Max & Leo at The Met then Sunday in the Park with Pagliacci

The Bronx Opera’s spring season at Lehman College and Hofstra University

by Mitchell S. Liegh
So here’s the pitch: Max and Leo want to put on an opera. They need money so they call a gangster type to front them the bucks. He wants his two molls to be the stars. One is a tough chick covering her rough edges in furs, diamonds and phony accents, the other is a blonde glittery bimbo with plenty of chest … voice. No, this is not The Producers 2: Deep Throat Culture, this is The Bronx Opera’s 40th anniversary send-up of itself in the form of Mozart’s quickie romp, The Impresario. The production, under the direction of Ben Spierman, hands us a Carol Burnett sketch with perfect pitch. Ed Friedman and Mathew Rzomp play a Bialystock & Bloom of the classical circuit complete with sharp to-the-audience quibs by Friedman followed by high-pitched exclamations and innuendos by Rzomp. It is a tribute to the actors that the oldest of jokes seemed perfect in this setting. The boys were almost outshined by a terrific performance by Gary Giardina as the corporate capo with a taste for the sopranos – pardon the pun. And as the sopranos: two excellent actresses with really impressive pipes. Katherine Wessinger teased the audience more than her hair with her dumb-blonde take on the second mistress wowing them with her lovely voice, but Nicole Lee Aiossa wins the night as the grande dam of the opera complete with rapid-fire delivery and a genuinely beautiful and enthralling voice.

The back stage set seemed too bare and would have been helped if maybe we saw the lighting instruments thereby making the excellent lighting seem part of the action.

Laugh at all the demeaning comments made in the translation (also by Spierman) about The Bronx Opera and then go home and think about it. Clever very clever.

The second of the double bill was Pagliacci, utilizing the stage wonderfully as the theatre was transformed into a band shell somewhere in a borough park. The story of Pagliacci, which comes straight from a police desk blotter as the playbill synopsis implies, fitting perfectly into the modernized translation. A few moments of suspension of disbelief are needed but nothing that stops the enjoyment or the story.

This highly recognizable opera tells us of a commedia style theatre troupe and the lead performer’s discovery of his cheating wife. The eventual accusation and grim finale is played out “on stage” during one of the free shows. Considering its era and its “ripped from the headlines” nature, it seems to fit with France’s Grand Guignol of the same era.

Roger Ohlsen delivers a terrific performance as the clown with the broken heart. His rendition of the opera’s famed aria was breathtaking.  Matthew Rzomp returns and stands out in this piece in the somewhat thankless role of Beppe; Jenny Searles and Jeremy Moore played the conspiring lovers brilliantly. Moore’s inner character life made his presence undeniable, even when skulking in the background. Jerett Gieseler opened the show for us and then became the undesirable Tonio filled with leers and shifty-eyed glances.

The company double-casts its works and word is the standouts of the other cast are Kirsten Chambers as Nedda, the unfaithful spouse, and Juan Jose Ibarra as the damaged Tonio. Accolades on the entire production were made but special mention goes to these two.

The production scheme implies that this company brings gorgeous works to those who cannot normally afford to see them… and they are beloved for it. Cry at the pagliacco’s pain, and then go home and think about it. Clever very clever.

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