Catch a Rising Opera Star at dell’Arte Opera Ensemble

August 15, 2016 Updated: August 15, 2016

NEW YORK—Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble was founded in 2000 by Artistic Director Christopher Fecteau and Managing Director Karen Rich. Its mission is to provide master classes, seminars, private coaching, and performance opportunities for young opera singers. Audiences are provided an opportunity to see operas in intimate performance spaces and at modest ticket prices.

This month, dell’Arte Opera Ensemble is presenting four programs under the title of “Violetta & Her Sisters.” It is comprised of separate performances of “La Traviata,” “Manon,” “Scenes from the demi-monde” (semi-staged excerpts from “La Boheme” and “La Rondine”), and “Chansons de Baudelaire” (song settings of Charles Baudelaire’s poems by Claude Debussy, Gabriel Fauré, Henri Duparc, Louis Vierne, Vincent d’Indy, Charles Martin Loeffler, and others).

The first performance of Verdi’s “La Traviata” bodes well for the season.

The source of the libretto is “La Dame aux Camélias” (“The Lady of the Camellias”), an 1852 play by Alexandre Dumas fils, which was made into the Greta Garbo film “Camille.”

Violetta (the central figure in “La Traviata”) is one of opera’s most demanding roles, both vocally and dramatically. It is said to require three voices: a coloratura soprano for the heroine’s Act 1 aria “Sempre libera,” a fuller voice when she has her fateful meeting with her lover’s father, Giorgio Germont, and a darker voice for the death scene in Act 3. 

Soprano Bonnie Frauenthal made a strong impression as Violetta, singing with accuracy and conveying with her appealing voice the heroine’s mood changes, from the party scene at the beginning to the death scene in the last act.

Dominican tenor Jose Heredia as Violetta’s lover Alfredo has a powerful voice and elegant style. He was the first prize winner of the New Jersey Association of Verismo Opera 2014 International Vocal Competition and is clearly a talent to watch.

Jeremiah Johnson, playing Alfredo’s father, Germont, has a sonorous baritone and gave a fine rendition of his big aria, “Di Provenza il mar.”

Valuable contributions were also made by Hillary Grobe, Ileana Santamaria, Christopher Lilley, and Kofi Hayford.

The 21-piece orchestra, conducted by John Spencer IV, provided suitable accompaniment, albeit with a thinner sound than one would hear in an opera house. The set was minimal, though the one in the current production at the Metropolitan Opera doesn’t offer much more in this regard.

The cast of
The cast of “La Traviata” at the moment of the death of Violetta (Bonnie Frauenthal). (Mark Baker)

The English translations of the text were projected onto a screen over the stage.

The costumes are obviously the result of a limited budget. Violetta and some of the other women had gowns but the elder Germont, in a plain shirt and pants, could have passed for a salesman at Best Buy.

The singing was the main attraction and the standing ovation at the end was well earned by the cast and orchestra.   

The dell’Arte Opera Ensemble is a valuable asset for young singers as well as for audiences.

‘Violetta & Her Sisters’
Rose Nagelberg Theater at the Baruch Performing Arts Center
55 Lexington Ave.
Closes: Aug. 27

Barry Bassis has been a music, theater, and travel writer for over a decade for various publications.