The Rose and the Knife (LoftOpera, 2015)

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

  • Listed by The New York Times among "The Best Classical Music of 2015"

"this youthful company drew a youthful audience of 400 to a warehouse deep in Bushwick, Brooklyn, for a performance of — lieder? I was surprised, too, as I was by the effectiveness of the production, which wove together song cycles by Berlioz and Mahler into an affecting, excellently played and sung reflection on lost love.."

"...well over 400 people, a startlingly youthful group by classical-music standards, had gathered for a performance of two song cycles presented by LoftOpera, a company that has in just two years built a substantial following for its roving, intimate productions. This was my first LoftOpera experience, and the appeal is clear: solid musical values, a relaxed yet attentive vibe, and a sense of adventure.

That adventurousness didn’t extend to the choice of repertory — both Berlioz’s “Les Nuits d’Été” and Mahler’s “Lieder Eines Fahrenden Gesellen” are established classics — but rather to the unusual way they were presented: not just staged but interwoven, with the two cycles, in different languages, trading off to form a narrative of lost, regretted love.

The songs never felt distorted to fit the narrative, with Dean Buck conducting a substantial, agile, well-balanced orchestra. But the two singers, directed by John de los Santos, were the main reason the 50-minute performance was consistently riveting.

It was a show deserving of its big crowd."


THE NEW YORK OBSERVER:

"When I ventured into industrial-looking venue The Muse, I was dumbfounded to find the towering space crammed with a crowd of nearly 500. Of that number, the vast majority were young, hip, artsy types you’d expect to see at an avant-garde gallery or an off-off-Broadway show, but never, ever (in New York, anyway) at an opera.

Now, I’ve been following LoftOpera for a couple of years and this was by far the best-attended—and best-performed—offering so far. You wouldn’t think that a loft full of 20-somethings swigging artisanal beer would sit still for a couple of 19th-century song cycles, but they did. And at the end of the hour-long program, their cheers were as thunderous as those for an Anna Netrebko opening night at the Met. The show, entitled The Rose and the Knife, mashed up two song cycles about love and loss, Hector Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’Été and Gustav Mahler’s Lieder Eines Fahrenden Gesellen. The numbers, in French and German, respectively, were arranged to tell a troubling story of an ill-fated love affair. The action played out on a raised platform set midway through the space, with an abstract setting of burnished gold sculptural pieces suggesting alternately a bedroom and an outdoor area, perhaps a park.

This sort of concoction could easily turn coy, even silly, but it stayed firmly grounded by the sincerity and vocal security of the two soloists. Both artists moved with economical purpose, particularly in Ms. Ringles’ song “Absence,” staged by director John de los Santos as a tense reunion that threatened to tip over into violence. The production wisely didn’t try to relate much plot, but instead concentrated on highlighting the emotional high points of the delicately tragic tale."


PARTERRE BOX:

"...a provocative staging of Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’été and Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen.  

Director John de los Santos fused his pair into an always involving theater-piece called The Rose and the Knife conjuring a wrenching portrait of a love affair doomed by conflicting needs and expectations. Rather than first do the six Berlioz songs followed by the four Mahler, mezzo-soprano Rebecca Ringle and baritone Joel Herold alternated them in a polyglot mélange which was initially jarring but eventually evolved into something quite moving.

This modern pasticcio proved consistently compelling, musically and dramatically gratifying. Just one more performance remains—miss it at your peril!"