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Monday, July 11, 2011

Opera Review: Canal Side Story

Vertical Player Repertory Brings Rare Opera to Brooklyn Courtyard
A poster for La Calisto.

Brooklyn's guerilla opera company strikes again!

On Sunday night, the Vertical Player Repertory offered its second of four performances of Franco Cavalli's 1651 opera La Calisto. The setting: a back alley and open space behind a former industrial building on the banks of the Gowanus Canal.

Judith Barnes, a veteran of the New York City Opera, sang the role of Juno and directed the performance. In addition to a regal bearing and a powerful presence as the Queen of the Gods, the diva-turned-impresario brought a wealth of young vocal talent to this production. Most notable: the pert soprano Marcy Richardson, doubling in the role of Diana and as the god Jupiter, who disguises himself as Diana in an effort to bed the nymph Calisto.

Holly Gash made her company debut in that title role, bringing pathos and passion to the unfortunate object of Jupiter's affections who gets turned into a bear for her troubles. The third major company debut was bass Matthew Curran, who sang the role of Jupiter before that god changed genders, and returned to sing a pleasing final duet with Ms. Gash.

Mezzo Hayden DeWitt sang the trouser part: the astronomer Endymion who is the opera's lone human protagonist. Endymion is literally moonstruck, in love with Diana in her role as moon goddess through his celestial observations. Ms. DeWitt's final duet with Ms. Richardson brought their storyline to a smooth, soothing close. The cast was rounded out by Nicholas Tamagna as the drunken Pan, stomping around with two bottles of Chianti to fuel his performance.

Pan's accomplice was the Little Satyr, played by excellent countertenor Joseph Hill. Mr. Hill displayed great physical and vocal agility in this role, leaping and running over the rough industrial space as if it were a ballet theater stage, and using his falsetto instrument to whizz up and down the scales in a baroque depiction of raging lust. Nathan Baer also delivered a fine performance as Silvano, moving barefoot (!) over the rough-hewn space and singing with a pleasing baritone voice.

Ms. Barnes' company specializes in performing operas that take advantage of the gritty industrial corners of lower Brooklyn. This La Calisto was no exception, putting the audience on folding chairs and using a makeshift acting area that included a fire escape, a basement delivery hatch (which doubled as a ramp), a bed and a carpet. The effect is that of a post-modern Venetian piazza, with the stars overhead and the bricked-off windows looming overhead. Greg Goff created effective lighting with LED units mounted on the rooftops around the acting area.

For the most part, the setting worked, despite the occasional siren, airplane or air conditioner that threatened to drown out the bite-sized baroque orchestra. The wrought-iron fire escape worked as a literal stairway to heaven, as the gods Jupiter, Juno, Diana and Mercury entered from the roof of the neighboring building. Other actors entered from the Phoenix Gowanus space (which doubled as a dressing room) or from behind the assembled audience.

La Calisto will be performed on the 14th and the 16th, weather permitting. All shows are at 8pm. For more information visit Vertical Player Repertory.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.