On September 1, 2, 3, 6, and 7 at 7:00 PM, Opera Omnia returns to Le Poisson Rouge to present Francesco Cavalli's Giasone, fully staged, in an English edition by Paul C. Echols (originally prepared for the Mannes Camerata in 1987). Wesley Chinn, General Manager and Artistic Director of the company (now-for anyone who remembers Opera Omnia's last press release-apparently willing to quote himself), describes the production as, among other things, "a tiny economic stimulus package. As a new company with no overhead, we had the liberty of spending no money and doing no productions. This kind of thinking, though, on a global level, is part of what's responsible for our continuing economic woes, so we see undertaking a production as, among other things, our tiny way of helping the economy. From a liberal point of view, this is economic stimulus, taking money out of the hands of the relatively well-off and giving it to poor artists who will spend it immediately; from a conservative point of view, this is a chance to demonstrate supply-side economics in action."
The company has been on a three-year recession-induced hiatus since 2008's sold-out run of The Coronation of Poppea (also at Le Poisson Rouge) about which Classics Today raved "Virtually every aspect of this production leaves an audience desiring more," and which Out in Jersey called "a crowd pleaser." The New York Times said "there was a lot to be said for its directness" while calling us "a serious entry in the ranks of small-bore companies in New York" and the Wall Street Journal said "there were no barriers to comprehension....the audience of about 220 seemed riveted." This production features the return of Hai-Ting Chinn and Cherry Duke (who the Times referred to as "the company's firepower," joined by a cast including soprano Katharine Dain, tenors Karim Sulayman and Isai Jess Morales, baritone Matthew Singer, and bass Nathan Baer.
Le Poisson Rouge was just opening as Opera Omnia presented our first show. In the intervening years, the club has grown into an integral part of the New York music scene, and we hope our return there will be the next step in cementing our own place in the city's artistic landscape.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Giasone was perhaps the 17th century's most-performed opera, and in it we can see the 17th-century Venetian style (of which Monteverdi's Coronation of Poppea is the best-known example to modern audiences) in its full maturity, seamlessly mixing speech-like recitative with frequent short tunes (ariosi, for the musicologically inclined). The style exhibits the typical 17th-century mixture of the serious with the absurd (well-known to modern audiences in the comic scenes in Shakespeare's tragedies), in this case interspersing a more-or-less serious plot that sees Jason delaying his quest for the Golden Fleece while he dallies with an unseen lover and is pursued by his abandoned wife with sub-plots involving amorous maids and a stuttering hunchback (there was a Venetian dwarf who was so skilled in his portrayal of this character that he was written into most of the Venetian operas of the time). These Venetian operas, performed during Carnival, attracted mass audiences of the paying public, and represented about as close as opera companies have ever come to being able to support themselves on ticket sales (we only wish we could do the same!).
Opera Omnia seeks to update this aesthetic by presenting our opera in a fashion more akin to what audiences today expect from a play (or perhaps a musical) than most opera. The use of English translation and the small space makes the text readily comprehensible, and in keeping with the 17th-century fashion, our costumes will have as much to do with contemporary fashion as with historical ideas, with the aim of serving the musical drama rather than being a distracting "concept." This production will honor the musical material as well as the venue by drawing on elements of 17th-century silhouettes, vaudeville street theater, Greenwich Village vintage punk, and cabaret variety shows to serve the drama of the story (or else wind up as a hot mess, but we certainly hope not). Meanwhile, our historically-informed approach using period instruments will present Cavalli's score in service of and partnership with the action on stage.
Paul C. Echols, who died in 1994, was for many years the director of the Mannes Camerata, prepared several English-language editions of 17th-century operas, which he presented at Mannes. These editions were (and are) notable for their combination of scholarship and also their effectiveness. This edition of Giasone was originally presented in 1987 by the Mannes Camerata, and it brings out the bawdy humor and colloquial accessibility of Cavalli's original, while the changes Echols made (including a myriad of cuts and transpositions) are firmly in keeping with 17th-century ideas about the relative importance of adhering to a canonical text versus preparing a rendition that works for the performers one has at hand. We hope that this performance will be a fitting tribute to Echols's legacy of English-language baroque opera in the city.
