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Open: 06/17/13- Close: 06/24/13 La Hija De Rappaccini
Reviewed for TheaterOnline.com By: Minda Larsen

Sometimes I think that New York might just be enchanted. Granted, these times are usually few and far between. But they usually happen when everything lines up: a perfect glass of wine at the perfect cafe with the perfect person.  Most New Yorkers know the feeling. It makes you stop and say, “I’m so glad I live here.”

Last night’s production of La hija de Rappaccini was enchanted; everything lined up. A breezy summer night, an uber-romantic piece of music, and an exquisite garden. 

As a long-time Brooklynite, a long-time opera buff, and a long-time member of the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens (BBG), I can safely say that somewhere in the opening measures of the Gotham Chamber Opera’s production, I looked around and said, “I’m so glad I live here”.  Everything lined up.

The Gotham Chamber Opera, “a small, feisty opera company known for its thoughtful works” has a tradition for site-specific productions.  I was first turned on to the company’s bold choices with it’s recent production of Cavalli’s ‘Eliogabalo’, performed at the audacious Lower East side nightclub, The Box.  

Gotham’s choice of BBG’s Cherry Esplanade is obvious: La hija de Rappaccini tells the story of a doctor who seeks to protect and control his daughter by keeping her locked in a garden where he experiments with poisonous plants. From the beginning, the tenor sings of the smells and sounds of the garden; all the while the BBG provides it’s own luminous backdrop; smells from the rose garden and birds songs are heard mixed with the voices of the singers. Enchanted garden? Indeed.   

Daniel Catan’s score is exquisite and intimate. While dissonant, the music is not atonal, but instead, alarmingly lyrical.  The libretto by Juan Tovar is a striking combination of latin passion and romanticism. In one climatic moment, the hero (Tenor Daniel Montenegro) proclaims, “Embrace me/ show me your world/ invent me”.

Oh, this is luxurious stuff.

The exotic orchestration: two pianos, harp, timpani and percussion, is achingly beautiful and equally foreboding. From its onset, the listener senses “a snake in the grass”, and feels despite it’s magic, the story is not a happy one. 

{It must be noted how wonderful and rare it is to hear live, acoustic instruments al fresco; transporting two grand pianos to the middle of the Cherry Esplanade can’t be an easy maneuver!}

And then there was the singing. Led by Mr. Montenegro, the cast was consistently strong and passionate, as the music demanded. Mr. Montenegro’s aria at the close of Act 1 was equally triumphant and heart wrenching, the stuff of a true Romantic hero.

His love interest and la hija was played by soprano Elaine Alvarez with the same mix of beauty and danger, the crucial theme to the opera. Ms. Alvarez has star appeal, pure and simple. The range of colors in her glorious soprano is electrifying. She sings with a controlled recklessness that is rarely found on operatic stages.

Equally striking was the baritone Eric Dubin, who plays Rappaccini. He possesses a solid baritone and the stature and finesse to go along with it.

The Tres Voices/Flowers were a highlight of the production. Performed by Ariana Wyatt, Cassandra Zoe Velasco and Nora Graham-Smith; these siren-like seductresses were pivotal in the telling of the story, illustrating the danger of beauty, not only with their singing but in their movements and staging.  With direction by Rebecca Taichman, the audience truly felt it was witnessing a work of surrealistic art coming to life.

The costumes, with design by Anita Yavich, were indulgent and sumptuous.

Bravo to the BBG, Gotham Chamber Opera and its creative team for such a successful and enchanting collaboration. 

After the performance, I walked home through the gardens under a beautiful half-moon and dreaming of an intoxicating love. I stopped, looked around and said, "I am so glad I live here."

 

Gotham Chamber Opera presents Daniel Catan’s 1988 opera, La hija de Rappaccini (Rappaccini’s daughter) on Monday, June 17 and 24, 2013 at 7pm at Brooklyn Botanic Garden (rain date June 25).  Seating is by general admission on the lawn. Blankets and outside food permitted. Boxed picnic dinners will be available for purchase. Tickets are $35 and are available at www.ticketcentral.com. For more information visit www.gothamchamberopera.com.


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Venue:
Brooklyn Botanic Garden : 990 Washington Avenue