FRED PLOTKIN is one of America’s foremost experts on opera and has distinguished himself in many fields as a writer, speaker, consultant and as a compelling teacher. He is an expert on everything Italian, the person other so-called Italy experts turn to for definitive information. Fred discovered the concept of "The Renaissance Man" as a small child and has devoted himself to pursuing that ideal as the central role of his life. In a “Public Lives” profile in The New York Times on August 30, 2002, Plotkin was described as "one of those New York word-of-mouth legends, known by the cognoscenti for his renaissance mastery of two seemingly separate disciplines: music and the food of Italy." In the same publication, on May 11, 2006, it was written that "Fred is a New Yorker, but has the soul of an Italian."
What to Hear in Opera and Vocal Music in NYC: A Guide for All Interests
Monday, July 07, 2014 - 04:00 PM
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.
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.