Miracle in Brooklyn
St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church, 157 Montague Street, Brooklyn Heights, New York
06/27/2008 - & June 29, 2008 (Ansche Chesed Synagogue, 251 West 100 Street at West End, Manhattan, New York)
Richard Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos
Friday Cast: Lauren Bradley (Ariadne/ Prima Donna), Katherine Wessinger (Zerbinetta /dancer), Karen Rush (The Composer), Caleb Stokes (Bacchus/The Tenor), Rebekah Beaver (Najade), Mechelle Tippets (Echo) Alison Cheesman (Dryade), Mark Riley (Harlequin), James Trainor (A music teacher), Ethan Fran (Brighella), Frank Martinez (Scaramouche), Darren Walker (Truffaldino), Michael Mariani (The Major-Domo), Isai Muñoz (A dance-master), Jonathan Keeley (A footman), Lawrence Rush (A wig-maker), Kylie Colan (An officer)
One World Symphony and One World Vocal Artists, Sun Jing Hong (Conductor)
Lawrence Rush (Stage Director), Wei-en Hsu, Jihwan Kim (Pianists, coaches), Kylie Colan (Assistant stage director)
The religious will call it miracle in a cathedral (or at least great singing in a beautiful 160-year-old church). For frankly, one didn’t expect too much by the One Symphony ensemble’s concert version of Strauss’s most bewitching opera, Ariadne auf Naxos. Nor did the first few minutes preface anything great. The pew seats were hard, the atmosphere was muggy, the altar hardly seemed the right place for surtitles or a whole cast of actors, buffoons, and all the dramatis personae which Strauss knew so well, and the idea of recitatives in English, arias in German were a bad contrivance.
Then the orchestra began under the energetic baton of Sun Jing Hong, and the “composer”, dark-voiced soprano Karen Rich, started, the “Major-Domo” had a fit and marched out through the church transept, Ms. Rich was “inspired” to sing her O Du Knabe, Du Kind, and the wonders of Strauss’s wonderful opera started.
What gave the opera such success was first of all to the amazing singers. Obviously Zerbinetta. There was no question that Katherine Wessinger—decked out in gorgeous 1920’s flapper garb—gave the most memorable 11 minutes possible in consoling comic aria, Grossmächtige Prinzessin. The difficulties are almost insurmountable save for a Streich—or a Wessinger—and the range is so high that makes Queen of the Night sound like Boris Gudonov. Ms. Wessinger not only sung up to—was it high A flat above high C—without the slightest forcing. But she managed to make it sound like child’s play, vamping around the pulpit and through the aisles like a combination of Clara Bow and Marilyn Monroe, even prompting the conductor to fling off his jacket.. (Yeah, it was obvious stage trickery, but in such an aria, anything goes.)
One cannot say enough for tenor/Bacchus Cal;eb Stokes., at least in the prologue. He sung with such richness that it did him in, and his voice cracked badly in the “opera” section. But this can be controlled. And then came Laren Bradly, the most dramatic and sorrowful Ariadne. With such jovial backstage music, this can be a thankless role (hey, where’s the pop singers??), but she gave it her all. She was pure pathos until the end, when she and Bacchus triumphed to Strauss’s most glorious music.
Now we come to the two Greek choruses. The three dryads, Strauss’s version of the Valkyrie, sung with perfect pitch, were funny and lovely with such beautiful music. The buffoons, though, were so over the top that one had to give constant allowance. Their antics were gay, awkward, mock-balletic and their great aria, Die Dame Girb Mit Trübe, lacked even the slightest bit of delicacy. I loved it all!!
Now we come to the orchestra, exactly the 36 specified by Strauss himself. The sonorities of the church were such that perhaps they weren’t as good as they sounded. But Sung Jing Hong not only is prudent in his tempos, but he knows how to old back and let the soloists take their own tempos.
Perhaps this goes against the conductor’s art, but let’s face facts: Ariadne auf Naxos is just as much about the purpose of composers, singers and entrepreneurs as it is music itself. And while the pews were still too hard, and the air too muggy, the joy of the opera easily overcame our earthly discomforts.