While everyone knows that there's nothing like the electricity of a good new opera on opening night, there's also a lot to be said for returning later on in the engagement. Tonight's performance of Mark Adamo's Lysistrata -- the closing night of its New York City Opera run -- handily demonstrated this fairly obvious truism. The general details of my reponse to Adamo's second opera can be found in my opening-night post, and they continue to apply. But this evening's performance was in all ways more confident and secure, qualities evident from the opening bars of the opera's fizzy overture, which was delivered at breakneck speed.
Since I already knew the broad strokes of the scenario, I lingered on finer details -- how radiant soprano Amanda Borst projects sheer gorgeousness during the opening scene's fast-paced funny business, for example, or the gossamer harp ripple that accompanies the line "silver in lamplight glow" during Lysia and Nico's first big romantic scene. (The overwhelmingly lush duo passage that serves as that scene's climax, "Eros will break us / All over again," played in my head literally for days after the premiere, and it was probably this more than anything that compelled a second hearing.)
A greater confidence among the performers also manifested itself in the physical aspects of their work; everywhere, telling details of action came across with greater force, and elicited far more ready laughter from the audience all night long. Some things that jumped out at me I actually didn't remember from the premiere. Had Myrrhine and Xanthe arrived at the pre-dawn strategy session clutching quick-mart cups of coffee the first time? I couldn't tell you. (One other detail I actually got wrong in my opening-night comments: The Spartan women's "Ho-yo-to-ho!" bit actually happens during the storming of the Acropolis late in the first act, not in the second, as I'd initially stated.)
Individual performances that impressed on opening night were still more commanding. As Kleonike, Myrna Paris proved a superlative comic actress in both voice and body language; Victoria Livengood, as Lampito, remained fearless, but projected still more forcefully without any evidence of overexertion. Two performers fine in the prima were markedly improved tonight: Chad Shelton, as Nico, sold sexy scenes more flagrantly while sending a chill through the audience with the understated threat he levels at the rival commander early in the second act. Jennifer Rivera's Myrrhine once again struck a sympathetic chord with her sultry Act One solo, "Peace, yes, of course," but generated far more heat in her Act Two confrontation with her lover, the soldier Kinesias, in music repeated from Nico's seduction of Lysia in the first act. The sweat that poured from Rivera's confrontation with James Bobick's Kinesias was exponentially greater than that of the opening night.
And then there's Emily Pulley, whose performance as Lysia left no doubt that she is a talent of the first magnitude: a comic actress who can fill a large stage and a larger auditorium with her presence; a singer who can project florid lines at frenetic tempos, yet still spin a silken top note at piano to close her big Act Two solo, "I am not my own." Any young performer who views stage comedy is a matter of tongue-wagging, bed-breaking and somersaults would do well to heed Pulley's mix of physical verve and reserve, to say nothing of her vocal diligence. (Ahem.)
Even though I knew when and where all the punchlines and sight gags would be arriving tonight, Lysistrata remained funny on second encounter. No small feat. But what surprised me was how much more moved I was by the show's most dramatic moments. Nowhere was this more true than in the haunting second-act chorus in which Athenian and Spartan women combine to praise Lysia's dedication to the political cause -- a dedication the audience knows to be on the verge of collapse. Adamo has suggested, in a TONY interview and elsewhere, that Lysia's "I am not my own" served as his own emotional point of connection to this plot. I would argue, however, that the "Evoi" chorus, in which the women of both Greek city-states detail the personal toll of war unending, is the heart of his opera. It's here that Lysia is finally made to recognize the deeper social ripples touched off by what had initially been her fairly tawdry personal revenge scheme; here, she comes to understand that she has been drafted into a political role as far beyond her control as the military orders she lambastes her lover for unquestionably obeying. The chorus is wrenching, its consequences equally so.
Not that I had any doubts after the premiere, but tonight's performance reaffirmed my conviction that Lysistrata not only deserves to have a long life on stage, but -- given its grown-up comedy, its balanced interrogation of sexual and military conflict, and a score that rings long and well in the mind's ear -- surely will have staying power. Apparrently, it's also a work to which fellow composers are paying attention: I spotted Tobias Picker, Aaron Jay Kernis, José Serebrier and fellow blogger/TONY contributor Daniel Felsenfeld in tonight's crowd (and Danny also saw Robert Beaser); Ned Rorem attended the premiere.
Rorem's Aftermath, a cycle of songs on themes of war and personal bereavement composed in the wake of September 11, was the centerpiece of a concert I attended on Tuesday night at the 92nd Street Y, at which I very much enjoyed the company of Lisa Hirsch, the Bay Area's estimable Iron Tongue of Midnight. I direct you to her post on the event not as mere cop-out, but rather in tribute to her enviable skills of description. I do seem to have more patience for the bluesy trifle that is Ravel's Violin Sonata than she does, and although I completely understand her impatience with a decorous Brahms G-minor piano quartet, I contented myself to luxuriate in the gorgeous blend of Jamie Laredo's violin, Cynthia Phelps's viola and Sharon Robinson's cello. (As an aside, it was happily jarring to see Phelps, a musician I rather dote upon, attired in anything but New York Philharmonic dress black.)
To Lisa's detailed, pitch-perfect description of Aftermath -- both piece and performance -- I'll only add two personal details: Even if it seemed obvious, I loved the fighter-plane swooping of the strings in Rorem's setting of Richard Eberhart's "The Fury of the Aerial Bombardment," and I thought the swift, oblique strokes that accompanied Jorge Luis Borges's "Remorse for Any Death" rather suited this enigmatic poet. The composer's take on Randall Jarrell's "Losses," as Lisa mentions, was riveting; so was the sight of Rorem bounding across the stage to congratulate the players and accept the audience's genuinely warm praise. (Allan Kozinn's New York Times review is here.)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Symphonies Nos. 39-41 - New York Philharmonic / Loren Maazel (Deutsche Grammophon Internet-only release)
Van der Graaf Generator - H to He Who Am the Only One (Virgin)
Franz Schubert - Symphony No. 8; Bela Bartók - Bluebeard's Castle* - Anne Sofie von Otter*, Matthias Goerne*, New York Philharmonic / Christoph von Dohnányi (RealAudio stream from the New York Philharmonic website -- sorry, expired yesterday...)
Arvo Pärt - Tabula Rasa*; Louis Andriessen - Racconto dall'Inferno**; Die Staat*** - Geoff Nuttall*, Barry Shiffman*, Cristina Zavalloni**, Synergy Vocals***, Los Angeles Philharmonic / Reinbert de Leeuw (Deutsche Grammophon Internet-only release)