NEW YORK CITY: Der Zigeunerbaron
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In Review > North America

Der Zigeunerbaron

NEW YORK CITY
Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater
4/27/17

In Review MSM Der Zigeunerbaron lg 717
Angela Joy Lamb, Saffi in Der Zigeunerbaron at MSM
© Carol Rosegg

DER ZIGEUNERBARON  is generally thought to be Johann Strauss II’s second-best operetta score, after his earlier Die Fledermaus. Richard Traubner’s magisterial history of operetta singles out for praise the lavish, Hungarian-tinged work’s “magnificent” overture, “brilliant” entrance songs and two big operatic finales. Manhattan School of Music gave the piece a spirited outing on April 27. Though long neglected in NYC’s major venues, the operetta has a history here; it has been heard at the Met (1906, 1959–60) and at the fledgling New York City Opera (1944), which toured it under Sol Hurok’s auspices. Now all too topical in raising issues of xenophobia and racial prejudice, Der Zigeunerbaron seems strongly rooted in pre-World War I mores when it hymns the joys and man-building qualities of war.

Viennese operetta—especially when served with the lavish Hungarian seasoning that we hear starting from the overture’s second subject—is not the easiest style for today’s professional singers, let alone conservatory students. Yet director Linda Brovsky and conductor Kynan Johns elicited generally high-quality performances from the talented MSM ensemble that never slipped into musical-comedy shtick. Past a few expectable and mild opening-night blemishes, Johns got well-considered, rhythmically alert work from the orchestra. The famous Kaiser-Walzer, inserted between the last two acts, showed particular flair. It was a sound narrative decision to have the cast sing in German yet speak dialogue in English. If the German in most cases proved correct rather than expressive, it was a good learning experience and probably helped the singers shape Strauss’s lines more stylishly. The production was traditional and quite handsome, with Elizabeth Hope Clancy’s costumes and Steve Shelley’s lighting particularly nurturing elements. Brovsky and choreographer Sean McKnight got the largely non-dancer cast to move extremely well, gamely executing folkish steps that delighted the audience.

Philippe L’Esperance, credibly dashing as Sándor Barinkay, has a great top range for operetta; the middle projected less, but he sang with elegance. Angela Joy Lamb, an attractive figure as Barinkay’s eventual beloved, Saffi, proved more admirable for coping with the part’s technical hurdles than for beauty of timbre, though isolated notes were pleasing. Yunlei Xie gave the wise Czipra considerable spirit and unfurled a fine, rangy mezzo. Larger-than-life José Maldonado made a terrific showing as pig farmer extraordinaire Zsupán, with a seemingly unlimited baritone, balanced by Lisa Barone, who displayed a splendid mezzo and megawatt personality as Mirabella. Yujia Chen voiced Arsena with fine soubrette style and sound, remarkably accomplished in staccati. Christian Thurston proved well cast but a bit shouty as Homonay. Light tenor Michael St. Peter (Ottokár), baritone William Huyler (Carnero) and bass-baritone Andrew Henry (Pali) also contributed aptly to the show’s success.  —David Shengold 



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