BWW Review: NY OperaFest Shows COQ and BUTTERFLY as Works that Don't Go Away  -  They Get DayGlo-ed and Deconconstructed

BWW Review: NY OperaFest Shows COQ and BUTTERFLY as Works that Don't Go Away - They Get DayGlo-ed and Deconconstructed

BWW Review: NY OperaFest Shows COQ and BUTTERFLY as Works that Don't Go Away  -  They Get DayGlo-ed and Deconconstructed
Heartbeat Opera's BUTTERFLY.
Photo: Russ Rowland

There's lots going on in the world of opera in New York City, even in this "slow" time of the year. As shown by the schedule of offerings under the umbrella of the ongoing New York OperaFest, co-organized by the New York Opera Alliance and Opera America, they run the gamut from the classics to a peek at virtual reality. In the last week, the New Opera NYC gave us a cockeyed look at Rimsky-Korsakov's LE COQ D'OR (THE GOLDEN COCKEREL), a current rarity in these parts, while Heartbeat Opera took an ax to Puccini--in the admirable name of fixing some racial stereotypes--and gave us a 'Madama'-less BUTTERFLY .

Being done in venues small enough to easily fit in the lobby of the Met--permitting us to get up close and personal with the characters of these works and the singers who portray them--the productions proved, at least, that the two works are sturdy, no matter how they are handled.


The wild and wooly production from the New Opera NYC and its founder/director Igor Konyukhov was straight out of an '80s disco crossed with a child's demented nursery, designed by Zachary Crane, with costumes by Olga Maslova and LED Technology by Oksana Ivashkevych. It stormed its way into the pocket-sized Sheen Center on Bleecker Street last weekend, with black lights, over the top costumes and a game cast.

It has been a long time since New York has seen the work--fans of the old NYC Opera at Lincoln Center fondly remember COQ as a vehicle for the daring duo of Beverly Sills and Norman Triegle. (Not such a rarity outside our fair city, it's being done at Santa Fe this summer.) Sills got the attention, back in 1967, of course, at the beginning of her reign as America's Queen of Opera, but the music's really the thing.

There's something about the trumpet fanfare that opens the opera that puts a smile on your face and makes you ready for anything--and that's before the lively score truly gets started. It's a satire-cum-fairy tale based on a story by Alexander Pushkin, though it's about as far from his EUGENE ONEGIN as you can get, this account of a bizarre Tsar, his nudnick sons, a gorgeous foreign queen and a Golden Cockerel that warns when danger lurks for their kingdom. It's all framed by commentary delivered by the Astrologer, who has presented the cockerel to the Tsar; though Pushkin had some political criticism of Mother Russia in mind, the satire is submerged here to make way for the silliness and, frankly, it was all right with me.

Here, at the Sheen Center, the starring roles went to bass Mikhail Svetlov, who has sung at the Bolshoi, as the ridiculous Tsar Dodon (emphasis on the 'dodo'), who had a field day with all its comic and vocal possibilities, and soprano Julia Lima as the Queen of Shemakha, complete with DayGlo lips and an outfit that made her look like Mazeppa from Broadway's GYPSY, with the moxie to match. She fearlessly took on this high-flying role and, a few unearthly notes aside, made it work--and her own. (Sills certainly never had such abs of steel.)

The Astrologer is written in a range that makes dogs howl and probably should have gone to a countertenor, who might have made the switches in register work better. The tenor John Villemaire was not one (though neither was Enrico di Giuseppe, who did it with Sills and Triegle), and he had a rough night. Heard to much better advantage was soprano Ksenia Antonova as the Cockerel, with its familiar (and repeated) call to arms.

As the Tsar's foil, General Polkan, bass Gennadiy Visotsky did well, as did mezzo Ksenia Berestovskaya as Amelfa, a housekeeper. As the two Princes, Aphron and Gvidon (not to be confused with Prince, the singer-songwriter...or maybe so, in Maslova's outre costumes), tenor Antonio Watts and baritone Daniel Kalmic were fine.

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Richard Sasanow Richard Sasanow is a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He also interviewed some of the great singers of the 20th century for the programs at the San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera and worked on US tours of the Orchestre National de France and Vienna State Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein.