BWW Reviews: An Unrivaled Performance from the Bronx Opera

BWW Reviews: An Unrivaled Performance from the Bronx Opera

If your musical taste runs to Elliott Carter--or even Nico Muhly, whose TWO BOYS premiered at the Met this fall--then Kirke Mechem's THE RIVALS, which had its NY premiere this month at the Bronx Opera Company, may not be your cup of tea. But for a rollicking good time, this operatic adaptation of the great Restoration comedy of the same name by Richard Brinsley Sheridan has few rivals among its contemporaries.

Inspired by Mozart and Rossini

The Wichita-born Mechem was clearly inspired by the comic operas of Mozart and, especially, Rossini. Determined to write an American piece, he transposed the setting from Bath, England, to the gold coast of Newport, Rhode Island, at the turn of the century, where a cast of poseurs, pretenders and social climbers would feel at home.

It works surprisingly well. I say "surprisingly," because the play is sheer farce and calls for split-second timing, which is not necessarily the calling card of the opera world, where tears more often than not are the bitcoin of the realm, unless you look to the denizens of Rossini's most famous buffa pieces. And the composer has.

Although Mechem used a variety of musical American styles--ragtime, Broadway, e.g.--in the course of the piece, this is definitely an opera, filled with charming and comic ensembles and arias of every sort, short of a mad scene. The composer has done a marvelous job in both the music and libretto telling the story of...--well, the plot's not the thing but how it's put across and the details, frankly, make it sound less than it is.

A household name

While the source material may not be a household name, one of its major characters most certainly is: Mrs. Malaprop has passed into the language as someone who is an expert mangler of her mother tongue. She mistakenly uses such words as "incontinence" for "inconsistency," "proposition" for "preposition" and "flatulence" for "flattery"--you get the point--to the delight of the other characters in the play, as well as the audience. Mezzo Caroline Tye made for a funny, though not ridiculous, Mrs. Malaprop, with a warm mezzo as well as the good diction that is central to the success of this role.

More From This Author

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.