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…as I was singing…

New York
Central Park
07/19/2000 -  
Giuseppe Verdi: La Forza del Destino
New York Grand Opera
Vincent La Selva (conductor)

The threat of rain weighed heavily all day in the skies over New York and in the hearts of opera lovers in all five boroughs as the latest installment in Vincent La Selva’s traversal of the complete operas of Verdi was scheduled this evening. In his quest for comprehensiveness, Maestro had vowed to perform the last two scenes of A Masked Ball, washed away by summer showers several weeks ago, before this evening’s main offering. Scheduling tonight’s event an hour early, La Selva seemed bent on entering the hallowed pages of the Guinness Book of World Records as the first man to conduct the entire ouevre in chronological order. Actually this encyclopedic completeness does not offer such apocrypha as alternative endings (a major consideration in La Forza) and New York Grand offered only Stiffelio without the original Aroldo some years back, but no one can doubt the sincerity of a man who would even dare to take on such a massive seven year project and, as if the challenge were not difficult enough, do it outdoors! As emails flew about the city making sure that the hardy audience members had brought their umbrellas, the crew of Summerstage set up the area of this cultured man’s Woodstock, blissfully defying the possible inclement weather. Had Mr. La Selva been not so involved in Verdi, a production of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde might have been a more appropriate undertaking.

After a long delay while we were all kept huddled outside the area and spoken to only with bullhorns (a very New York mode of communication) the organizers tentatively decided to postpone the event once again but, in truly operatic fashion, the sun appeared just as the situation seemed the darkest. Another delay ended with our admission and, before we could even have our first sip of wine, Riccardo was being slain at the ball and comforted by someone whom we regulars knew was not the real Amelia even before she took off her mask. As the last strains of the finale died away with the protagonist, I had the strange feeling that I should kiss my friends goodnight and head out for home. But this bloody bagatelle was but a preview of the carnage to come. Before this evening was over, no one could even utter my favorite line from Verdi (from Il Trovatore):

…why am I the only one left alive?

because there would be no character left standing to sing it.

Speaking of Trovatore, the three great operas that have heroines named Leonore (besides the two Verdis the other is, of course, Beethoven’s Fidelio) need to be dominated by a very strong soprano, whose presence on the stage always portends greatness. Last evening we were all introduced to such a woman, Michele Capalbo, who has ridden down from the wilds of Western Canada (whence the powerful Jon Vickers) to stun audiences with her vocal depth, purity of tone, dynamic acting ability and, with the caveat that these sessions are always amplified, large and burnished instrument. She seems to truly be a discovery and it will fun in future to say that I heard her when she was still an unknown. Her Pace, pace mio Dio was ravishing, her poignant scene with the friars touching and her dramatic spark mirrored the dark music of the famous overture. Unfortunately, as often happens at these ragtag productions, Ms. Capalbo by her very brilliance, exposed the weak timbres of her surrounding voices and only David Ward’s shining bass as Fra Melitone seemed to be in the same league.

The most amazing aspect of New York Grand is its adaptability. The choristers’ trip from Boston to Seville was accomplished solely by their donning of bandanas while the set pointed out the amazingly similar look of these two disparate locations. Don Carlo di Vargas doesn’t throw himself off of the cliff at the end, rather simply walking off into the scenery, but this was appreciated as there was so much violence on the stage that I was afraid that the omnipresent park security force might intervene. The orchestra was extremely impressive throughout, fighting the effects of rampant humidity while elevating the level of these performances significantly. One of the most enjoyable evenings of the year and all at no charge. There are great bargains in New York, you just have to know where to look.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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