By Nino Pantano
For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Regina Opera, in its 43rd season, gave us an afternoon to treasure with a double bill that offered a dollop of laughter and a gallon of tears.
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-1736) died at age 26. In his day, Pergolesi’s comic opera “La Serva Padrone” served as a “warmup” for his serious opera “The Superb Prisoner.”
We attended the first performance on Saturday, March 2, at Regina Opera’s new theatre at Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) auditorium, 5902 Sixth Ave. It is a lovely theatre with 400 red plush seats.
In “La Serva Padrone,” the saucy maid Serpina, the mute servant Vespone and the wealthy Uberto are in a battle of the sexes where, by having Vespone play her cruel husband-to-be, she has Uberto himself deciding to marry her -- as she planned.
John Schenkel played Uberto with the proper exasperation and buffo bluster. His somewhat light baritone negotiated the florid passages easily enough. His comedic timing was impeccable, but one wished at times for more vocal heft.
Christa Hylton was a sweet-voiced Serpina, and her singing was saucy and sparkling.
Vespone, as mute and brute, had to take a pie in the face, which he enjoyed eating in his attempt as Captain Tempest to have his master finally marry Serpina. All ends happily in the red plush boudoir.
The sets were regal, and the costumes and wigs were suited to the times. The music of strings and harpsichord featuring Peiwen Chen at the keyboard had an innate charm. That entire flavor was brought to the fore by Maestro Scott Jackson Wiley and the splendid Regina orchestra. Yelena Svranskaya was the excellent violin concertmaster.
“Il Trittico” was composed by Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) in 1918. “Suor Angelica” is now acknowledged as a masterpiece. It should be noted that the Puccini family were church organists in Lucca, and one of Puccini’s sisters was a nun.
Sister Angelica, a girl of noble family has been in a convent for seven years, since she had an illegitimate child. Her cruel and unforgiving aunt pays a visit to the convent to tell Suor Angelica that Angelica’s sister is getting married and that she should sign over her inheritance. She informs Angelica that her child has been dead for two years.
When her aunt departs, the grief-stricken Angelica takes poison, but is redeemed at the moment of her death when her child appears in heavenly light with the Virgin Mother.
Sister Angelica was sung and acted brilliantly by Melody Henley Heyn, whose radiant soprano shimmered with celestial light. Her scream and collapse upon hearing of her child’s death shook the foundations of Our Lady of Perpetual Help auditorium, and her heartbreak entered our hearts. Her singing of “Senza Mamma,” with its long held pianissimo at the ending, earned her an ovation.
Leonarda Priore as her aunt (La Principessa) had all the ingredients of the icy Princess Turandot. Her regal renaissance costume countered with the simple white vestments of her remorseful niece. La Principessa made a feeble attempt to hold Angelica but her basic unforgiving unyielding nature prevented this. Her heart was cast in stone, and Ms. Priore’s stern and vengeful powerful and deep mezzo made this scene an indelible one.
All of the nuns and cast deserve mention for their wonderful ensemble contributions: Miriam Levenson as the Abbess, Elizabeth Mondragon as the Monitoress, Elizabeth M. Moulton as the Mistress of Novices, Patricia Vitale as Sister Genovieffa, Caroline Moore as Sister Osmina, Lisa Bryce as Sister Dolcina, Elena Sandella as the Nursing Sister, Lindsey Blackhurst as the First Alms Sister, Jennie Mescon as the Second Alms Sister, Jasmine Jones as a Novice, Nicole Leone and Olesya Rudik as the Lay Sisters, Shelley Sharon Barkan as Sister Lucille, Christina Hourihan as the Madonna, and the adorable Nomi Joel Barkan (age 5) as the child.
Linda Lehr, stage director, has once again through her special talents made every performer relevant and Suor Angelica a victim but also a victor. Suor Angelica’s triumph through mercy and compassion made us all share the tragic and blissful finale.
The chorus sang sublimely, the sets had depth and the proper “feel” of a convent with lush patches of gardens and fountains and a large cross on the side. The costumes were impressive, white for the nuns and regal red and gold for La Zia Principessa.
A “grand march” of nuns came out for a bow via the aisles of the theatre.
The Regina Orchestra of 35 splendid musicians was under the inspired leadership of Maestro Scott Jackson Wiley whose magical baton brought Puccini’s great score directly to our hearts.
The Regina Opera’s next performance is Saturday, March 9, and Sunday, March 10, at 3 p.m.