Thank Heaven for Teatro Grattacielo."
—Peter G. Davis, New York Magazine
—Peter G. Davis, New York Magazine
Piccolo on the Hearth, by John Yohalem for Parterre Box
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Grattacielo’s Rare Zandonai-Dickens “Grillo” Warms Hearts
by Bruce-Michael Gelbert, for [Q]OnStage
Teatro Grattacielo’s rare verismo offering this season, on October 14 at the Gerald Lynch Theater at John Jay College, was the North American premiere of Riccardo Zandonai’s early “Il Grillo del Focolare” (“The Cricket on the Hearth,” 1908), after Charles Dickens’ 1845 novella, with libretto by Cesare Hanau, and thanks to Founding Executive and Artistic Director Duane D. Printz, it proved a real find.
Dickens’ early Victorian long short story, replete with love, jealousy, betrayal, disguise, and mistaken identity, certainly lends itself to operatic treatment, and Zandonai cloaked it in a colorful and varied score.... Megan Monaghan lent a silvery, incisive soprano to the role of Dot Peerybingle, the voice of reason here, who rhapsodized about the resident cricket, its chirping depicted by high strings and winds, as “l’anima della casa” (“the soul of the house”), and waxed cheerfully mystical when clearing up the many misunderstandings.
Weston Hurt, singing John Peerybingle in a warm, hardy baritone, was the husband Monaghan’s Dot joined in a pair of romantic duets in Act One. They more than once brought Giuseppe Verdi’s Fords, fond allies who also feud, in “Falstaff,” to mind. And following an orchestral interlude at the start of Act Three, responding to and resolving the chaos in which Act Two ended, its ensembles abounding in surprising revelations, Hurt gave impressive voice to tour-de-force “Una prova! … Una prova!” (“Proof! Proof!”), combining murderous jealousy, anger, and self-pity, in reaction to Dot’s imagined infidelity, the calm restored only by the peaceful soaring sound of the cricket... Choristers of Cantori New York, singing a Christmas hymn, joined the soloists for an exultant finale.
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Il Grillo del Focolare
New York City | Gerald Lynch Theater by Eric Meyers, for Opera News - 10/14/17
Teatro Grattacielo, the enterprising company that produces one concert performance of a rare giovane scuola opera per year, raised some eyebrows when it announced that this year's choice would be Riccardo Zandonai's Il Grillo del Focolare, based on the charming novella by Charles Dickens. The source material just didn't sound like the stuff of verismo, and Zanonai tended to be at his best with full-blooded, feverishly passionate works such as Francesca da Rimini and I Cavalieri di Ekebù.
The performance... turned out to be a surprise, as lush and dramatic as any of the composer's better-known operas. Dickens's story entwines the lives of several Londoners over the course of a few short days as they grapple with grief, marital discord, and unfounded jealousy....
Memorable tunes arise and are developed, often in strong, emotionally-contrasted counterpoint. A standout is the Act III opening scena for baritone, which reaches a dramatic pitch that recalls Ford's jealousy aria in Falstaff. The opera's emotional temperature finally settles down in the moving climax, with a peaceful ending assured by the sound of carolers in the street. (The cricket of the title, evoked by Zandonai as a chirping motif in the strings, is a symbol of domestic happiness.)
Israel Gursky... led a 44-piece orchestra with a firm grasp of style... The level of singing among his soloists was unusually high. As Dot, soprano Megan Monaghan projected sweet resolve and a glimmering timbre. As her suspicious husband, John, Weston Hurt unfurled a ringing, fine-grained baritone enhanced by great elegance of phrasing, fluid Italian diction, and a strong stage presence... Tenor Scott Joiner got to use two different voices--one as the ardent young hero Edward Plummer, the other as an old man when Edward is in disguise.... Baritone John Robert Green sang suavely and touchingly as Caleb Plummer, Edward's father who believes him dead. Erik Kroncke used his dark basso to good effect as the nasty, Scrooge-like Tackleton, though he was beset by a tremolo that was at times intrusive. Teresa Buchholz lent a plush, firm contralto sound to the role of Caleb Plummer's blind daughter Berta, and Jessica Dishenfeld, though she had little to sing as Edward's love interest May Fielding, impressed with her firmly placed soprano.
