Regina Opera 2020 Review: Gianni Schicchi & Golden Jubilee
Led by Towering Performances from Monica Conesa & Nobuki Momma, Gala Showcases Regina Opera as Hidden TreasureBy Matt Costello
(Credit: Steven Pisano)
I have always been partial to small and regional opera companies as they struggled to hold the flag high for the art of opera, often in the unlikeliest places.
First, it seemed to me those small companies mirrored what was the norm in Europe, with so many of the small towns with their own opera theater and company, often with a rich history of tackling the latest works from the great masters.
While, on the other hand, here in the US, I imagine there are broad stretches of the country where one could go hundreds of miles without encountering any opera at all.
But there is another reason that such companies appeal to me. Due to their size and often their passion, a performance of, say, “Carmen” could have an immediacy and power that you simply could not find in the cavernous spaces of the Met.
True, one might not hear singers of the worldwide renown such as the Met and the other big houses routinely present. But then, often there are remarkable discoveries and revelations.
So, I was looking forward to a trek into my old hometown, if one call a borough that, of Brooklyn to Regina Opera, as it staged a two-part program of a Jubilee concert as well as a Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi.”
But with a setting which reminded me of my long-ago childhood in nearby Flatbush – the auditorium of Our Lady of Perpetual Help – it had me thinking…what am I to expect here?
Well, that was soon answered when the soloists for the concert portion performed extended selections from Verdi’s “Don Carlo” as well as Massenet’s “Manon,” with Puccini’s own “Manon Lescaut” Intermezzo inserted between them.
The solo and duet performances immediately confirmed that this was one rather remarkable small company. The caliber of singing was totally surprising. As a big fan of Verdi’s “Don Carlo,” I enjoyed all the selections, which included a stunning “O don fatale” performed with rich power by mezzo Galina Ivannikova.
The great baritone set pieces, such as “Per me giunto”, were nobly performed with delicate shading and a strong voice by Robert Garner.
The soprano aria “Tu che la vanita” was given an exciting performance by Monica Conesa that had the audience cheering. One hoped to hear more from the young soprano (and we did, during the concert’s closing “Manon” duet.) Remember the name…Conesa is young, but that voice suggests a major future ahead.
Conductor Gregory Ortega led the small orchestra in a sweetly moving “Manon Lescaut” Intermezzo, highlighted by the solo cello.
Then, two pieces from that “Manon,” with the firm and ardent tenor Christopher Trapani singing “Ah! fuyez douce image.” And when he was joined by Conesa for a duet, “Toi! Vous,” sparks flew.
During intermission I was more than pleased. This little company was quite obviously a hidden treasure.
The second half brought a brisk and bracing “Gianni Schicchi.” It is very much an ensemble piece and all the performers appeared in the Puccini one-act opera in the buffo style it requires, with the audience enjoying the fun and plotting on stage as everyone’s greed was on full display.
Nobuki Momma played Schicchi with a shrewdness and control. His singing, both as someone from the country (as opposed to the city of Florence) and as the dead but then revived Buoso Donati, was perfectly engaging.
And as the young lovers who Schicchi seeks to see together — despite the wishes of the greedy relatives — Cate Webber and Heejae Kim made their moments together sweet and affecting, as they seem to stand for the changes the Renaissance would bring to not only Florence, but to the world.
Also notable was the Simone of Rick Agster, who — as he repeatedly informs us and the other relatives — was the oldest and tries to keep everyone in line as they connive to undo the real will.
With bustling action and music to match, both the stage director Linda Lehr and conductor Elizabeth Hastings deserve high marks. The show bounced along, with bubbling, fast stage action and crisp playing by the orchestra.
In sum, what fun— and exactly the type of production I would hope to see from such a company. It was announced, by the way, that their next production this May is Puccini’s ”Turandot.”
Before attending, I might have thought…really? Turandot? In the shadows of the Verrazano Bridge? It would be a demanding challenge for even a big company.
But after this experience with the talented company? Something to definitely anticipate.