September 19, 2008

Can’t Judge a Disc By Its Cover


When I first heard about East Village Opera Company's specialty of rock, jazz, or pop-song renditions of operatic arias, I was skeptical. When Olde School, the company's new disc, crossed my desk, I was even more dubious. Eeeeeee, I thought, what's this going to be like? But after several listenings, I became a convert. Not at the head of the choir, perhaps, but definitely in the fold.

Several reasons. For one, the performances are first-rate, both technically and musically. For another, the group approaches its work sincerely and with a laudable ability to blend the various musical idioms successfully. They sure do a better job than most crossover attempts, never mind which way: there's nothing of

the arch diva doing doo-wop or a mike singer trying to take on

La traviata here.

Even better, East Village Opera Company seems to have had fun with this. They're serious about the effort and outcome, but they approached the process with the right mix of reverence and cheekiness. The results thus speak to my own folk- and popular- music loving side. After all, just because I adore classical music done straight-up doesn't mean

I can't appreciate some mixing

of metaphors here and there.

Think about it. How many of you older classicalites out there swung, or jitter-bugged, or twisted, or flailed about in disco heaven, or had a flirtation with hip-hop or techno or metal?

Most of you, I'll bet.

The highlights on this disc include a killer (vocally and technically) rendition of the Queen of the Night's vengeance aria from Mozart's The Magic Flute, titled "King of the Night" -- in a nice touch, Mutter is of course changed to Vater in the lyrics. The "Brindisi" from Verdi's La traviata, here renamed "Pop the Cork" -- which is what the characters are doing onstage in this scene, wolfing down champagne -- is a treat, with a special contribution from soprano Nicole Cabell, Musetta in Santa Fe Opera's 2007 La boheme.

The placid "Where'er You Walk" from Handel's Semele comes across as quite lovely in the group's updated version, and "You're Not Alone" -- a version of "Sheep May Safely Graze" from Bach's "Hunting" Cantata No. 208, with new lyrics in English -- is both touching and tender. And for a wild ride (besides East Village's version of the Walkrenritt from Wagner's Die Walkre), don't miss the finale to Act I of Puccini's Tosca, sung on Olde School by the company's husky-voiced AnnMarie Milazzo.

Various parts of this disc were recorded in New York, Ottawa, and Prague, and the final recording, mixing, and editing were done in New York City. The result is professionally potent and well worth at least one listen. If you give it that chance, you may find this required or at least occasional listening for some time

to come.

-- Craig Smith

(c) 2008 The Santa Fe New Mexican. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.