Blizzard schmlizzard.

Actually that’s not true - however, Majel's previous commentary is. It was only by the skin of our teeth that we all made it to Oberlin this week in time to actually give the world premiere of USW. All were supposed to arrive between Monday and Wednesday, which happened to coincide with Southwest and BWI going into the throes of some kind of complete air traffic-blizzard meltdown. By Wednesday, when we STILL had no reliable word on the arrival of Alejandro, Vicky and Chris, I was sure that Friday and Saturday’s performances we not going to happen. In fact, Habib gave up altogether on the notion of flying in the Eastern US, so to get to his next gig on Friday, he rented a car and DROVE across Pennsylvania. Lewis Nielson remained optimistic (he insists that he’s naturally optimistic), not doubting for a second that all would come through. And it did, but not without the “residency” part of the residency getting truncated to something more like rehearsal / performance marathon for some. BUT, Oberlin being what it is (an idyllic paradise of youthful learning and labor) the experience did not leave the group so rattled that we were unable to enjoy all of the wondrous benefits offered in downtown Oberlin: Late Night Feve, Feve Dinner, Feve Happy Hour, and oh yes, the new Feve Brunch (read: Lobster-bacon quiche). Ahh the Feve. And occasionally Black River Cafe.

USW Premiere - Phase 1 now complete (the ensemble having played the snot out of some fiendishly difficult pieces on remarkably short rehearsal time … ain't nothing like trial by fire), we are now ready to commence USW Premiere - Phase 2. Of course, Phase 2 doesn’t begin until Thursday and in the mean time we all go our separate ways to do our separate things. I, for example had to shirk my beloved Florilegium last Monday, so I’m back to New York to look in on our Victoria Requiem progress before returning to the Midwest (NOT via Southwest) to do it all again in Curtiss Hall ... but sadly without Kevin. We’ll miss you Kev.

In other “complete immersion in chamber opera” news, I was fortunate to catch dell’Arte Opera’s Anna Bolena immediately before departing for Oberlin. I should probably preface whatever follows by saying that I don’t go to much early 19th c. Italian Opera. Actually that’s an understatement - this was the first Donizetti I’ve heard live. And while I know it’s out there, there are some admittedly gaping holes in my intimacy with certain periods and regions of the repertoire. So I was interested because even though it seems lately like every ensemble and their artistic off-shoot is making a foray into chamber opera, here was another group dedicated specifically to intimate operatic chamber performance, focusing on a particular window of repertoire – a window comparatively unfamiliar to me, AND it turns out they’ve been working at it for about 10 years now.

So Friday night we made the epic Inwood to Lower East Side journey and settled in for the nearly 3 hour show. My understanding of the group is that the primary focus for Christopher Fecteau (AD) is the cultivation of the singers – part of their work is running a summer institute that provides performance opportunities in the standard repertoire. They also don’t seem to have a fixed (or semi-fixed) roster of instrumentalists. This show was played by Hellgate Harmonie, a group specializing in wind arrangements of Classical (with a capital "C") favorites. I was admittedly quite surprised at how well a wind arrangement (plus keyboard) of the opera seemed to work (I hope I’m not betraying my trumpet-playing, marching band, and brass quintet origin). The score was downright charming, if perhaps a little befuddling. I have to admit that Donizetti’s notion of musical/dramatic combination is a bit foreign to me. At times the music seems almost arbitrarily related to the dramatic content/story. But then, or so I'm told, making a unified aesthetic statement was not so much the priority from Gaetano and Co. Certainly the most enjoyable part of the evening were the three leading ladies in the show - Jill Dewsnup as Anna Bolena, Cherry Duke as Giovanna Seymour, and Blythe Gaissert as Smeton. Each brought a satisfying blend of musicality and dramatic presence to their roles. Bravo to the group and Christopher Fecteau.


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