Bleecker Street Opera
115 MacDougal Street
New York, NY 10012
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Bleecker Street Opera In The Press


Gay City News

Chasing a “Butterfly” (9/1/2010)

Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” isn’t even one of my favorite opera, but I have seen five performances of it this season. Inclement summer weather precluded my seeing a sixth presented outdoors by New York Grand Opera.

Bleecker Street Opera, one of two companies continuing the Amato Opera tradition, presented a fully staged “Butterfly” for four performances in August in a church basement auditorium. Praise must go to conductor and musical director Richard Owen in leading 17 players in an expert reduction of Puccini’s score. Very little musical detail seemed to be lost, and the performance was lovingly shaped.

Director John Schenkel updated the period to the 1950s with Cio-Cio San a war bride. The spare settings included only sliding screens, floral arrangements, and a few lacquered tables and stools. Christina Rohm was a vocally strong Butterfly with a tireless upper register, and Joan Peitscher’s Suzuki was richly sung and moving in the final scene.

“Butterfly” says in the love duet that “we are people who are accustomed to small humble quiet things,” and it was in the intimacy, tenderness and modesty of this production that it touched the heart.

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The New Yorker

Goings On About Town
Classical Music (1/11/2010)

The hardy, rough-and-ready ethos of the old Amato Opera had its charm, but its limitations became clear as the decades went by. Bleecker Street, one of two companies formed by former Amato personnel, has fostered a more professional standard of performance; its production of Rossini’s immortal comedy is directed by Teresa K. Pond and conducted by David Rosenmeyer, the associate conductor of the Oratorio Society of New York. (45 Bleecker Street Theatre. 212-239-6200. Jan. 9 at 3 and Jan. 10 at 7.)

Click here for the full article. (10/18/2009)

The Joy of Operatic Sadism

Is Bleecker Street becoming the Greenwich Village branch of Lincoln Center? Within heldentenor shouting distance from the defunct Amato Opera, Bleecker Street Opera is presenting a true opera rara. Three blocks west, Poisson Rouge schedules nightly eclectic artists ranging from Steve Reich to Jonathan Biss. Around the corner, theaters like the Flea have any number of Bang On A Can alumni.

That’s a lot of music for an area once renowned for cool jazz and hot touristy pizza. But the first offering of the Bleecker Street Opera, a decent performance of Montemezzi’s Love Of Three Kings, was evidence that the Village area is undergoing a kind another incarnation.

Some 75 years ago, Italo Montemezzi’s opera was hardly rare. Toscanini conducted its American debut, Mary Garden once played Florio, Ezio Pinza played the blind King Archibald, a sold-out Met Opera crowd watch the composer himself conduct the opera, and some 25 years ago, City Opera put it on the boards.

Today, the Penguin Book of Operas doesn’t even mention Montemezzi, and when I mentioned to knowing friends that I was going, they thought I had mispronounced Monteverdi.

So blessings on this new company for taking a decent basement space, putting in an orchestra, some sparse settings (a sketch of some battlements), and stylized 10th Century costumes.

The opera was sung in the original Italian with no subtitles, but the story is so simple, so indicative of late Italian opera that a reading of the synopsis easily sufficed. Briefly: blind King’s son is married to a woman who loves another. When the King hears (but does not see) their intimate meetings, he strangles her, then her husband puts poison on her lips, so when her lover visits her in the crypt, he kisses her and dies. As does the repentant husband.

This gives room for a Cavalleria-style religious chorus, a very tense pre-strangling scene between king and daughter-in-law, a lovely aria by Archibald about his martial past, and the usual love scenes. The opera has no set pieces, but like other one-hit Italian opera composers (Leoncavallo, Mascagni, Giordano etc), rolls along at a fast pace. The only major flaws are three intermezzi, which are not only boring but leave the actors with nothing to do. (The heroine, Fiora, paces back and forth for about eight inglorious minutes!)

Of the two casts, I heard a pair of absolutely splendid voices. Christina Arethas as Fiora was perhaps too loud for the basement theater, but her upper registers were so gorgeous she was easily forgiven. In a smaller role, Benjamin Sloman, as Archibald’s assistant has a tenor voice so heroic and resonant that I wished he could have replaced the colorless lover, played by Anthony Daino. The husband, played by baritone James Wordsworth, was frankly not up to it. The voice was weak, the acting strangely stilted.