New York City | Gerald Lynch Theater by Eli Jacobson, for Opera - January, 2018
... Zandonai and his librettist Cesare Hanau leaven Dickensian sentimental pathos, melodrama and whimsy with Italian comic-opera brio. The cricket of the title is the guardian angel of the home of the bluff, good-hearted drayman John Peerybingle, his cheery wife Dot, and their infant son. Their lives become entangled with those of their neighbors, the poor toymaker Caleb Plummer and his adult children Edward and Bertha. Thanks to Dot, the cricket, and the spirit of Christmas, all the plot complications get resolved in time for a surprise wedding and happy ending for all on Christmas morning.
Zandonai's score dances with airy lightness over a multi-layered orchestration--the instrumental writing is complex yet soars with delicate grace and airy fantasy. The cricket is represented by a scratchy little figure played by solo violin. What is missing are memorable solo arias and duets--probably the reason for the opera's neglect. Short vocal ariosos briefly bubble out of the orchestral fabric but pass by quickly. Zandonai's model sees to be another Italian operatic adaptation of classic English literature, Verdi's Falstaff. Dot is certainly a 'merry wife', and her baritone husband John, like Ford in the Verdi opera, wrongly suspects her of infidelity. The disguised sailor Eduardo and his fiancée May, a graceful light tenor and lyric soprano, resemble Fenton and Nannetta.
Dot was sung by Megan Monaghan, her soprano possessing an ideal combination of rosy warmth and silvery brightness on high. Monaghan has the gift of being a good listener onstage, with spontaneous and natural facial reactions even in a concert setting. Weston Hurt unfurled an impressive Verdian baritone that made John's Third Act jealousy aria a major vocal and dramatic statement. The tenor Scott Joiner was a nimble if slightly goofy Edoardo, and Jessica Fishenfield a bright-toned May. As the blind Bertha, Teresa Buchholz sounded warm if mature in the middle register, but hollow and unsteady in the contralto depths of the wide-ranging vocal line. John Robert Green's mellow baritone brought a properly sardonic edge to the Scrooge-like Tackleton. Israel Gursky, conducting the Grattacielo Orchestra, had some trouble with the contrapuntal figures in the sparkling overture, and the opening scenes were a bit heavy-handed. But by the end of Act I the orchestra was light capering through Zandonai's youthful score.
Cassandra, Oct. 8, 2016 Voce de Mece
If ever a neglected work merited unearthing, Vittorio Gnecchi's Cassandra fills the bill. Thanks to the efforts of Teatro Grattacielo's Founding Executive and Artistic Director Duane D. Printz, New York City's dedicated opera lovers had the opportunity to hear this work in concert form at the highly suitable Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College ... This is a superb role for a mezzo-soprano and Alessandra Volpe fulfilled the task with magnificence and a large dusky sound that made her prophesies poignantly terrifying. Her generous tone cut through the orchestration like a warm knife through butter.
The entire cast was well chosen and there wasn't a disappointing voice in the bunch. Soprano Elena O'Connor made a stunning Clitennestra, showing her character's rage in her first aria "No, non propiziarie preci!". We enjoyed the change of colors when she sang of her love for Egisto.
The role of Agamennone is a difficult one and veteran tenor Arnold Rawls tackled the punishingly high tessitura with aplomb. His return to Argolis is marked by the sweetest sound, as if he is totally unaware of the tragedy to come.
Whew!! This powerful story was given the exactly right music by Signor Gnecchi and the opera was given the exactly right production by Teatro Grattacielo. It's too bad we must wait another year for more of Grattacielo's discoveries.
