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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Opera Review: Nun of Your Business

LoftOpera dazzles Bushwick with an aerial Comte Ory.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Bed-shaped: Thorsteinn Arbornsson (left) Sharin Apostolou (center) and Elizabeth Pojanowski
negotiate in the final scene of Le Comte Ory.
Photo by Robert Altman © 2016 LoftOpera.
It all started with a pair of flying nuns.

On Thursday night in Bushwick, LoftOpera offered the penultimate performance of  Le Comte Ory at the close of the 2015-16 spring season. This wild Rossini comedy that, almost two centuries after its 1828 debut has finally found its audience in the 21st century. The nuns in question were aerialists Nicki Miller and Chriselle Tidrick. The venue was The Muse, a circus training facility by day and cabaret by night, located hard by the railroad on a stretch of Moffat Street where the sidewalk (quite literally) ends.

In their black Catholic habits, the two aerialists flew over the audience from long swaths of aerial silk. One was graceful, striking mid-air poses. The other played the clown, grappling with her suspension rig and pulling down her habit in mock modesty to the strains of "Kiss" by Prince. Some audience members watched, rapt. Others didn't look up from their phones or their chatter at the big cocktail party that Loft turns into before the show actually starts. But once they had the attention of the capacity crowd, they descended back to terra firma preparing the way for conductor Sean Kelly to lead off the overture.

LoftOpera has grown in recent years, from a noble idea to a destination for those seeking out great young voices singing in unconventional locations. And Thursday night's performance of Comte Ory had both the sense of occasion and an unabashed party atmosphere, which suited this tale of a lecherous would-be Don Juan who takes advantage of other nobles being away at the Crusades to hit on every female chorister in the show and finally to meet his match in the equally sexy, equally devious Countess Adèle (Sharin Apostolou.)

Ory, rebuilt with a French libretto from scraps of Rossini's earlier Il Viaggio a Riems is a knockabout comic opera that requires razor-sharp timing, tremendous vocal range from its three principals, and in its finale, absolute fearlessness as the three singers must perform as a singing menáge-a-trois on a huge four-poster bed. There's high jinks, the aforementioned bed-hopping, lots of cross-dressing (including the whole male chorus in pink wimples) and a healthy dose of good dirty fun, including a jaw-dropping joke involving bananas in the first act. This shoe-string production by John de Los Santos had all those elements and energy to spare.

Much of that energy stemmed from the performance of tenor Thorsteinn Arbjornsson in the high and vocally exposed title part. The singer sailed freely through the role, wheeling through outrageous disguises and never forgetting to play the comedy to the audience. True, his upper register was a little thin in its highest reaches. However it can not be denied that he is a Rossini tenor, a type of voice that was all but extinct fifty years ago. His high-flying performance, capped by his own aerial exit, was the axle on which the rest of the opera turned.

As Adèle, the object of the good Count's desires, Ms. Apostolou was a vocally robust, sensual and warm presence. It's a pity her character enters late in the first act, because from her first strut through the audience to the stage in the middle of the venue, she nearly stole the show. Wielding a cell phone and even taking the occasional selfie during the show, this singer played Adèle with a combination of old-school glamor and vocal acrobatics. She combined these gifts with the innate comic timing that can't be taught. This was a bravura performance, with the biggest belly laughs coming in the opera's second act.

Less compelling (but still interesting) was Elizabeth Pojanowski in the trouser part of Isolier, the Count's libidinous page. Indeed if a criticism can be levied here, it's that the rivalry between the Count and his servant for Adéle's affections didn't reach its boiling point until the boisterous final trio. In this combination of vocal gymnastics and free-for-all bed wrestling, the three singers came together as a tight and interdependent unit, playing off each other and delivering Rossini's dizzying music with gusto. It was a spectacular ending, full of life, libido and love, the three qualities that make this opera fly.

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