Composer: Umberto Giordano
Conductor: Israel Gursky
The Teatro Grattacielo Orchestra
The Cantori New York Chorus
Marie Masters: Stephana
Raul Melo: Vassili
Daniel Ihn-kyu Lee: Gleby
Umberto Giordano's Siberia may not have made it to glorious posterity, but it sounded intriguing enough for a curious audience to go check it out last Saturday night in John Jay College's Gerald W. Lynch Theater, conveniently located right on the border between the Upper West Side and Hell's Kitchen, where it was presented by Teatro Grattacielo in one performance only.
The small but tenacious opera company was indeed implementing one more time their laudable mission of bringing hidden gems from the Italian repertoire from the 1890s to 1930s to new life, and one can only be grateful that they are still around and unfailingly kicking after New York City Opera's heir apparent, Gotham Chamber Opera, stunned a lot of opera buffs by unexpectedly biting the dust earlier this month. Sometimes real life has even more drama than fiction.
Siberia deals with real people, their complicated lives and unhappy fates, such as a nice young soldier who unknowingly falls in love with the mistress of a prince, wounds the prince in a duel, ends up in a labor camp in Siberia, and eventually sees his mistress reappear right there to be with him. Happy ending? Not so, as verismo tradition oblige, things must go downhill from there, and I am not just talking about the extreme local climate. One day, she happens to bump into her former pimp, who tactlessly reveals her hooker's past, ungentlemanly snitches on her plan to run away with her lover, and literally has her killed (Well, since somebody had to die, it might as well be the scarlet woman).
So the plot was predictably straight-forward and silly, and sure enough, the music was just as predictably intense and lyrical, a constant flow of intense peaks and more controlled transitions that kept the passions burning hot and the story moving swiftly along. It is not a subtle score, but it is definitely an attractive one.
And the singers did full justice to it with not only their fearlessly expressive singing, but also enough emotional involvement to successfully inhabit their characters. Soprano Marie Masters was a naturally hot-blooded, fiercely determined Stephana, and sang the taxing part with plenty of ardor and clarity throughout the whole evening, never missing a beat between tender love songs and highly dramatic outbursts.
Irrepressible tenor Raul Melo was equally fervent and articulate as Vassili, the sweet but hapless young soldier whose encounter with Stephana triggers the chain of unfortunate events. Nothing was more heart-breaking that his discovery that the woman he loved, and ended up in Siberia for, was not an embroideress, after all.
Baritone Daniel Ihn-kyu Lee was a deliciously creepy Gleby, both poised and relentless, with just a tad of self-satisfied irony. His singing stood out with impressive staying power and resonance.
The ever-reliable Cantori New York chorus provided consummate background support, especially distinguishing themselves with the eloquent hauntingness of the prisoners' laments and the fleeting light-heartedness of the women's chattering and giggling.
The Teatro Grattacielo Orchestra was obviously having a ball with the dynamic score, and Israel Gursky energetically kept the music going strong and strongly appealing. The concert had impressive, unwavering momentum from beginning to end, never mind the two intermissions in the 90-minute performance, and most capably shed some bright light on an undeservedly ignored opera.