YouTube goes dark, yet Frost Opera Theater singers shine warm light on Menotti

By Lawrence Budmen

Chloe Fuoco in a scene from The Consul in Frost Opera Theater’s “Menotti Remixed” program, presented on streaming video.

Alan Johnson, director of the University of Miami’s Frost Opera Theater had intended to present a staged production of scenes from the operas of Gian Carlo Menotti for the opera department’s fall offering. 

With the limitation imposed by the Covid-19 outbreak, that concept morphed into “Menotti Remixed”— a brilliant and imaginatively conceived 90-minute video program featuring highlights from six Menotti operas and two works by his longtime partner Samuel Barber for which Menotti wrote the librettos. A British interlude from the stage works of Benjamin Britten and Jonathan Dove completed the menu. 

Frost Opera stage director Jeffrey Buchman conceived and supervised the video presentation and format. The Frost students taped the music at the university’s Weeks Recording Studio, then created their own music videos around the excerpts. This creative approach resulted in an entertaining and consistently imaginative production.

Unfortunately, the presentation fell victim to technical issues. The video was scheduled to be streamed Wednesday night but fell victim to Youtube’s international outrage. (It can now be streamed at or at the original Youtube link. This review was based on viewing the YouTube video Thursday morning.)

From the late 1940’s through the mid 1960’s, Menotti was one of the most frequently performed and highly praised operatic composers. As serialism and the Darmstadt promoted avant-garde overtook both academic and critical circles, Menotti fell out of favor. This was both unfair and unfortunate for the listening public. While his later works indicated a compositional well that had run dry, Menotti was a master of music drama and his best scores continue to hold up remarkably well. The Frost program sampled the many varieties of his stage works from opera buffa to American verismo.

Menotti twice won the Pulitzer Prize for music–for The Consul in 1950 and The Saint of Bleecker Street in 1955. 

Two scenes from The Consul aptly demonstrated the power and continuing relevance of this tale of a family’s fateful struggle against heartless bureaucracy, political oppression and intolerance. (Florida Grand Opera’s 2015 production of The Consul was one of that company’s finest stagings.)  

In the Act I scene in the consular office, blood-stained walls suggested a sinister milieu. Alexandra Colaizzi was properly cold and harshly official as The Secretary. Thandolwethu Mamba was an affable Mr. Kotner, his tone warm and well focused. His attempt to translate for and aid The Foreign Woman, sung glowingly by Sabrina Langlois, was highly poignant.

In the Act II confrontation scene between the heroine Magda Sorel and The Secretary. Leah Torres’ seeming disinterest and Chloe Fuoco’s desperate pleading generated high tension. The great aria “To this we’ve come” was the excerpt’s climactic high point, sung with the fervor of a great singing actress by Fuoco who projected the emotionally battered Sorel’s helplessness. 

From The Saint of Bleecker Street, the villainess Desideria’s aria “Ah, Michele don’t you know” was rendered in deep mezzo tones by Colaizzi, filmed in a mall, vacant stores included.

The Medium was one of Menotti’s early successes. Molly Blumenfeld’s light soprano captured the forced gaiety of “Monica’s Waltz,” dancing in an outdoor setting with the sad and mute Toby of Timothy Oliver. 

Menotti considered Maria Golovin his neglected child. Judging by the two excerpts presented, the opera may deserve revival and reevaluation. Both scenes brimmed with old-fashioned, Italianate melody. A flowing duet paired Louisan Khan in the title role with Thomas Valenti as Dr. Zukertane, teacher and student doing a puzzle. A trio harkened to our own times with Mia Flora, Abby Guido and Nicole Plummer wearing masks outdoors and blending winningly in an entrancing melodic turn.

Music from three of Menotti’s lighter works demonstrated his more ebullient side. In The Telephone, Ben attempts to propose to Lucy but she is distracted by a gossipy phone call. The backyard style video used witty subtitles to project their thoughts about each other. Jiarui Yao’s pinpoint coloratura and Stefan Biller’s natural musical theater ease were well- nigh perfect as this offbeat couple. 

Hard as it may be to believe today, The Old Maid and the Thief (1939) was commissioned by a commercial radio network. Nicholas Skotzko’s smoothly produced, mellifluous baritone was heard to fine advantage in Bob’s aria.  Cameron McClure’s high soprano suggested Leticia’s scheming persona. Menotti’s first opera Amelia al Ballo is a pure comedic romp. Singing the original Italian text, Olivia Rich and Skotzko were the dueling husband and wife, their patter sparkling at a brisk clip.

The two Barber scores could not have been more different. A Hand of Bridge is a nine-minute psychological mini-play in which two couple reveal their fantasies and unhappiness in brief arias while playing bridge. As Sally, Samantha Taylor’s nervous energy and obsession with buying a hat complemented Valenti’s finely contoured tenor as Bill, thinking of his mistress. Oliver’s strong diction vividly conveyed David’s daydream of being a rich dandy in Palm Beach. Emily Finke was the musically scrupulous Geraldine, pouring out her frustrations about being unloved in long spun lines. 

Vanessa won Barber a Pulitzer and launched the career of mezzo Rosalind Elias into high gear in the tragic role of Erika. Erika’s aria “Must the winter come so soon” is prime Barber, lushly romantic and lyrical. Torres’ dark timbre captured Erika’s inner daydreams.

Stephen Pitters, an exceptional young countertenor, was featured in the two British scenes. A classroom argument between professor and student modernized Oberon and Tytania’s quarrel in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Finke’s deft high range nicely displayed. As the sun rose over an airport, Pitters’ textured and modulated vocalism brought out the eerie turmoil of The Refugee’s aria from Dove’s Flight.

Pianists Yianni Iliadis and Olga Konovalova provided excellent accompaniment, dovetailing the singers while bring forth the dramatic impact of each scene. The musical and video contributions of all the talented singers turned a challenging situation into a successful and innovative production.

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Thu Nov 12, 2020
at 1:04 pm
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