Yale Opera kicked off their 2018-2019 season with a showcase, highlighting some impressive voices and giving us a glimpse into their Schubert “mainstage” production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin.
Held over a two night period, Yale Opera begins each year with opera scenes, performed at Sprague Hall. It gives us an opportunity to hear the new voices to the program, and it gives us a taste of what we can expect from the company’s Schubert performances in February. This year, I decided to see the Friday night performance live, and watch the Saturday night performance in the Live Stream. I am so glad I did.
Doris Yarick-Cross was almost breathless when she announced that the Schubert production this year will be Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, sung in its original language; Russian. Ms. Cross explained that the director is fluent in Russian, and has directed many productions of this opera IN Russia. I am very much looking forward to this, especially after seeing two scenes from the opera on Friday and Saturday night.
The Friday night performance began with a scene from Act I of Eugene Onegin. First year grad student, Madeline Ehlinger, as Tatiana delivered an intense performance as the young girl who is in love with a person far more mature and sophisticated as she could ever hope to be. Onegin was played by Andres Benavides Cascante, and other members of the cast included Theresa Kesser, John Noh, Rachel Weishoff, and Julia Orosz, who spent the entire scene hunched over in an effort to indicate that she is old and physically challenged. I DO HOPE that they re-think that portrayal when they move to the Schubert. Ms. Orosz has a lovely voice, but the hunch drew a few laughs from the audience, and it just makes me feel sorry for her to have to spend the entire opera hunched over like that. (Ironically, on Saturday evening Andres Benavides Cascante, PLAYING a hunchback, was not as convincing, as his hunch was somewhat transient.)
Madeline Ehlinger, as Tatiana, is a small woman with a very big voice. And it is a beautiful voice, although there was some “over-singing” that sadly made her sharp a few times through the evening. (To be fair, there was a bit of over-singing in the two-night period from more than one singer) She is a committed and deeply moving Tatiana. She sings with enormous passion. Unfortunately, she frequently resorts to fairly standard opera “poses” when she enters a scene. Again, I realize that this is her first year in the Yale program, but I found myself wishing she could just BE Tatiana instead of giving us these standard “opera” gestures.
Hamlet, by Ambroise Thomas is not one of my favorite pieces, but it was very well done by Matthew Cossack as Hamlet, and the lovely Leah Brzyski as Ophelia. Ms. Brzyski was in many of the scenes over the two night period, and I can see a big difference in her stage presence between last year and this. She is much more focused and mindful of her character, and that is always good to see. Her high notes continue to impress.
Lauren McQuistin and Luis Aguliar Regalado suitably chewed the scenery in the Roberto Devereux scene as Elizabeth and Robert. Edwin Joseph and Rachel Weishoff were terrific as Nottingham and Sara.
Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann gave Madeline Ehlinger another opportunity to show herself off. That is a very big voice for such a small woman. Brady Muth, John Noh, and Theresa Kesser were excellent in their roles. One of my favorite performances of the evening was Hans Tashjian in the role of Dr. Miracle. Hans Tashjian is tall. VERY tall. I first saw Mr. Tashjian in the Master Class that was offered recently by Alan Held, and was impressed by his low notes and commitment to the lyric. He received his undergraduate degree from Carnegie-Melon. Carnegie-Melon turns out some pretty fine actors, and I am guessing that he benefited from that in a big way. I find myself thinking that in a perfect world, Yale Opera students could benefit similarly by the acting instructors from the Yale School of Drama, but I realize I am whistling down the river, here, as there seems to be NO interdisciplinary opportunities at Yale. That is a pity.
While I have caught a few Yale, live stream performances, I was thinking it might be one static camera with no possibility of reading the super-titles. Not so! The camera work was excellent, and the super-titles appeared on the bottom of the screen. There were many close ups of the singers, which I love, and the sound was excellent. I am not suggesting for one moment that you should only watch those performances while lounging in your PJs, but if you cannot make it to a live show, this is a great alternative.
Singing superbly, in a tough and very long soliloquy, Luis Aguilar Regalado, in the role of The Male Chorus, in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia, was delightful to watch. Over the past couple of years that he has been in the program, we have seen him in a variety of roles, and he is different in each one. He is a committed actor in his roles, and you have to love that. Lauren McQuistin played the Female Chorus, Brady Muth (who sounds wonderful this year) and Matthew Cossack and the very attractive Edwin Joseph gave the proper weight (dramatically and vocally) in roles of Collatinus, Junius, and Tarquinius, respectively.
Mozart’s Die Entfuhurung aus dem Serail gave us another opportunity to hear Leah Brzyski’s lovely coloratura, and we also saw a fine performance from Laura Nielsen in the role of Konstanze. The singers were in modern dress, and BOTH women at certain times were laying on their backs singing.
Laura Nielsen returned later in the evening, as Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto, where she let go with some pretty impressive high notes. Andres Benavides Cascante as Rigoletto sounded wonderful, although, as previously mentioned, his hunch was transient, and some over-singing caused him to sharp from time to time. Fidel Angel Romero as the Duke sounded better than I have ever heard him. His voice is well trained, but quite natural. La Donna È Mobile is a powerhouse aria, and he powered through it while maintaining a sweetness in his voice that is really quite beautiful.
Lauren McQuistin, who will be one of the Tatianas in Eugene Onegin at the Schubert this season (the other will be Madeline Ehlinger.) sang a beautiful Letter Scene, with Matthew Cossack playing Onegin, and once again, Julia Orosz as Filipyevna. We have seen Lauren play Lucrezia Borgia, Queen Elizabeth I, and now we will see her more vulnerable side in Onegin. I am very much looking forward to that.