That old blind King, sung by Garth Taylor, did have his wonderful moments, for this is a terrific character. Like the blind hero of Nabokov’s Laughter In The Dark, Archibald can hear what’s going on but doesn’t know where or when. The scene where he interrogates Fiora is as good as anything written by Puccini.

The most challenging job was by conductor Paul Haas. His orchestra consisted of all the winds, brass and drums necessary (great fanfares for trumpet and clarinet!), but the string section was a string quintet. Yet the balance was excellent No, it didn’t sound like Levine’s Met, but the orchestra had the enthusiasm of any provincial Italian town. That was quite sufficient for an opera which swings along with energy commitment, and all the sadism one needs for a terrific evening in the Village.

~Harry Rolnick

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The New York Times  (October 19, 2009) reviewing a performance of Montemezzi’s opera L’amore dei tre re.

An Opera, Rarely Heard, From a Troupe, Newly Born

You had to applaud the chutzpah the Bleecker Street Opera Company displayed in its maiden voyage. You might have thought that this upstart company, founded by former executives and artists of the Amato Opera (which closed in June), would start with a familiar repertory staple...but the Bleecker Street company chose to make its initial splash with “L’Amore dei Tre Re,” presented on Sunday night at the Theaters at 45 Bleecker Street. A verismo rarity composed in 1913 by Italo Montemezzi, the opera was popular during the first half of the 20th century but has mostly languished since...

... The role of Archibaldo requires an imposing bass, and the Bleecker Street ensemble had one in Eric Jordan, a New York City Opera veteran whose powerful, nuanced singing and thoughtful acting amounted to a wholly remarkable portrayal. As Fiora, the soprano Sabrina Palladino showed an impressive grasp of verismo style and a penchant for flamboyant gestures.

The tenor Juan Carlos Franco, as Avito, produced quality notes... James Wordsworth, a baritone, was an agreeable presence as Manfredo, Archibaldo’s son... Secondary roles were capably managed; the chorus did well in its sole appearance.

Where the Bleecker Street Opera departed most from its forebear was in the quality of its instrumental component: the music director, Paul Haas, conducting a 15-piece chamber orchestra positioned beside the stage, offered a passionate, refined and keenly balanced account of Paul Fowler’s skillful reduction. Richard Cerullo’s...scenery lived up to the economical Amato standard...the performance showed that the Amato legacy is in good hands.

~Steve Smith

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Time Out New York   (July 23, 2009)

Bleecker Street Opera keeps the Amato spirit alive

When the curtain closed on the Amato Opera earlier this year, it also closed on a piece of Bowery history: After 61 seasons, the feisty company—squeezed in next to the former CBGB—succumbed to land sharks when impresario and conductor Tony Amato announced he was retiring and selling the 107-seat house. With the company’s final bow in May, though, came news of a promising coda, as several company members announced the formation of the Amore Opera Company.

Yet even as the love continues to grow with Amore, another ensemble—launched by Tony Amato’s niece, Irene Kim, and her husband, John—will bring opera back to the East Village even sooner. The newly formed Bleecker Street Opera met this week with Fourth Arts Block, a group committed to preserving the East 4th Street Cultural District. FAB will be helping the nascent company with its Internet presence and networking as it works to raise the curtain this fall. “They have found a home at the Bleecker Street Theatre,” says FAB’s special-projects coordinator, Lauren Parrish. “They’ll be rebirthing themselves this fall. It’s very exciting.”

It’s no surprise that the company will carry on in the Amato spirit: With Mr. Amato’s blessing, the Kims secured an intimate, lively venue with the same seating capacity, retained the Amato’s scenic designer, Richard Cerullo—and may even find a way to sneak in the late Sally Amato’s signature meatballs after performances. “Once you get used to one thing, it’s hard to have anything else,” Irene Kim says, laughing over the similarities between her company and that of her aunt and uncle.

Bleecker Street Opera is set to launch in October (tentatively the 18th) with Montemezzi’s L’Amor di Tre Re (”The Love of Three Kings”), and means to round out its inaugural season with two perennial Italian classics, Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Verdi’s Rigoletto. We’ll bring you more details as they are confirmed.

~ Olivia Giovetti

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