NYOANext!: The sound of (opera) music in the Bronx Photo courtesy of NYOA.

NYOANext!: The sound of (opera) music in the Bronx

Loren Lester

New York Opera Alliance (NYOA) began the first leg of its plan to bring opera concerts to all five boroughs of New York City. They are one fifth of the way there, having completed a concert on April 22nd in the historic Bronx House on Pelham Parkway in the East Bronx. Seven opera companies from NYOA’s fifty company membership, performed arias and duets from familiar operas and from some upcoming productions which are part of the NYOANext! Festival. The small but appreciative crowd heard familiar excerpts from Verdi and Gounod, as well as lesser-known pieces and even some new work.

The most propitious teaser was from the upcoming production by the little OPERA theatre of ny in association with the National Black Theatre and Harlem Opera Theater. From May 31 through June 6th, they will be producing American One Acts, a double bill, which will bring together Highway 1, U.S.A by William Grant Still and Down in the Valley by Kurt Weill. William Grant Still (1895-1978,) who is considered part of the Harlem Renaissance of black artists who thrived during the 1920s and 1930s, wrote close to two hundred classical compositions, including nine operas. He is the first black composer whose work was performed by a major American opera company (New York City Opera.)

Soprano Victoria Davis performed an aria from Highway 1, U.S.A and then she was joined by tenor James Reginald Hopkins III for a duet from the same piece. It proved to be an impressive preview. Both singers were in splendid voice and gave performances above and beyond the concert format. They appeared ready to “open,” even though the actual production isn’t for another month. One hopes that the little OPERA theatre of ny has found another rare gem. They did a fine job with the seldom-seen Benjamin Britten opera Owen Wingrave (reviewed here). More information here.

Photo courtesy of NYOA.

While NYOA’s stated ambition was to bring opera to the Bronx, you can almost hear the leaders of Bronx Opera (which has been around since 1967) and The Lighthouse Opera saying in a loud Bronx accent, “Hey! There’s already opera up here!” And indeed, both companies are located in the Bronx and were represented in the concert. Sopranos Lindsay Nakatani and Courtney San Martin from Bronx Opera, sang an excerpt from Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites which was presented in its entirety a few weeks later. The singers were introduced as “covers,” and, as a tribute to understudies everywhere, they were pitch perfect.

The always reliable Regina Opera sent tenor Percy Martinez and Brian Montgomery to perform a duet from Otello. (Regina Opera’s current production is not the tragic Otello but rather the light-hearted The Student Prince, May 13, 14, 20 and 21.) Mr. Martinez began with singing “No puede ser!” a poignant aria from La tabernera del puerto, a zarzuela by Pablo Sorozabal. Then Mr. Martinez (as Otello) and Mr. Montgomery (as Iago) launched into some Verdi fireworks.

Several companies have no upcoming performances listed on their websites, but sent singing representatives to the concert.

Of the best, Encompass Opera Theatre sent soprano Sara Lemesh to perform a heart-breaking aria as Emily from Ned Rorem’s Our Town, and a trillingly thrilling and intense “Juliet’s Waltz” from Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette. Opera Praktikos was represented by soprano Shanley Horvitz who sang “Lady of the Shield Arm, Rise Up,” music by Del’Shawn Taylor and libretto by Marianna Mott Newirth, an aria based on The Lord of the Rings. This one snippet was good enough to make one wonder if they will expand on the material.

There are many other opera companies listed on the NYOA website. Note: some of the links to organizations on the website haven’t been updated in a while.

NYOA plans to have a similar concert to this one sometime in the fall. The next borough for NYOANext! will be Manhattan.

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