Loft Opera Presents an Evening of Excellent Ensembles, No Beer Required
Loft Opera has been hailed as the future of opera by multiple newspapers, magazines, and blogs across the nation, and even said to be “in the process of reinventing opera for the 21st Century” according to James Jorden from The New York Observer.
Thus, with curiosity I ventured forward to their Verdi night in Bushwick, down a dark, industrial street with no signs of life besides other couples, hand-in-hand, also clearly on their way to a night of opera. I went in with some preconceived notions: Loft Opera was considered edgy, young, and best of all (according to some), served beer at all their performances, from none other than the Brooklyn Brewery.
When I finally stumbled upon the venue, it felt more like entering a speakeasy than a concert venue. The only indicator that this wasn’t another boarded up building next to the rows of buildings with cracked windows and decaying brick was a friendly woman outside ushering people in, who later, I learned, was General Manager Brianna Maury. The space was industrial and the production staff took no pains to hide the raw nature of the space, instead outfitting the center of the loft with only a grand piano, several unfinished wooden platforms, and a giant “Verdi” marquee hanging on one wall.
The place was packed, and the best I could do was sit, half-perched, on a bench entirely too crowded for the amount of people seated upon it. My companion for the evening wandered through a sea of people to grab us two Brooklyn Lagers, while I anxiously watched her seat, the rest of the latecomers relegated to standing in the back. My curiosity was piqued by the entire experience, my mind awash with raving articles about the uniqueness of such an event as well as with the overall atmosphere of the place, which was young, hip, and titillated. The entire thing felt like a secret club I’d stumbled upon and was lucky enough to have found entry to. Intrigued, I waited eagerly for the performance, to see what made Loft Opera so unique to have spawned the ravings of almost every arts section of papers and magazines across the nation.
That moment of revelation never quite came. That’s not to say that the performance wasn’t excellent. The performers were incredibly strong, with each singer gracefully outfitted in full recital attire—I certainly did not envy the ladies who gracefully navigated the wooden steps up and down the platforms in their ball gowns.
Soprano Suzanne Vinnik was graceful and beautiful in her expression, though her voice sounded a few sizes too small for the rep. The legato was broken with excessive use of straight tone in her lower register as well as vocal anachronisms that caused both the authenticity of Verdi’s music as well as the purity of her Italian to suffer. High notes seemed laborious and broke the dramatic moment as she thrust her sound forward, her hands clenched with effort. Despite this, she handled the characters, especially Leonora, with skill and nuance, evoking an emotional but poised performance.
Baritone Joshua Jeremiah excelled in both the role of La Traviata’s Germont and Trovatore’s Count di Luna, bringing a rich, full baritone voice to his impeccable performance of Verdi’s music. He convincingly portrayed the older father figure of Germont as well as the love-manic role of Count di Luna, all within a span of a half hour. His strong physicality, easily produced sound, and impeccable Italian made him the standout of the evening.
The chemistry between Suzanne Vinnik and Joshua Jeremiah was palpable in every scene, particularly in their treatment of scenes from Il Trovatore, and I found myself eagerly awaiting their reappearance throughout the evening.
Mezzo-soprano Karolina Pilou was set against tenor Dominick Rodriguez in scenes from Luisa Miller and Aida, and both blossomed beneath the demands of the music. Pilou’s first scene from Luisa Miller was pleasing, with her round and present lower voice, but in the scenes from Aida, the dramatic demands on her voice thrilled the listener. Her high notes were powerful without ever bordering on shrill, and her steady stage presence suggested all the gravity of a princess wronged. Her counterpartner, Rodriguez, had a bright, well-balanced, and smooth voice that left me longing to hear more from him.
Overall, the ensemble was exceptionally tight, with pianist and music director Sean Kelly combining both acuity of instinct in following his singers, as well as great facility with the reduced orchestral score. There wasn’t a sloppy end of a phrase all evening, which further contributed to the professionalism of the performances.
It’s always a pleasure to see good music performed well, but the wild appeal of Loft Opera continued to evade me. Months earlier, I’d seen a production of Orlando produced by R.B. Schlather in a similarly bare space, and with similar musical excellence—with libations provided, of course—except that production blossomed with creativity and daring.
With Loft Opera, the “sets” of the evening appeared to be hastily constructed platforms, with the staging as traditional as could be. The program note mentions the reduced staging so that the focus could be upon the singers performing only a few feet away, but the loft space was so large that the majority of the audience would barely have a view of the action.
With the hype surrounding Loft Opera, I expected the extraordinary. I left the performance feeling satisfied, but not moved to exclamations of hope for the future of opera. Perhaps my real point is that a good performance—which this absolutely was—is a good performance, no matter how dingy the loft or how cool the attending crowd. I’ll come to see opera done well any day-- with or without a Brooklyn Lager in my hand.