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In Review > North America

Lucrezia Borgia

BROOKLYN
LoftOpera | LightSpace Studios
4/7/15

In Review Loft Opera Borgia hdl 415
Joanna Parisi and Matthew Anchel, Lucrezia and the Duke in LoftOpera's production of Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia
Photos courtesy of Jay Scheib

Talk about eliminating the barriers to entry: when I arrived at the Bushwick photography studio where LoftOpera was staging its latest happening, I just walked right in. Though I had made reservations, there was no box office, and the scene at the entrance was sufficiently chaotic that my friend and I just slipped in — and into SRO spots against the wall. It was twenty minutes before “curtain” on an unseasonably cold and rainy Tuesday night, but hundreds of people, mostly young, had already shown up. It felt like a bona fide event; most of the remaining “seats” were on blankets laid upfront across the floor, and even those were soon grabbed up. Obviously, LoftOpera has done more than fudge the usual ticket requirements to make opera feel accessible to the hip 18-35 crowd.

Part of it is probably the rock-n’-roll attitude. The publicity materials advertised what time the doors opened, like a concert at the Music Hall of Williamsburg enticing you to arrive early to get close to the band, and LightSpace Studios felt less like a black-box theater than a club: a short balcony for crew looked like a VIP lounge, with laptops blaring Apple logos and bare legs dangling over the edge; below, bartenders steadily moved bottles of Brooklyn Brewery beer across a counter; and the preshow electronic-dance music was a few sections-in-a-record-store away from Donizetti. 

But after the lights had dimmed, and the twenty-eight-piece orchestra had tuned up from the corner into which they’d been crammed, there was nothing ironic about the presentation. Conducted by Sean Kelly and directed by Laine Rettmer, this performance of Lucrezia Borgia had musical and theatrical integrity to spare, but it was also playful and unpretentious, taking grand-opera grandiosity down to more modest earthly conditions — pushing it off a pedestal and into Bushwick. LoftOpera chose its repertoire well: Lucrezia is part of the canon but on the periphery, populist but not overdone; especially, though, the subject matter was perfectly aligned with the lives of the Brooklyn target audience — it’s mostly about friends getting drunk and having parties that keep getting interrupted by melodrama. 

This was a brindisi opera played to a brindisi crowd by a brindisi company, which used the relative intimacy of the room to make it feel like a real party. When the captivating and supplely voiced mezzo Melissa Collom sang Orsini’s “Nella fatal di Rimini,” it felt like she was really just an expert raconteur briefly occupying a get-together’s center of attention; the Prologue aria was strongly and dramatically performed but also modestly scaled. And throughout Act II, when Joanna Parisi (with beautiful dynamics, delicate pitch, and furious emotion), as Lucrezia, argued with — spoiler alert! — her son, Genarro (a spaciously voiced Nikhil Navkal, with a mop of Kaufmannesque curls), the audience seemed like awkward onlookers, rubbernecking at two people saying in public what perhaps ought to be saved for somewhere private.

You could tell from Parisi’s performance that “Com’è bello” is a challenge to sing, especially while also breathing, but there was even something refreshingly humanizing about that, reminding you that opera isn’t as easy as most professionals can make it seem. Anyway, she pulled it off, then got vocally stronger as the night wore on; by Act II she was a lightning bolt, landing in the dynamite domestic dramas and interpersonal interplay with devastating, pinpoint crashes, fully exploiting this fiery diva showcase. The finale was brutally blocked, movingly sung and darkly played. 

Parisi also melded well with her costars in the duets and trios. (Matthew Anchel stood out as the Duke, his bass strong, crisp and dulcet.) The company seemed richest in such ensembles, exuding a palpable sense of cooperation, like the friends onstage were friends offstage, too — even the enemies. The performance reminded me of the top-notch Shakespeare that’s been performed lately all over New York, from the Public to the Polonsky, which feels thoroughly vital and modern thanks to the deep but irreverent commitment of its casts — like the text was written yesterday. LoftOpera might not provide a model for filling a few thousand seats at a big house like the Met every night, but they do offer a glimpse into what an alternative could be — and the comfort that it’d actually be not only affecting but also pretty darn fun. spacer 

HENRY STEWART

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