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A Two-Course Light Meal

New York
Saratoga Springs (Universal Preservation Hall)
06/17/2021 -  & June 13, 14 (Ithaca), 18 (Saratoga Springs), 20 (New York), 2021
Johann Sebastian Bach: Coffee Cantata, BWV 211
Robert Paterson: Cocoa Cantata (Wolrd Premiere)

Cree Carrico (Lizzie, Amara Bliss), David Neal (Mr Buzzkill, Bobby Wonders IV), Steven Stull (Narrator, Snackwright)
American Music Ensemble: John Romeri (Flute), Geoffrey Burleson (Piano), Bryan Hernandez-Luch, Victoria Paterson (Violins), Hiroki Taguchi (Viola), Peter Sachon (Cello), Robert Paterson (Conductor, Music Arranger)

D. Cote, R. Paterson (© Samuel A. Dog)

To Mocha first, I soar, then Java and Versailles/To King and Pope and Sultan: all mankind/Has supped of three, thy praise to amplify; So rich, so gentle and so designed/That thee and thy world should mutually glorify.

― Elizabeth Barrett Roasting

If some confectioners were willing/To let the shape announce the filling/We’d encounter fewer assorted chocs,/Bitten into and returned to the box.

― Ogden Nash

Like Seinfeld’s classic Coffee-table-book re-built as a coffee-table, Johann Sebastian Bach’s so-called 32nd Cantata–the “Coffee Cantata”– was written to be performed in...yes, a coffee-house.

The dour organist rarely left his church, but he took a break in 1732 to write for an amateur non-religious combo in Leipzig’s Zimmermannsches Caffeehaus and compose a small piece translated from the German, as “Shut your mouth, don’t talk so much”. His favorite librettist, Picander, was ashamed of such a minor trifle, so he gave a pseudonym. And Bach himself–who wrote limitless works on celestial joy, ecstasy, heavenly peace and divine delights–for the first and only time, wrote a rather funny satire about the delectations of coffee.

That was as rare as music about comestibles. Offhand, I can think of the Don’s banquet by Mozart, a minor work by Martinů and Berg’s piece on wine. Otherwise, nil, nichts, nada.

When composer-conductor Robert Paterson decides to take his American Music Emseble perambulating around New York State this week, he rectified this omission by asking David Cote to not only freely translate the Bach, but compose a libretto for an original Cocoa Cantata.

Both were performed as a diverting show. Mr. Paterson had a coffee-shop-sized miniature orchestra with a suitably Baroque sound for the Bach, and an ersatz Baroque contrapuntal texture for Mr. Cote’s opera. Perhaps the acoustics of Saratoga Springs’ Universal Preservation Hall was not ideal. For, sitting in front of the American Modern Ensemble, I failed to decipher some of the words. Yet the essence came through, and the stage direction was suitably un-subtle.

The latter was best shown in the Cocoa Cantata. Here, two chocolate executives–Steven Stull as a chocolate magnate, Cree Carrico was a boutique chocolatier–speak of corporate takeovers. At the same time, food scientist Snackwright is developing a new chocolate which will...

Well, wait for it.

Mr. Stull has pleasant low bass-baritone and personality, Mr. Neal is low-keyed a s singer and actor. But it was Ms. Carrico whose coloratura soprano which stole bothoperas.

Cree Carrico is–in the best sense–O.T.T.–Over the Top. Her singing voice didn’t leap up to a high D and higher, she effortlessly paraded her chops at the most unexpected times. It was hardly a coincidence that her latest role was in Candide, since that Bernstein work was composed for operatically-trained technicians and Ms Carrico has mastered this.

(Showing that neither work was entirely serious, her speaking voice was a combination of Madeleine Kahn and Olive Oyl.)

As for the the theater, Bach’s work was never made for the stage, so, outside of a joyous finishing chorale for coffee, little can be accomplished. Mr Cote’s opera was totally different. For when the starched, high-heeled Ms Carrico has her first taste of Wow Carcao, her sexual writhings, her faux-orgasms and her endless Meg Ryan-style climaxes are tributes to both the librettist and herself.

The final performance of this two-course light meal is appropriately Sunday afternoon in Chelsea Market. Both works are more entr’actes than full-fledged operas, yet both the senses, and–in the chocolate opera–sensualities–are well gratified.

Harry Rolnick



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