel comfortable engaging with the show, and possibly have a Q&A with the performers afterwards.  Overall, though the singing was enjoyable, and the volume of the orchestra better than other performances in allowing us to hear the singers, I would need to add that the acting did not amuse as intended, nor was it scary when needed.  In other words, nothing was over the top nor serious enough…just ambiguous.  Thus, going for a wider audience results often, in my opinion, in missing an audience.

 

—————————PREVIOUSLY THIS SEASON FROM THE BRONX OPERA

Ralph Vaughn Williams’ rarely seen

The Poisoned Kiss

I wasn’t fully prepared for what I was about to see and hear, in both a good way and sometimes  not so good.  Last night I attended Ralph Vaughn Williams’ rarely seen “The Poisoned Kiss” by The Bronx Opera at the Kaye Playhouse.   I knew ahead of time that the plot of the “The Poisoned Kiss” was fairy-tale-ish, and shouldn’t be taken too seriously, which is fine.  And as I had hoped, the director and stage director, Michael and Benjamin Spierman and the cast also completely agreed…or so I thought….
“The Poisoned Kiss” is a light opera, first performed in 1936 when competition for entertainment included that mild distraction in human cultural history called the motion picture.  To give you an idea, Astaire/Rogers films were already tapping into people’s hearts.  So, it makes sense that this operetta should be airy, and fun in order to entertain the crowds.  The story includes a  prince and princess, an empress and magician and lots of magical folk; everything needed for lots of perky love stories to go awry.  So it began with a soaring overture performed by an awesome orchestra, electrically conducted by Michael Spierman.  The score was film-like, being both dynamic and multi-colored…not sounding dusty at all, in fact, quite “movie modern” for 1936.

Next came Jeremy J. Moore delighting the audience with his “stiff upper lip” British delivery of his lines, and rich voice as the Prince’s attendant.  Yes, this operetta is sung in English, and has loads of silly-on-purpose, rhyming dialogue in between songs.   Here was lots to play with, and often it was successful at making the audience laughing frequently.  I laughed sometimes unexpectedly.

It is difficult to discuss the voices in depth as acoustics were difficult.

 

However, piercing through the difficulty were Richard Bozic and Leslie Swanson’s emphatic performances as the magician and empress.
Hannah Rosenbaum as the princess had a sweet voice, and Kirk Dougherty was a fine prince as well. The supporting cast of hobgoblins, mediums and the rest were lively, and were successful at competing with the volume of the music, so it was refreshing to hear them when they appeared.

From all the cast members, and I guess I mean from the directors first and foremost, I wanted more fun, over-the-top performances.  Already the music was lively, and the singers were funny, but I constantly felt it was 3/4 when it should have be 4/4.  A double-take needs full fun, not a mild one…however, of unexpected shining distinction, was the maid.  Yes, the maid did it…and funny she was, the mezzo-soprano Cabiria Jacobsen.  Her comic timing, delivery, and edgy voice truly proved the antidote.