Arminio in Armenia

I am not qualified to write a proper review of opera, so take these comments as a strong recommendation by an entranced layperson of opera in general, and this opera in particular.

If you’ve never been to an opera and have no idea why anyone would want to sit through one, go see the workshop performance of Arminio in Armenia. If you have been to operas and would like to see more – especially if you enjoyed the combination of drama / comedy and English / Italian / French in the Met Opera’s Enchanted Island - then you should see Arminio in Armenia, too. It’s being performed by Opera Feroce at Christ Church in Cobble Hill. The second and final performance of this run is tonight, Saturday 6/9/12 ($20). If you can’t make it, ask to be on their mailing list (see below) so you can go next time.

Speaking again to the non-opera-lovers: When I was in elementary school in Catawissa, PA, my favorite candy store was on the ground floor of a building that said “Opera House” on its cornice. That’s as close as I got to opera for the next 40+ years, except for a single performance of The Magic Flute at the Met Opera. When our daughter was growing up, my husband and I deviously played all sorts of music from Renaissance to the 1980s, in hopes that when she was exposed to rap, she’d be bored silly. We played all sorts of music, that is, except opera, because listening to all that singing, all that repetition, without having any idea what was going on … Well, not my idea of fun.

But then my daughter, taking voice lessons with Broadway in mind, was suddenly swept away by opera and did a 180 (270? 90?) in her career plans. To try to understand her passion for it, Sal and I began attending performances at the Met Opera and at many smaller opera companies in NYC. And here’s the amazing thing: at a live performance, opera’s combination of well-trained voices, dramatic action, and musicians is wonderful, and utterly absorbing. I have a vivid imagination, and I hadn’t the remotest idea what it would be like.

One great surprise has been that although the Met Opera’s shows are fabulously produced and have world-class talent, we often prefer smaller venues, where we can see the lift of an eyebrow or the flick of a wrist without binoculars, and where we can hear the music and voices interacting from 10 or 20 feet away, rather than the nosebleed seats.

I love both serious and comic opera. Arminio in Armenia is hilarious. It’s a pasticcio (pastiche) with music by Baroque composer Niccola Porpora (d. 1768). The recitatives, in English, are by an anonymous member of Opera Feroce. The 3 singers (in 6 roles) have wonderful voices, individually and together. The acoustics in the church are marvelous, from the opening scene where the principals entered, singing, from behind the audience, right through to the final trio. The 3-piece baroque orchestra (violin, viola da gamba, harpsichord) not only played superlatively, but occasionally took minor parts in the action. There were no sets, but the church “furniture” was used in innovative ways. Last but not least: because of the way the program was written and the English recitatives, I could follow the action without subtitles, which means I didn’t have to take my eyes from the “stage” even for a second.

Arminio runs just under 2 hours, with a 10-minute intermission for wine and cake. Sit on the padded seats in front of the pews, if you can.