Avi Stein (Music Director) teaches harpsichord, vocal repertoire, and chamber music at Yale University and is the music director at St. Matthew & St. Timothy Episcopal Church in Manhattan. The New York Times described him as "a brilliant organ soloist" in his Carnegie Hall debut and he was recently featured in Early Music America magazine in an article on the new generation of leaders in the field. Avi has performed throughout the United States, in Europe, Canada, and Central America. He is an active continuo accompanist who plays regularly with the Boston Early Music Festival, the Trinity Church Wall Street Choir and Baroque Orchestra, the Clarion Music Societym and Bach Vespers NYC. This past summer, Avi directed the young artists' program at the Carmel Bach Festival. Avi has also conducted a variety of ensembles including the Opera Français de New York, Opera Omnia's Coronation of Poppea and a critically acclaimed annual series called the 4x4 Festival. Avi is currently finishing his doctoral studies in organ and harpsichord at Indiana University and holds degrees from the Eastman School of Music and the University of Southern California, and was a recipient of a Fulbright scholarship for study in Toulouse.
Crystal M. Manich (Stage Director ) has been praised for "staging charged with nuance" and "visually impacting pictures". In addition to Giasone, Crystal's upcoming directing projects include La Traviata for Pittsburgh Opera and Lyric Opera of Baltimore, and L'elisir d'amore for Utah Opera. She recently directed a new production of Handel's Rinaldo for Pittsburgh Opera-in keeping with her interest of staging 17th and 18th century drama-in which "the most striking aspect of the staging was the way Manich used lighting and stage manner" (Tribune-Review ). Her production of La Bohème for Utah Opera received praise for "the fabulous look of this updated staging" (Salt Lake Tribune). She was also recognized for her "supreme taste, deep knowledge of the work and conceptual clarity" along with "impacting visual pictures" for her production of Madama Butterfly for Buenos Aires Lírica in Argentina in 2010. She is co-founder and co-Artistic Director of Opera Omnia, whose inaugural production of The Coronation of Poppea received many accolades. Crystal toured with Cirque du Soleil in Brazil and has served as assistant director on over two dozen opera productions over the last six years with various opera companies in the US. Degrees: BFA in Drama and Master of Arts Management from Carnegie Mellon University.
Mezzo-soprano Cherry Duke (Jason) has been praised for her "striking voice-acting and stage movement" in leading roles such as Carmen, Nerone in The Coronation of Poppea, Jo March in Adamo's Little Women, and Lucretia in The Rape of Lucretia. Additionally, she has sung the title roles in Hansel and Gretel and Der Rosenkavalier as well as leading mezzo-soprano roles inIL Barbiere di Siviglia, Le nozze di Figaro, Madama Butterfly, Die Zauberflöte, Falstaff, Rigoletto, The Mikado, La Traviata, L'enfant et les sortileges, and The Love for Three Oranges. Cherry has performed many roles with New York City Opera and traveled with them to Japan for Little Women and Madama Butterfly. In the 2010-2011 season she continued on the roster of New York City Opera, covering the Notary's Wife in Intermezzo. Miss Duke is frequently involved in cross-over and brand-new works. As a soloist in several seasons of New York City Opera's VOX concerts, she has sung a variety of styles, including roles in Scott Davenport Richards' jazz opera, Charlie Crosses the Nation and Gordon Beeferman's post-modern Ratland. At Bard's SummerScape Festival and Joe's Pub she was featured in Carl Hancock Rux and Diedre Murray's "cabaret opera," The Blackamoor Angel. Miss Duke also thrives in classic musical theater, having played Nellie Forbush in Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific with Ash Lawn Opera Festival. Recent new music performances include Sally Rogers in the premiere of Salerni's The Life and Love of Joe Coogan, Olive in the world premiere of Dellaria's The Secret Agent with Center for Contemporary Opera, as well as roles in NYCO's 2011 VOX Contemporary American Opera Lab and the Yale Institute of Music Theatre.