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by John Yohalem
Teatro Grattacielo, the sturdy little company that has presented Italian verismo rarities in concert for twenty-two years, always gives us something to ponder plus a couple of young singers we’re thrilled to encounter. The works themselves have varied, from once-popular antiques of faded, fragrant charm like Zazá, Iris and L’Oracolo to obscurities that seem impressively ready for a proper staging, like La Nave, Siberia and (you were waiting for it, weren’t you?) I Cavalieri d’Ekebù.
This year’s treat was Vittorio Gnecchi’s Cassandra, completed around 1905, a piece with a checkered past, recently disarchived. A couple of remarkable recent presentations can be found on youtube, but this appears to be the work’s first American performance since Rosa Raisa sang it in Philadelphia in 1914. Ergo, a New York premiere! With all that that entails.
The place: Gerald Lynch Theater at John Jay College, down the street from Lincoln Center, which acoustically puzzling facility does have a balcony from which the chorus can declaim, portraying a horrified crowd, in the evening’s finale. This is in accordance with the hopes of the composer and the librettist, the great Luigi Illica, to give audiences an Ancient Greek sense of being part of the action themselves.
... At last, at the hour mark, mezzo-soprano Alessandra Volpe made her entrance as Cassandra, in a low-cut sky-blue gown—after all, Cassandra is a votary of Apollo—of course she would wear sky blue.
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Zazà, Alice Tully Hall. By Bernard Holland.
NEW YORK, Monday, November 24, 2005. "Zazà is a lesser known, but not a lesser Leoncavallo opera. Toscanini conducted the premiere in 1900, but the piece did not arrive in New York until 1920. ... Ms. Millio has the poise and command of an experienced diva, and with her cries of renunciation summoning the final curtain, she chewed the imaginary scenery to a vastly satisfying consistency. I was taken by the strong, cultured baritone of Stephen Gaertner as Cascart, Zazà's once and soon-to-be-restored lover. ...Ms Milio did very well. Her teary laments may have approached the shameless, but I suspect they are what Leonvacallo had in mind.
The New York Times, November 15, 2007
Sorcery, Lust, Chinatown and Opium: It's All About Opera
Music Review by Vivien Schweitzer
...L'Incantesimo includes a symbolic white fawn, a winter garden that magically bursts into spring and an omnipotent sorcerer... Asako Tamura sang expressively with a bright soprano, and the tenor José Luis Duval ardently conveyed Rinaldo's love for her. The baritone Todd Thomas aptly portrayed Folco.... The standout was the Egyptian bass-baritone Ashraf Sewailam as the wizard. Mr. Sewailam was equally persuasive as the wise doctor of L'Oracolo. He used his richly lyrical voice to convey first the commanding dignity, then the rage of the Oracle, who avenges the death of his son, San-Lui. In that role Arnold Rawls sang passionately... as he expressed his love for Ah-Joe, elegantly sung by Ms. Tamura. ... The baritone Daniel Ihn-Kyu Lee and Mabel Ledo, a warm, expressive mezzo-soprano, were persuasive as the businessman Hu-Tsin and the nurse to his child.
"It is clear even in concert that I cavalieri di Ekebù is stageworthy, and Zandonai's densely orchestrated, atmospheric score and forceful vocal writing offer countless opportunities for the opera's large forces. Teatro Grattacielo assembled a first-rate group of soloists..." —Donald Westwood, Opera News, 2001
"…New Yorkers should be tipping their opera hats to Teatro Grattacielo for its noble part in keeping tradition alive." —Patrick Dillon, The American Record Guide, March/April 2002
“…the company had assembled an admirable cast. In the vocally challenging title role, Manon Feubel, a strong dramatic soprano from Quebec, burst upon the scene in her U.S. debut to the acclaim of a large, enthusiastic audience…expressed by Feubel’s voice of dark resonance and seemingly effortless power, with particularly stunning high notes.” —Ruth Berges, OperaCanada, Spring 2003
The New York Times: Alice Tully Hall by Steve Smith
Comedy was surely in short supply in Fascist Italy, but that didn’t prevent Riccardo Zandonai from trying to update the classic opera buffa mode of Rossini and Donizetti in his final completed opera, La Farsa Amorosa (1933). Teatro Grattacielo, a company that specializes in concert performances of neglected Italian operas, presented this work in its North American première on Saturday night. Mr. Zandonai was a masterly orchestrator: La Farsa Amorosa is filled with crafty touches, like crystalline cuckoo clocks, distant donkey brays and bogus-pomp fanfares for Don Ferrante’s entrances. The score unfurls in a ceaseless skein of supple melody and rich orchestration, sometimes rather too rich for so rustic a plot.
