Despite rough edges, Bare Opera offers outstanding moments with Granados rarity

Sun Nov 15, 2015 at 2:55 pm
Bare Opera presented Granados' "Goyescas" Saturday night at the Bat Haus in Bushwick. Photo: Rio Vander Stahl

Bare Opera presented Granados’ “Goyescas” Saturday night at the Bat Haus in Bushwick. Photo: Rio Vander Stahl

Despite the expense and difficulties of presenting opera in New York City that have already done in two important companies in recent years, this place is still packed with talented people dedicated to the genre.

That was the overall reaction to the Saturday opening night of Goyescas, a production from Bare Opera of Granados’ rarely performed one-act opera. The work premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 1916, but since then appears to have never been staged again in New York (there are only three recordings of it in the discography).

While the drama may be new to audiences, much of the music is familiar—Granados adapted it from his well-known Goyescas for piano. Whole scenes, like “El Baile de Candil,” are sung and danced to pure orchestrations of the original music, in this case “El fandango de candil.”

Bare Opera accurately describes the company and the staging. With few resources, the converted garage space of the Bat Haus, in Bushwick, was set with nothing more than hanging lightbulbs, a small wooden platform, and a metal garbage can, knocked on its side.

What Bare Opera did have is ideas, craft, and some highly talented and skilled performers. The singers were impressive, and they were easily equalled by a trio of memorable dancers: Tiger Brown, Sharlane Conner, and Vivake Kamsingsavath.The three were integral to the evening, and featured in the first half, which was a performance of excerpts from Albéniz’s Suite Espagnola, choreographed for the dancers by Liz Piccoli.

The five excerpts—“Castilla,” “Granada,” “Sevilla,” “Asturias,” and “Aragon”—were danced as a solo for Kamsingsavath, a pas de deux between him and Conner, a solo for Brown, then two pas de trois.

The choreography mixed ballet, baroque, and modern dance, with additional, exciting flamenco steps for Brown. The steps and flourishes were an exact companion to the music, an entertaining and at times beautiful translation of sound into narrative movement.

A 14-piece chamber orchestra, conducted by Sesto Quatrini, played well, with a big, solid, colorful sound that was enhanced by the odd acoustics of the space, the configuration of which had the musicians set in the back, under a low ceiling.

As with the dancers, the principal singers in Goyescas were outstanding. Baritone Suchan Kim and mezzo-soprano Kirsten Scott were the majismos Paquiro and Pepa, presented as 1980’s post-Franco punks, while tenor Sungwook Kim and soprano Larisa Martinez were the aristocratic couple Fernando and Rosario.

The majismos were members of the 18th century Spanish upper classes who adopted the culture and fashion of ordinary people. Jonathan Warman’s direction subtly but clearly defined differences in values between the pairs, setting the majismos’ self-conscious outsider stance against Fernando and Rosario’s restrained forbearance.

The story that librettist Fernando Periquet y Zuaznabar fit to Granados’ music is a melodrama of love, jealously, honor, and violence. This is typical operatic fare, but made special, and often moving, by the music, which is overflowing with tunes and lively rhythms that surround a sense of tragedy and loss. Structured in three tableaux, with an Intermezzo and Interlude that provided for more excellent dancing, the staging was sympathetic to the underlying haunted quality of Granados’ original composition.

The four voices were a pleasure to hear, and were terrific mutual dramatic foils. Suchan Kim and Scott were vivacious and extroverted, while Sungwook Kim and Martinez were self-contained, secure together but confused by their antagonists. Suchan emphasized power and virility, while Sungwook sang with an elegant line and quiet confidence.

The women’s voices were lovely. Scott’s teasing manner did nothing to undercut her ringing, clear voice and wide-ranging tessitura. Although she had the ostensibly more lyrical part, Martinez sang with a darker color than Scott, and she was mesmerizing in the final tableaux, which has all the drama flowing through Rosario’s voice.

The only flaw in this Goyescas was the orchestral playing, which sounded ill-prepared and severely underrehearsed. As solid as the musicians were in the first half, they played poorly in the second, at times extremely poorly.

One hopes that will improve. With five more performances to come, the musicians will learn the music better through the demands of on-the-job training, and a production full of special moments might become more consistently special.

Goyescas runs at the Bat Haus though November 22. A second cast of soprano Lauren Yokabaskas, mezzo Molly Boggess, tenor Sean Christensen, and baritone Hee-Pyoung Oh will alternate performances.

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