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BWW Reviews: New York Opera Returns to the City Center

Since moving out of the Lincoln Center two years ago, the New York City Opera has taken to playing its productions at a number of venues throughout the city, including the Brooklyn Academy Of Music, but Sunday marked a homecoming for the company. New York City Opera continued its season with a new production of Rossini's Moses in Egypt at its birthplace, the New York City Center. In addition to this exciting homecoming, this production is the operas first full production in NYC in well over a century. This combination mixed with newly appointed music director Jayce Ogren at the podium of this innovative production proves to be a thrill from the restoration of light through the separating of the Red Sea.

Moses in Egypt is based on the Old Testament story of Moses leading the Israelites' out of Egypt. This biblical story has been slightly altered in true opera fashion with an added forbidden love story between Osiride, the Pharoah's son, and Elicia, a Hebrew maiden. This rarely heard opera is a large-scale bel canto style opera complete with dramatic ensemble numbers such as the restoration of light at the beginning as well as the prayer sung by Moses and the Israelites at the edge of the Red Sea before their escape. Amid the large ensemble numbers the opera features beautiful solo oratorios and small group numbers throughout.

This new production combines the superbly agile vocals of the cast with a fresh new design for the production. Vast video backdrops on a stage wide LED screen, designed by Ada Whitney, capture the sweeping dessert landscape of Egypt to nicely silhouette the static staging of the opera. Using this digital media in conjunction with turntables in the floor allowed the production to adapt the abilities of film live on stage including the ability to zoom, pan and seamlessly transition from one location to the next. It really draws the audience in to feel like you are right in on the action onstage. One of the most stunning uses of this design happened in Act II when Osiride and Alicia walk out and enter a cave in the middle of the dessert. This moment in addition to the bigger moments in the play are expertly supported by the video and strongly paired with the costumes for the production. The costumes as a whole drew from several inspirations but ultimately worked well together as a whole. The Egyptians took on a sci-fi feel with very structured black costumes with gold armor of sorts and traditional Egyptian headdresses and makeup. The most jarring yet fitting costume was the blue-skinned priest, Mambre, who looked like he was related to the Diva Plavalaguna from The Fifth Element. Moses and the Isrealites had a more traditional Biblical appearance.

Unfortunately, the role of Moses suffered a late replacement due to illness. David Salsbery Fry covered and sang the role with ease and great understanding of the style but lacked the ability to command the stage the way one would hope for a title role. Randall Bills as Osiride gave the strongest male performance with a glorious tenor tone that cut through the orchestra and shimmered with clean articulate coloratura. Bass-Baritone Wayne Tigges also showed great prowess in the role of the Pharoah. Siân Davies sang the role of Elicia quite well with dramatic singing and acting to reveal her inner conflict throughout the opera. Soprano Keri Alkema portrayed the Pharoah's wife Amaltea flawlessly with brilliance in both voice and action.

The orchestra sounded rich and full under the direction of newly appointed music director Jayce Ogren and did well to support the singers onstage. A connection was felt stage and orchestras to truly create an ensemble feel throughout. The direction of Michael Counts has created a fresh new production that does well to embrace the style of the opera. The blocking is noticeably stationary with many songs performed without singers making eye contact throughout. Overall, the production was rather ambitious and well received by the full audience on Sunday afternoon. It is exciting to see such innovative work coming from a company who has been under such criticism from former staff and singers in recent years. We look forward to the continued change in New York City Opera, which has been well supported thus far in the season. Moses in Egypt continues this week with performances on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

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From This Author Scott Frost

Scott Frost is a Production and Stage Manager and a Freelance Costume Designer. In addition to being a theatrical manager and designer he currently works (read more...)