Opera to DIE For – “Where Opera and Cabaret Collide”

The last show of Opera New York’s Summer Series features one martyred suicide, one death at the hands of a jealous husband, one angry stabbing, one execution by firing squad, and one florid passing from tuberculosis. For those of you unversed in the genre, this evokes Madame Butterfly (Giacomo Puccini), Cavalleria Rusticana (Pietro Mascagni), Carmen (Georges Bizet), Tosca (Giacomo Puccini) and La Traviata (Giuseppe Verdi).

Host/Narrator Jason Graae welcomes us to this festival of death with a rousing tongue-in-cheek rendition of “Willkommen” (Cabaret) “…inside the Met…Room, life is beeoodival, death is beeoodival, even the orchezdra is beeoodival…” followed by “The Party’s Over-ture.” Justifying his parents’ lesson costs (he says), Graae plays the oboe (rather well), lightens, and brightens the concert with wry, contemporary clue-ins as to each opera’s story.

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Jason Graae

Madame Butterfly, for example, is the “typical” tale of a US naval officer (tenor Edgar Jaramillo as Pinkerton) who “loves to drop his anchor everywhere.” The American falls in love with, weds, beds, and abandons “an underage Japanese girl” (soprano Veronica Loiacono as Cio Cio San). When he returns with a wife three years later, Pinkerton learns he has a son. Butterfly believes the only way to give the boy what she cannot, is to take herself out of the picture. She commits Harakiri.

We hear portions of the Love Duet, Un bel di the Flower Duet (Butterfly with handmaiden Suzuki- mezzo Jodi Karem), Addio, and Tu Tu Tu, the heroine’s farewell. Loiacono can be shrill; long phrases abort rather than diminish. Karem is clarity itself and a good actress. Jaramillo manages to express his character in a few gestures. His vocals are appealing and expansive.

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Veronica Loiacono, Elena Heimur

Cavalleria Rusticana is the story of the couple Turridu (Jaramillo) and Lola (Karem), “a showgirl” (a la the Barry Manilow song) who part when he joins the army. The soldier returns to find his inamorata married to the richer Aldio and rebounds with Santuzza (Loiacono). Lola, however, is “under his skin” and that affair resumes. “This can’t end well.” Eventually Santuzza rats on Turridu. Hoist with her own petard, she provokes the fight that kills her lover. Oh, and there’s an angry mother in there somewhere.

Arias in this section are Siciliana, Voi lo sapete, Tu qui, Santuzza!, Fior di giaggiolo.

Karem’s voice soars with confidence and control. Octaves shift seamlessly, emerging with finesse. The antagonistic duet with Jamarillo showcases terrific balance as that artist matches passion and skill. Physical direction enhances. Loiacono vocally fares better in this piece. Her character’s spitefulness telegraphs.

Carmen, ‘A gypsy hooker” is represented by a quick (water pistol) death; Tosca arrives (and departs) a mere yelp from the stage.

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Edgar Jaramille, Robert Borgatti

La Traviata, inspired by Alexandre Dumas’ La Dame aux Camélias, describes “high class hooker,” Violetta (soprano Elena Heimur), content with her life until she meets young, dashing Alfredo (Jamarillo). The courtesan “falls in love and shares fettuccine.” Riddled with tuberculosis, she’s determined to live fully as long as she can, forgoing her dissipate life. “Alfred thinks TB or not TB.” (Actually, he has no idea how ill she is.) They move together to the picturesque countryside. (Refer to the Greta Garbo film.)

The young man’s conservative father (baritone Robert Borgatti) visits “while Alfredo’s out buying Puttanesca” and convinces Violetta to give up his son for the sake of his future.  She painfully writes “a Dear John’ letter” and returns to the habit of partying without heart. Several months later, Violetta is on her death bed. Alfredo finds out the truth and rushes to her side.

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Edgar Jaramille and Jodi Karem; Jodi Karem

Portions of arias Sempre Libera, Dei mei bolentti ppiriti, Di te’ alla gio va niO mio Alfredo, Di provenza, Addio del passato, and Parigio Caro are performed. Elena Heimur seemingly sings without lyric. Despite musical fluency, enunciation is nonexistent. Jamarillo is believably ardent and then filled with remorse. His singing is palpably warm.

Guest Robert Borgatti is the highlight of the evening. His resonant, yet nuanced vocals are a constant pleasure. A capella showcases rather than revealing flaws. Borgatti imbues every lyric with intention. He’s strong, sympathetic, and true.

The company closes with a spirited rendition of the drinking song, Brindidi, from La Traviata.

In a series like this, Opera New York allows one to sample without being intimidated or sitting through an entire piece.’A good opportunity to broaden the base of essentially beautiful, highly theatrical music.

Photos by Maryann Lopinto
Opening: Veronica Loiacono, Jodi Karem, Edgar Jaramille, Elena Heimur, Robert Borgatti

Opera New York Inc. is dedicated to producing unique and innovative productions of opera, music theater, and concerts that are accessible to contemporary, widely diversified audiences. 

Opera New York Summer Festival presents
Opera to DIE For
Artistic Director Judith Fredricks
Music Director/Piano- Michael Pilafian
Hosted and Narrated by Jason Graae
Vocalists: Veronica Loiacono, Edgar Jaramille, Elena Heimur, Jodi Karem, Robert Borgatti
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
August 14, 2016
Venue Calendar

About Alix Cohen (1162 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.