Friday, February 20, 2009

Gotham Chamber Opera: L'isola disabitata (The Desert Island)

Mark Morris Directs Haydn Mini-Opera

After a season of relatively experimental productions, the Gotham Chamber Opera returns to its core strength with its entertaining production of Haydn's L'isola disabitata (The Desert Island) at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College.

Directed by Mark Morris (and attended on opening night by Stephanie Blythe), L'isola desabitata tells the simple-for-opera story of Costanza (Takesha Meshé Kizart) and Silvia (Valerie Ogbonnaya), shipwrecked sisters left to fend for themselves on a desert island after pirates had abducted Costanza's husband Gernando (Vale Rideout). Costanza, who mistakenly believes that Gernando had abandoned herself, has raised Silvia to hate and fear men. But the reappearance of Gernando, together with his steadfast friend Enrico (Tom Corbeil), challenges Costanza and the innocent Silvia to reconsider their points of view.

Sensitively accompanied under the conductorship of Gotham artistic director Neal Goren, the four singers cavort on and about a rotating "desert island" set. They work well as a group negotiating a reworked Haydn score that tests their vocal and expressive ranges, with Ogbonnaya standing out with her charming singing and acting.

I can quibble over various aspects of the production, including the way that dance gestures suddenly asserted themselves toward the finale—fascinating to behold, they nevertheless made me wonder whether director Morris had only been able to do so much prior to opening night. And I could imagine certain musical portions (such as the overture) being enhanced through stagecraft (such as a slide show depicting the opera's backstory). But this entertaining and satisfying production of a rarely performed work is yet another example of what makes the Gotham Chamber Opera a vital player in New York City's music scene.

Remaining dates (all at 8 pm) are Saturday, February 21; Wednesday, February 25; Friday, February 27; and Saturday, February 28, 2009. The running time of the intermission-free production is about 105 minutes, or about 90 minutes if it starts on time.

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