Tenor’s impressive debut sparks Miami Lyric Opera’s admirable “L’Amico Fritz”

By Lawrence Budmen

Miami Lyric Opera’s production of Pietro Mascagni’s L’Amico Fritz brings a rare opportunity to hear the second opera by the composer of Cavalleria Rusticana. Despite a few stage and musical blemishes and the failure of its supertitles system, the opening performance Thursday night at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach was distinguished by some fine vocalism and the debut of a potential major-league tenor.

After an 1891 premiere in Rome, this opera was introduced to Hamburg the following year by no less than Gustav Mahler. While L’Amico Fritz has held the stage sporadically in Italy, usually as a vehicle for a star tenor,  American performances have been rare, although Sarasota Opera presented the work during its 2009 season.

This tale of a wealthy landowner falling in love with the daughter of one of his tenants, aided by a kindly rabbi, is dramatically slight, surprisingly lightweight entertainment coming after the bloody verismo of Mascagni’s debut opera, Cavalleria. Unlike Puccini or even such second-rate Italian opera composers as Giordano or Ponchielli, Mascagni could not consistently sustain the musico-dramatic continuity of an evening-length work. Still, L’Amico Fritz features much colorful orchestral writing and such guilty pleasures as the gorgeous Cherry Duet, the gypsy Beppe’s two solos, Fritz’s passionate aria and the rapturous final love duet. L’Amico Fritz deserves occasional revival and is a perfect offering for an alternative opera company like Miami Lyric.

Mario Chang

Artistic director Raffaele Cardone has a knack for discovering promising young singers and he has gathered a worthy cast for this Mascagni rarity. Tenor Mario Chang is a real find. A winner of the Francisco Vinas Competition in Barcelona, the Guatemalan tenor makes a dashing, charismatic Fritz. His golden lyric instrument and ringing high notes recall the young Jose Carreras. In Fritz’s aria of despair when he fears he has lost his beloved Suzel, Chang’s ardent phrasing and impassioned declamation suggested a star in the making. The cheers he received from a clearly enthusiastic audience were well earned.

After a shaky beginning, Daniella Carvalho was a fine Suzel, her sometimes over-the-top delivery proved apt for Mascagni and verismo opera. The Brazilian soprano was truly moving in Suzel’s heartbreaking second-act aria and blended wonderfully with Chang in the lyrical duets.

Mexican baritone Oscar Martinez brought authority to Rabbi David, vocally firm and incisive. Emilia Acon was a scene stealer as Beppe, the Costa Rican mezzo’s light, firmly produced voice and enchanting stage presence turning a cameo role into one of the evening’s highlights. Daisy Su, Matthew Caines and Jesse Vargas were solid in supporting roles.

Aside from a few brass burbles, the twenty-three piece orchestra provided a respectable reading of the colorful score in a stronger performance than previous Miami Lyric outings. Liubov Orimenko’s lengthy violin solo in the first act captured Mascagni’s ersatz gypsy modes. Conductor Jeffrey Eckstein has a fine sense of dramatic pacing, never letting the tension level flag. His reading of the elegant Intermezzo captured the charm and zest of Mascagni’s scoring. Cardone’s stage direction was deftly unobtrusive, pacing the scenes effectively and allowing the cast to stand and deliver in the big solo moments. Only some spilled champagne near the end foiled the final celebration of the lovers’ engagement.

The promised supertitles, however, were a complete failure. After failing to work at all during the first act, the projections against a black backdrop were impossible to read clearly, particularly unfortunate in an unfamiliar opera where translations would be helpful to audiences. Hopefully this will be corrected before the final performance on Saturday.

Miami Lyric Opera repeats L’Amico Fritz 8 p.m. Saturday night at the Colony Theater in Miami Beach. 305-297-3619 miamilyricopera.org

Posted in Performances

4 Responses to “Tenor’s impressive debut sparks Miami Lyric Opera’s admirable “L’Amico Fritz””

  1. Posted Mar 11, 2011 at 1:25 pm by diego baner

    I’ve heard Mario Chang days ago during a beautiful presentation from Maestro Cardone about L’amico Fritz. He has an incredible voice, with a particular color and ring that reminds the sound of great tenors from the past golden years of the opera.

  2. Posted Mar 11, 2011 at 8:20 pm by Benjamin

    The supertitle fix could have been an easy one. All they had to do is leave the curtain down a foot or two and the titles would have been clearly readable.

    The titleist should have known you can’t project titles beyond the procenium arch. They were so washed out not a word was ledgible. A proper title screen hung in front of the curtain is a necessity for the next show.

  3. Posted Mar 12, 2011 at 2:55 am by Mimi Pink

    I have the joy and honor of singing with Daisy Su every Sunday in The Church by the Sea’s chancel choir. Solid, indeed.

  4. Posted Mar 13, 2011 at 1:40 pm by D-chi

    I was in the chorus, and it was my first time with MLO. Despite being offstage, I really enjoyed the music (and our 3 minutes of singing). The baritone and tenor were fabulous.

    And I believe the supertitles were working fine on Saturday.

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Fri Mar 11, 2011
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