What to Hear in Opera and Vocal Music in NYC: A Guide for All Interests

Monday, July 07, 2014 - 04:00 PM

A scene from Verdi's 'Aida' A scene from Verdi's 'Aida' (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera)

One hears that opera attendance is on the skids in New York. The City Opera is gone. The Metropolitan Opera and representatives of its labor unions are engaged in tense negotiations. Doomsayers fear the Met season will not begin on time and those with the most apocalyptic views insist that many operas on the company’s fall schedule will go unperformed.

I constantly meet, and hear from, prospective operagoers who make excuses why they do not attend opera and recitals as much as they might wish. One excuse is behavioral: “I can’t plan ahead and, anyway, if I want a ticket I am sure I will find one.” In fact, most of us can plan ahead for certain things if we make them priorities. There are singers and works on the schedules of our major and less-famous theaters I definitely want to hear. So I put those dates in my calendar and get tickets. That is called making a commitment. 

How do I know if it will be good?” Well, if you are interested in the composer or the performer, that is a start. If you have heard good things about a company you don’t know, that might also be an incentive. To be blunt, one can never know if something will be good, even if friends and critics have recommended it. And yet we go to films, theater and restaurants and buy books all the time and do not stop partaking of them if one is not to our liking.

Even if something does not please us, we learn about ourselves in discovering why. And we may find a performer we take interest in. Long ago I saw a play in Greenwich Village that I really did not care for but there was a young actress who captivated me and I vowed to see things she appeared in. Her name was Cherry Jones and she has become one of the luminaries of theater in New York.

“It’s too expensive.” Yes, one can spend a lot of money to attend some performances, but there are many in which a ticket costs the same as a burger, fries, a drink, tax and tip in many New York restaurants. Numerous venues offer discounted tickets that students, seniors, subscribers and others can purchase ahead of time as they plan a night out.

There are plenty of other excuses I could name, but my purpose here is to provide solutions rather than refutations. Here are categories of potential ticket buyers and performances this season in New York that might be of interest to them. I am sure you fit in one or more of these categories.

On a Budget

Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, starring Angela Meade, has something for everyone: Fabulous bel canto music, a star singer still in her 30s, the sylvan charm of the Caramoor Festival that provides a few hours out of town (with moderate-priced transportation from Manhattan possible) and many tickets that cost $15, $25, $30 and $37.50. July 12 and 18.

Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble performs every summer. This year the focus is Shakespeare and his influence. There will be Purcell’s The Fairy Queen, Salieri’s (not Verdi’s) Falstaff and Verdi’s Macbeth. The young artists receive coaching in their roles from artistic director Chris Fecteau, upholding a venerable tradition. August 7 to 18.

Carnegie Hall’s Great Singer series, featuring Stephanie Blythe, Joyce DiDonato, Thomas Hampson and Dorothea Röschmann, has economical obstructed view seats that still enable you to hear fabulous singing. Obstructed view tickets for the series range from $67 to $100. Nov 4 to May 15.

Chelsea Opera is a valuable company that presents works New Yorkers might not otherwise see. Forthcoming are two one-act operas by American composer Henry Mollicone, who will also conduct. The Face on the Barroom Floor has been performed frequently since it was performed in Colorado in 1978 and a newer work, Norton, will have its New York premiere. Tickets cost less if purchased ahead of time. Nov. 7, 8.

Although Regina Opera in Brooklyn has not yet announced its forthcoming season, the company has offered good-quality low-priced opera for more than 40 years.

New to Opera, Vocal and Classical Music

This coming weekend is a golden opportunity for anyone who loves traditionally designed productions of masterpieces when the Martina Arroyo Foundation's annual performances return with 30 talented younger singers, some of whom will surely be the stars of tomorrow. With tickets costing from $20 to $60, it is also quite accessible. The operas are La Traviata (July 10, 12) and Il Barbiere di Siviglia (July 11, 13). Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, (212) 772-4448.

Amore Opera is a plucky little troupe that presents traditional repertory but always works a rarity or premiere into its season. A couple of years ago they had a big hit with Mercadante’s I Due Figaro. In the 2014-2015 season, there will be L’Elisir d’Amore, Carmen, Don Giovanni and the American premiere of Donizetti’s La Zingara. October to May.

Abigail Fisher as Cherubino in disguise with Daniel Quintana (Figaro) in 'I due Figaro'
Abigail Fisher as Cherubino in disguise with Daniel Quintana (Figaro) in I due Figaro

The Met’s thrilling production of Aïda never fails to please, but it is Verdi who deserves the credit. This is not only grand opera but a great opera. The Met will present it 16 times between Oct. 30 and Apr. 20, with four sopranos (Oksana Dyka, Liudmyla Monastyrska, Latonia Moore, Marjorie Owens) confronting the formidable Amneris of Olga Borodina or Violeta Urmana.

Verdi’s Messa da Requiem is dramatic and gorgeous in equal measure and should be a highlight of the New York Philharmonic season when Alan Gilbert conducts the New York Choral Artists and Angela Meade, Lilli Paasikivi, Brandon Jovanovich and Eric Owens sing next January 15, 16, 17.

To discover the particular interaction between ardent audiences and their beloved singers, make a date with Jessye Norman at Carnegie Hall next Valentine’s Day. She will perform selections from the American Songbook, many of which I count among our national art songs.

The next article will feature suggestions for the upcoming season in New York in the following categories: For Cultists of the Singer’s Voice; For Those Who Like Opera Rarities; Edgy and the Next Big Thing.


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Comments [4]

Fred Plotkin

To Ummmm: Nothing announced on Gotham Chamber Opera's Web site: http://www.gothamchamberopera.org. It is an excellent company and I would encourage readers and opera lovers to attend everything they do.

Jul. 09 2014 01:34 AM

gotham chamber opera? maybe?

Jul. 09 2014 01:31 AM
Fred Plotkin from George Washington Bridge/Lincoln Tunnel

To Mia Riker-Norrie: Thanks for your announcement of the Opera Theatre of Montclair. It is always inspiring to learn of new opera companies! I encourage New Jerseyans and New Yorkers to attend.

Jul. 08 2014 12:57 PM
Mia Riker-Norrie from Montclair, New Jersey

Thank you so much for writing this excellent article pertaining to alternatives for seeing opera in New York City. Montclair, New Jersey, is a mere 30-minute car or train ride from Midtown, and there is a new company in town! Opera Theatre of Montclair has been fundraising since January 2013 with monthly concerts and semi-staged, costumed operas, some with orchestra, in private homes, churches and outdoor venues with repertoire such as Act II of "Tristan und Isolde" and an abridged "Magic Flute". On January 23, 24, 30 and 31, 2015, OTM will present its first full-length, fully-staged, costumed, opera with orchestra, Verdi's "Nabucco". It will be conducted by Marco Daniele Tirilli, music director of the opera house in Perugia, Italy. Stage direction will be by Sabrina Palladino. It will take place at The Unitarian Congregation at Montclair. For more information regarding upcoming events, please go to www.operamontclair.org or visit us on Facebook.

Mia Riker-Norrie
General Director
Opera Theatre of Montclair

Jul. 08 2014 12:51 PM

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Operavore is WQXR's digital 24/7 audio stream and devoted to Opera. The Operavore blog features breaking news, expert commentary and reviews by writers Fred Plotkin, David Patrick Stearns and others. The music stream features a continuous, carefully programmed mix of classic and contemporary opera recordings.

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