Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Rambunctious Baroque Fun

Jewels of the Baroque
(High voices and low tea in a semi-precious setting)
Opera Feroce / Vertical Player Repertory
Behind the Door, 219 Court Street, Brooklyn
November 28, 2015

"Castrati" getting loud
Photo credit: Vertical Player Repertory
Lei: Behind a tiny red door at 219 Court Street (Brooklyn), we were transported to a parallel 17th century universe, where everybody wore powdered (and feathered!) wigs, sported over the top Baroque gear and bore eccentric improbable names in a hodgepodge of old world tomfoolery. The hosts were British and served tea (with deliciously buttery scones and classic cucumber sandwiches) at intermission, the “renowned ensemble” providing entertainment was composed of an dashing young Italian man, Sig.re Topazio Ametista Catenadoro (mezzo Hayden DeWitt), a prissy French wannabe primadonna, M.lle Zirconie Pavé (soprano Beth Anne Hatton) and a self-absorbed German fop, Herr Smaragd Solitaroff von Schmückstuck (countertenor Alan Dornak), not to mention their “banda” of musicians with equally colorful names: Joe Ielli (flauto traverso), Wisteria Peasblossom (baroque violin), Yo-yo Ma-ma (viola da gamba), and Saffronia Peasblossom (harpsichord).

M.lle Pavé and Sig.re Topazio Catenadoro
Photo credit: Vertical Player Repertory
Lui: We’ve all been invited to Mrs. Minnie Minim’s home for “an après-midi of fine music presented by the renowned ensemble Opera Feroce.” Her husband, a cranky old fart who spoke in a slurred Welsh accent popped out half dressed every so often slightly perturbed by the ruckus in his parlor and their daughter Miss Acquamarinia Minim (soprano Allegra Durante, sporting a miniature peacock as headpiece) was also on hand. Speaking in a hybrid of Romanaccio Italian and heavily accented English, Topazio Ametista Catenadoro acted as the master of ceremonies throughout most of the show. After thanking the audience and Mrs. Minim for her hospitality, Catenadoro announced that they would be starting with a nice song about a shipwreck, (Caprioli’s Navicella ch’a bel vento) which in his broken English came out sounding like “sheep-wreck.” The laughs start early.

Schmückstuk exhibits his way with women.
Photo credit: Vertical Player Repertory
Lei: And the colpi di scena (or coups de theatre while we’re at it) arrive quickly, too. A lovely Bach duetto per flauto e violino by Miss Wisteria Peaseblossom and Mr. Joe Ielli (which sounds like “jewels” in Italian – get it?) was abruptly interrupted by a thunderous knocking on the door. I seriously thought it was some rude opera loving latecomer (there are many of those out there). But no, it was all part of the show, as an over the top uber-jeweled, feathered and Venetian-masqued operatic diva made her grand entrance together with a crazy-haired sketchy guy. She introduced herself as Diamante Maria Scarabelli (soprano Judith Barnes) and her companion as her trusted musician (and jealous lover) Señor Juan Almendra Sebolla Avellana Perejil y Gambas (playing the viola da gamba, of course).

Sig.ra Scarabelli is simply irresistible.
Photo credit: Vertical Player Repertory
Sig.ra Scarabelli mentions, in heavy Italian accent, that she wears a mask otherwise everybody would want to kiss her and touch her on the street because she’s such an operatic sensation. Turns out she was not kidding as Diamante Maria Scarabelli was indeed a real life popular Italian soprano in the late 17th and early 18th century (and indeed one could suspect that, as her name was the least absurd of the bunch). Diamante explains that she heard of the little concert and could not resist stopping by to make some music and regale everybody with her talent. The diva hijacks the show creating a number of hilarious vignettes: she distributes new concert programs with her name in a font that’s double the size of everybody else, sings moving lamenti from Bonconcini, Monteverdi and Porpora (every time tearing up and saying stuff like “this Claudio [Monteverdi] makes me feel things in the inside”). She constantly belittles the “French” soprano M.lle Pavé (who sneers “nous at Operrra Ferrross sommes ici pour la musique, pas pour ecouter vos cochonneries!), brags about her many dead husbands (all composers she “inspired” as their “muse,” of course) and so on.

The diva and her charms.
Photo credit: Vertical Player Repertory
Lui: And just when you thought the Opera Feroce troupe was already having more fun than such a recital could possibly allow, they go and dial it up another notch and then another yet. Think about the duet between Herr von Schmückstuck and Miss Minim (Son nato a lagrimar, from Handel’s Giulio Cesare) that ends with Mr. Minim spanking his daughter because she starts speaking dirty German (the influence of the fop, no doubt). Or else the finale when tutti sing an aria from Mozart’s Idomeneo (the composer is not born yet, but when he is, Diamante will make him her “13th husband” because he will be a genius). Herr von Schmückstuck sings a very inspired final “Andrò ramingo e solo” in his deepest baritone voice, which prompts Catenadoro to yell “you’re not a real castrato!!!” To which he retorts “and neither are you!” (indeed, she’s a mezzo soprano). To conclude, Diamante, intrigued by his unexpected male attributes, starts flirting with von Schmückstuck while everybody takes a bow.

M.lle Pavé singing something lovely.
Photo credit: Vertical Player Repertory
Lei: Make no mistake about it: this company may successfully joke around and make its public laugh hysterically, but it is dead serious about the period music it makes, uncovering rare gems of the Italian, French and German 17th and 18th century repertoire, from Bonconcini to Monteverdi and Porpora, Rameau and Janequin, Telemann, Handel and Krieger. The genius of Opera Feroce consists in playing with the extravagant spirit of the Baroque and reinventing its interpretation in fresh and highly entertaining ways. No detail is too small for this company, as every single aspect of their show (costumes, props, programs, scones, multi-lingual jokes) was thoughtfully curated with an irreverent effervescence, yet coupled with an incredibly competent musicianship and respect of the original score and text.

Herr von Schmückstuk flaunts his stuff.
Photo credit: Vertical Player Repertory
Lui: We thought that with “Jewels of the Baroque” Opera Feroce was going to bring us a respectable teatime recital of baroque rarities, but after having discovered them in the extravagant pastiche Arminio in Armenia, we should have known to expect better than that. The whole evening was such a feast of linguistic playful pleasure on top of all the fabulous music. The artists of this fierce opera company outdid themselves yet again with a ragtag mash up of theatrical and musical entertainment punctuated by bouts of well-choreographed chaos and a true linguistic feast with hilarious dialogues in Italian, French and German. These guys just bring the music to life with the sheer joy that they so clearly bring to performing it, and the public cannot help but join in the contagious rambunctious Baroque fun.

- Lei & Lui

Opera Feroce e Amici
Photo credit: Vertical Player Repertory

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