“…Teatro Grattacielo found a cast worthy of the occasion. Manon Feubel’s vibrant soprano and expressive generosity made her a most appealing Wally, Frank Porretta sang Hagenbach with welcome security, and Brian Davis’s strong baritone turned Gellner into a particularly dangerous rival.” —Peter G. Davis, New York Magazine, December 9, 2002
“…that ever-laudable raider of the operatic attic, Teatro Grattacielo.”
—Patrick Dillon, The American Record Guide, March/April 2003
“To the rescue has come Teatro Grattacielo…Singing the challenging title role was Manon Feubel…her big, dusky voice has cutting power in its top range…A standout was Monica Yunus, a bright-voiced coloratura, in the role of Walter. Under Mr. Ajmone_Marsan, the orchestra gave an exuberant and colorful, if not always tidy, account of this teeming and admirable score.” —Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, November 25, 2002
“Grattacielo’s annual excursion into veristic operatic byways is an ever-welcome adornment of the autumn music calendar;…And this season’s group of solo singers ranked with the strongest Grattacielo has ever had.” —Patrick Dillon, The American Record Guide, March/April 2004
“These troupers, like Silipigni, sensed from the solar plexus what Mascagni was up to. Over rough spots as well as high spots, they took the measure of his risky score.”
—John W. Freeman, Opera News Online, February 2004
“The real astonishment was the magnificent performance by the orchestra, led by Alfredo Silipigni…This orchestra sounded like an opera orchestra that had played together for years…Bravo to Teatro Grattacielo for reviving this very deserving opera.”
—Fred Plotkin, Das Opernglas, February 2004
“As usual, Teatro Grattacielo’s presentation was first-rate. The main hero of the evening was Alfredo Silipigni, still an underrated conductor who is one of the true masters of this repertory.” —Bill Zakariasen, The Westsider, December 25-31, 2003
"Shared Voyage of Discovery During an Opera in Concert...Mascagni's Iris which was presented in concert on Monday night at Alice Tully Hall by Teatro Grattacielo has enough interesting dramatic points to make one dream about how it might look in the theater." ..."an exultant orchestral performance with thrilling choral work."
— Paul Griffiths, The New York Times, November 28, 1998
"100 Birthday Candles for Iris"..."a triumph for the two prima donnas of the evening: the conductor Fiora Contino and the soprano Karen Notare."..."a shower of applause and flowers literally 'flooded' the principals on this splendid event." "Alice Tully Hall was jammed full with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic audience." "Iris reached moments of great expressive intensity." "A whole other story could be dedicated to the costumes by Charles and Patricia Lester inspired by a refined Orient."—Francesca Gentile, America Oggi, November 27, 1998
"This loving performance made a strong case for the work...l’Arlesiana is a lovely work and there are many other equally worthy operas from the same period waiting to be reassessed, enough to keep Teatro Grattacielo busy for years."
—Peter G. Davis, New York Magazine, December 6, 1999
"To judge by the crowd at this art form called "opera in concert," one must give credit to...Teatro Grattacielo for their fortuitous intuition in producing these concerts." "Standing ovations, long, enthusiastic, and joined in by all."
