As its home in Lincoln Center undergoes a yearlong renovation, the company has found it necessary to explore ways in which to maintain a citywide presence for the time being, launching an initiative to perform in venues throughout the city for the duration of the season.
Looking Forward - an eclectic program of 20th-century music which will be presented in all five boroughs over the next 6 months - was presided over by maestro and emcee George Manahan, who provided brief introductions to the musical selections of the evening and the seven composers represented therein.
With the 58-piece New York City Opera Orchestra in remarkable form, the 90-minute one-act performance managed to provide a little bit of everything: impressive solo work, complex choral performance, explosive instrumental segments and even a percussion composition performed by nothing more than 4 pairs of hands. All was, as it should be, unamplified and enhanced noticeably by the excellent acoustics in the St. George.
The first soloist of the night was soprano Lielle Berman - seen as Cunegonde in last season's starry production of Candide - performing Benjamin Britten's difficult "Les Illuminations."
She was followed by the orchestra's principal harpist Jessica Zhou who, to the delight of the audience, lent her expertise to Debussy's "Danse sacree et danse profane"
Next came the orchestra going it solo on Edgar Varese's brief, dynamic "Integrales," followed by soprano Jennifer Zetlan taking the stage for two songs from Lukas Foss' Time Cycle.
Members of the Women's Chorus delighted with Olivier Messiaen's always-compelling "Trois petits liturgies de la Presence Divine," accompanied by pianist Aleck Karis and Jean Larendau on the ondes Martenot (a haunting electronic instrument similar to the Theremin).
In an unconventional turn, four dexterous percussionists then performed Steve Reich's aptly-named 1972 "Clapping Music," a complicated instrument-free demonstration of "phasing"- a method championed by Reich in which the same phrase is repeated in steady but different tempos with the different "instruments," over time, moving in and out of unison with each other.
To close out the evening, the orchestra treated the audience to a lush rendition of Stravinsky's Neo-Classical Pulcinella Suite in its entirety.
An opera company without a home, even temporarily, might sound like a frightening prospect; but if Saturday evening's sampling is any indication, New York City Opera has much to look forward to.
The next performance of Looking Forward will be held at Brooklyn's Whitman Theater on November 2nd. For tickets and further information visit New York City Opera.
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All photos by Carol Rosegg.