Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Sacco and Vanzetti premiere at the Studio Theater, Lehman College, a review

By Tiziano Thomas Dossena (Courtesy of OperaMyLove Magazine)

A premiere is always a gift to the attending public because of its novelty, regardless of the content and validity of the performance, but in the case of After Dinner Opera Company’s “Sacco and Vanzetti” an extra layer of glamour and interest was added, both because of the composers and the topic of the opera.  Yes, it’s composers and not composer, since the opera was started by the musician Marc Blitzstein and completed by Leonard J. Lehrman, who also conducted the orchestra at the performance.

Tiziano Thomas Dossena with Christopher Remkus (Nicola Sacco) and Michael Niemann (Bartolomeo Vanzetti)

There were pleasant surprises mixed with a set of not-ideal choices that were presented to the audience, and that allowed for the performance to debut in a respectable manner. Let’s talk about the choices that could have been better first… Blitzstein’s music as such did not age well, being more set for musical theater than opera, and the valiant effort of Maestro Lehrman was not sufficient to revive it properly to be appreciated by a contemporary audience.

Furthermore, the length of the opera, given the type of music, which could have been and probably would have been shortened by the original composer if given the opportunity to revise it, was inappropriately long. This occurred probably not because of a musical choice but to follow the original libretto. Having some exposure to libretti through the years, I can vouch that a good third of the opera could have been cut and by doing so, obtain a more harmonious flow to the story and the music. The conversation about the shoe, one of the scenes from the opera, for example, takes away from the drama and tragedy behind the Sacco and Vanzetti story and does not add any valuable musical element to the opera.

Lehrman’s conduction was almost flawless, being disrupted by his choice to interact at times with the musicians as if this was a rehearsal of some sort. True was it that the audience was mainly made of friends, families of performers, and admirers of the composer, but it still was a premiere performance and not a practice one…

Maestro Lehrman conducting and playing the piano in the second act…

Taking away these blemishes, the opera was successful because of the hard work the opera company’s components put in to offer a special, historical performance. The stage direction by Benjamin Spierman was optimal, considering the limited space the Studio Theater of Lehman College offer. The stage and lighting design by Joshua Rose offered a suitable and well-worked ambient for the singers. The choice of the back screen was wonderful and the video design by Maxwell Bowman allowed for a further understanding of the story. The Metropolitan Philarmonic Orchestra and Chorus performed well, although some members were absent in the second act, therefore the extra work for the conductor —impromptu pianist…

Michael Niemann as Bartolomeo Vanzetti

The singers were all performing well and gave their best… In particular, though, there were some exceptionally successful performances by a few of the major characters. Michael Niemann as Bartolomeo Vanzetti was inspired, offering not only a vigorous vocal performance but also a touching portrayal of the character… Christopher Remkus interpreted Nicola Sacco impeccably, showing at the same time the wonderful control of his powerful voice… Perri Sussman presented a credible and vocally pleasant Rosa Sacco, Nicola Sacco’s wife… Sarah Blaze performed brilliantly, both as a singer and an actor… Christopher Tefft showed a particularly effective control of his commanding voice and gave an optimal character performance that invigorated the story…

Christopher Remkus as Nicola Sacco and Sarah Blaze as Elizabeth Glendower Evans

Many others offered a valid performance, too many to mention…

This was a valid premiere, even considering Blitzstein’s music is more appropriate for Musical Theater than Opera, and our compliments go to Maestro Lehrman for his work and dedication. The story of Sacco and Vanzetti was certainly a valid choice for an opera, being intrinsically permeated by tragedy. This opera shows the racist choices of the investigators brought to a dreadful end, the execution of the two innocent Italian anarchists.  This is a story that we should never forget.

GALLERY (all photos by Tiziano Thomas Dossena unless marked otherwise)

Tiziano Thomas Dossena
Tiziano Thomas Dossena
Tiziano Thomas Dossena is the Editorial Director of L’Idea Magazine. He is the author of “Caro Fantozzi” (2008), “Dona Flor, An Opera by van Westerhout” (2010), "Sunny Days and Sleepless Nights" (2016), "The World as an Impression: The Landscapes of Emilio Giuseppe Dossena" (2020), "Federico Tosti, Poeta Antiregime" (2021), and "La Danza del Colore" (2023). Dossena is the editor of A Feast of Narrative anthology series and co-editor of Rediscovered Operas Series books on librettos.

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