—Gianna Venturini, America Oggi, November 21, 1999
“Teatro Grattacielo…presented the North American premiere of a 1925 work by Riccardo Zandonai that has, at the least, shot to the top of my list of favorite opera titles: I Cavalieri di Ekebù. The large and enthusiastic audience seemed genuinely surprised. Who would have thought that an unknown verismo opera…could be so interesting? —Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times, November 23, 2000
“The audience was clearly delighted to discover an important score from a neglected age, and for that Teatro Grattacielo deserves the credit as well as encouragement to forge ahead.” —Peter G. Davis, New York Magazine, December 18-25, 2000
“Last Monday Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center was packed full of audience members with a fine ear who appreciated this unknown masterpiece by the Italian composer with perception and rapture.”…”an event to remember and perhaps a suggestion for future courageous productions in some opera house.” —Gianna Venturini, America Oggi, November 26, 2000
“…I Cavalieri di Ekebù's sprawling, Nordic-picaresque source brought forth masterly and meticulously crafted orchestration, with page upon page of cannily evocative tone painting that moves seamlessly from grotesquerie to gossamer grace. Eerie and stirring, it compels attention and admiration from start to finish, and its rip-roaring, clangorous anvil-chorus finale can rouse an audience to cheering fervor—as indeed it did at Tully Hall.”
—Patrick Dillon, American Record Guide, March/April 2001
"La sorpresa è non poca ad ascoltare opere come Risurrezione di Franco Alfano: si resta colpiti non solo dalla forza espressiva, dalla carica melodica e da quel saper sottolineare quasi alla perfezione stati d'animo e situazioni, ma soprattutto dalla capacità di creare atmosfere anche quando ci si affida ad un'edizione concertante come questa. Ci riferiamo a quanto messo in evidenza l'altra sera al Lincoln Center, all'Alice Tully Hall, da un impeccabile complesso vocale e strumentale qual è quello del Teatro Grattacielo di New York, diretto da Fiora Contino. —Franco Borelli, America Oggi, December 9, 2001
"There is, though, more finesse in the scoring than the "Turandot" finale would lead one to suppose, with some nice viola solos and passages for divided cellos…Such moments were well served in this performance…There was some fine singing, too…Michael Corvino used grave tone and urgent yet supple phrasing to give a convincing charge to Simonson…Michele Fiammardente brought an eager and stylish Italianate tenor sound to the…role of Dimitri. Virginia Dupuy was a firm and glowing mezzo… Allison Charney looked wonderful and produced the right sort of fresh, vulnerable sound…"
—Paul Griffiths, The New York Times, December 6, 2001
"Grattacielo's performance conducted with know-how by Fiora Contino, was almost without exception very fine. The show-stealing baritone involved was Michael Corvino whose sonorous voice strikingly recalls the late Ettore Bastianini…tenor Michele Fiammardente sang with assurance and passion…soprano Allison Charney was a virtual clone of a young Licia Albanese…Without exception, the large supporting cast was beyond criticism, as was the Cantori New York Chorus…"
—Bill Zakariasen, The Westsider, December 13-19, 2001
"A new and important New York opera company made its debut in Alice Tully Hall the last week in March -- the Teatro Grattacielo, which gave us a rare hearing of the once-popular musical stage-work by Italo Montemezzi, L'Amore dei Tre Re.
—Bill Zakariasen, The Westsider, April 10-16, 1997
"Italo Montemezzi's opera L'Amore dei Tre Re...was performed in concert on March 26 and Tully Hall was quite full for the occasion, a welcome evening all around." "Teatro Grattacielo cast their L'Amore with love and care. "It was good to hear L'Amore again, and performed so very well. Thank you." —Bill Wechsler, The New York Theatre Wire.Com, April 1997
"Teatro Grattacielo, New York City's newest opera-in-concert company, made an auspicious debut at Alice Tully Hall on March 26 with an impassioned performance of Italo Montemezzi's sadly neglected L'Amore dei Tre Re (1913)."
- Marylis Sevilla-Gonzaga, Opera NewsG, August 1997