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In Review > Concerts and Recitals

20th Anniversary Gala Benefit

NEW YORK CITY
Teatro Grattacielo | NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts
11/18/14

Teatro Grattacielo has earned high praise for its concert performances of Italian opera, specifically presenting underexposed masterworks of the verismo stylistic idiom. On November 18 in NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts Teatro Grattacielo offered a gala benefit celebrating its twentieth anniversary. The program included scenes and arias from past successes, as well as previews of works scheduled for upcoming performances. A stellar cast of soloists joined the orchestra and chorus under the direction of Israel Gursky. 

The program opened with the opening scene from Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei Tre Re, first presented by Teatro Grattacielo in 1997. In this scene, the blind and aged Duke Archibaldo reminisces about his lost youth. Bass Ashraf Sewailam gave a powerful, imposing rendition of the Duke, one that presented the character as a force still to be reckoned with.

Act IV of Franco Alfano’s Rissurrezione, based upon Tolstoy’s novel of the same name, followed. Here Katiushka must choose whether to marry Simonson, a devout, altruistic prisoner in a Siberian labor camp, or Dimitri, a prince who is passionately in love with her. This performance featured baritone Stephen Gaertner as Simonson, tenor Raúl Melo as Dimitri and soprano Kerri Marcinko as Katiushka. Gaertner’s performance was emotionally powerful, Melo’s was ardently strong, and Marcinko gave a warmly lyric interpretation.

As a tension reliever after these two powerful operatic scenes, the orchestra performed the intermezzo Il Sogno from Pietro Mascagni’s Guglielmo Ratcliff. The orchestra represented itself well here, despite some intonation issues in the woodwind section.

Raúl Melo made a welcome reappearance in the aria “Bro: la chiesetta triste…” from Riccardo Zandonai’s I Cavalier di Ekebù. Melo’s portrayal of Giosta Berling, a former priest whose alcoholism has caused him to be defrocked and here confronting the parish church over which he used to preside, was devastating in its sorrow and awareness of loss.

The first half of the concert was brought to a stunning conclusion with “Lei dunque è la Signora Dunoyer!” from Act III of Ruggiero Leoncavallo’s Zazà, featuring Aprile Millo in the title role. Millo had previously appeared in Teatro Grattacielo’s 2005 presentation of the entire opera. Her performance in this concert made one wish to have been in attendance of that earlier performance too. On a level beyond that of any of the other performers in the concert, Millo lived the character from start to finish. Even when she was silent, the listener’s eye continued to be drawn to Millo, in a heartbreaking performance that truly stole the show.

After a lovely performance of Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s overture to La Dama Boba, Act II of the concert — devoted to Teatro Grattacielo’s future projects — proceeded with “La polootapa della Steppa d’Omsk?” from Umberto Giordano’s Siberia. This lovely duet featured soprano Tiffany Abban as Stephana, who has sacrificed all she had to find and stay with Vassili a prisoner with whom she is in love. Vassili, portrayed by Raúl Melo, tries to discourage her, not wishing her to be exposed to the harshness of his interment and the rugged Siberian living conditions. With loving fortitude, Stephana remains resolute. Both Abban and Melo both gave winning performances.

“Alichino, lo vedi,” a darkly comic aria from Ottorino Respighi’s Belfagor was handily delivered by baritone Stefanos Koroneos before Aprile Millo again raised the emotional temperature with the poignant death scene from Licinio Refice’s Cecilia. The evening concluded with the finale from Wolf-Ferrari’s Il Campiello, featuring soprano Megan Monaghan, ultimately joined by the entire cast.

Having worked on and performed in numerous concert performances of opera, I was singularly impressed with the exquisite balance conductor Gursky achieved among soloists, chorus and orchestra. So often concert performances of operas suffer in this regard, largely because the orchestrations were designed to be heard from a pit, rather than from the same stage as the singers. This problem never surfaced, even as the orchestra’s musical intensity and texture swelled. Gursky proved a skilled and emotionally committed conductor, as well as a sensitive, attentive accompanist. And, in general, the orchestra and chorus rose to meet his vision. spacer 

ARLO McKINNON

 

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