A Triple-Hitter at Opera New Jersey

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In its second year under the leadership of Richard Russell, summer company Opera New Jersey aims to position its home base of Princeton, NJ, as a destination for opera.

With new blood in several of the city’s music organizations—Jacques Lacombe at the itinerant New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (which plays frequently in Princeton) and Rossen Milanov heading the Princeton Symphony Orchestra—in addition to the always-satisfying Princeton Music Festival, this collegiate hamlet equidistant to New York and Philadelphia is neatly amassing its own Ivy League of music institutes.

Supporting the thesis, OperaNJ completes a triple play this weekend, wrapping up runs of Rossini and Menotti and offering a new work by Thomas Pasatieri. Michael Scarola’s production of The Barber of Seville (July 23) serves as a buffer between the two heavier works, offering a bubbly and sumptuous charm to play off of the Rossini high many of us have been riding since Caramoor’s Guillaume Tell. New York City Opera stalwarts Heather Johnson and Marco Nisticó star as Rosina and the barber himself, joined by LA Opera Domingo-Thornton Young Artist Hak Soo Kim as Count Almaviva.

Cut to the dramatic meat of the weekend an you’ll find several other refugees from the former New York State Theater, including former NYCO board member Joyce Castle (who resigned in protest of the company’s recent administrative shifts) as the Mother in Menotti’s chillingly Kafkaesque work The Consul (July 24), directed by Joel Revzen. Lina Tetriani, a titanium-voiced, Georgian-born soprano whose family spent nearly two years trying to emigrate from her native country while she was a child, promises a dose of pathos in her role as Magda Sorel, the ill-fated heroine crushed by an oppressive bureaucracy. Other City Opera vets in this production include Nicholas Pallesen (last seen as Storch in last fall’s Intermezzo), Jason Ferrante as the Magician and Audrey Babcock as the Secretary.

Perhaps the biggest statement, however, is OperaNJ’s coproduction with American Opera Projects of The Family Room (July 23 & 24), a reading of a new work by Thomas Pasatieri and librettist Daphne Malfitano, written specifically for sopranos Lauren Flanigan and Catherine Malfitano. The latter has been a leading opponent of City Opera’s move from Lincoln Center, co-authoring an open letter detailing as much that was signed by over 120 artists, including Plácido Domingo, Hal Prince and Frederica von Stade. Lauren Flanigan was last seen at City Opera in Stephen Schwartz’s watery maiden voyage into the genre, Séance on a Wet Afternoon. Flanigan reunites with Séance director Scott Schwartz for this reading, detailing the lives of two mysterious women living in a basement squalor.  

Given that New York City Opera’s administrative offices have been housed in the basement of the David H. Koch Theater, both singers will likely have a great deal of sense memory to play upon.

Is Princeton becoming a hub for classical music and opera? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.