JUILLIARD OPERA'S presentation of Cavalli and Faustini’sLa Calisto at the Rosemary and Meredith Willson Theater (seen Feb. 17) was one of the most elegant and imaginative shows that New York has enjoyed this season. The witty, adroit stagecraft of Zack Winokur, who directed and choreographed the opera, was perfectly scaled for the chamber-sized dimensions of the Willson Theater, which seats less than 100. The movement throughout was well-pointed and surpassingly graceful, whether executed by the energetic singers of Juilliard Opera or the quartet of accomplished “ringers” from Juilliard Dance; the various moments of comedy and pathos were achieved with rigorous honesty and the jokes were genuinely funny. Winokur delivered the tangled mythological narrative with perfect clarity but without updating the action: the ancient story of gods, goddesses, nymphs and shepherds in libidinous pursuit of one another remained consistently engaging for the entire evening. There were no dull spots—the staging was superbly paced—nor were there any pesky anachronisms on view. The design team achieved miracles of economy and imagination, chief among them the scenic elements devised by the firm of Charlap Hyman and Herrero, which suggested a moonlit forest grove, a starlit sky, and the multi-doored interior of a classic farce, all lit with clear-eyed cool by Marcus Doshi. Austin Scarlett’s costumes showed off the characters’ ripe sexuality without ever resorting to vulgarity; the most spectacular ensemble was the ravishing gold dress designed for the goddess Giunone, which covered the entire stage and allowed mezzo Julia Wolcott (with the under-skirt assistance of three heroically limber young dancers) to appear airborne.
Stephen Stubbs, who was credited with Winokur as having “arranged and adapted” the piece for this performance, conducted the musicians of Juilliard415 in an aptly supple, sexy performance; the heavenly contours of “Lucidissima face,” Endimione’s song to the moon, were shaped with unerring style and surety and the last ensemble of the second act was exquisitely performed. The Endimione, Polish countertenor Jakub Jósef Orlinski, was the most striking singer in the eager young cast. A skillful actor with a handsome face and figure, Orlinski has a congenially boyish presence; the role of the shepherd who pines for the goddess Diana gave Orlinski few opportunities for the florid music that is evidently his specialty, but he phrases with professional-quality musicality and intelligence if not (as of yet) a truly integrated command of legato. He is clearly an artist to watch. Also impressive was his Diana, Samantha Hankey, the most ingenious and economical actor in the cohort of ten singers. A square-shouldered beauty with a maple-flavored mezzo, Hankey was able to indicate with admirable subtlety when she was meant to be the “real” Diana and when she was meant to be the god Giove disguised as Diana. Hankey attacked her “angry” music without sounding harsh or forced and was a lusciously pliant partner in her love scene (as Diana) with Endimione, as well as in her coupling (as Giove in Diana) with the toothsome Calisto of Angela Vallone.
The other singers in the cast were not as finished as Orlinski and Hankey—there were a fair amount of intonation problems throughout the evening—but everyone performed with abundant commitment, palpable generosity and a genuine sense of ensemble, a testament to the leadership of their director/choreographer and the cohesive power of their school community. — F. Paul Driscoll
New York Fashion Week has moved on from Lincoln Center, but the Upper West Side plaza is buzzing this week with a different energy. That’s thanks to La Calisto, Francesco Cavalli’s 1651 opera, reimagined by 27-year-old wunderkind director Zack Winokur. Conducted by Stephen Stubbs (perhaps the world’s foremost lutenist), La Calisto opens tonight at The Juilliard School, Winokur’s alma mater, in a black-box theater that has been transformed into a Venetian opera house by the high-end gallery firm Charlap Hyman & Herrero...
Proper scale has a beauty of its own.
The first opera production I encountered in the cozy 96-seat Rosemary and Meredith Willson Theater at the Juilliard School, two years ago, was astripped-down version of Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin.” Shorn of its grand-opera trappings, it had a fascinating intimacy and a searing intensity, but it also felt a little the way it must seem being inside a pressure cooker.
On Wednesday evening, Juilliard Opera and Juilliard415 presented a production of Francesco Cavalli’s 1651 opera “La Calisto” in the space. With a small band of period strings and plucked instruments tucked into a corner, Zack Winokur’s staging used all available space comfortably, and, as in “Onegin,” the room proved an excellent showcase for skilled young voices.
Stephen Stubbs, the noted early-music specialist, conducted from the harpsichord and the lute. In his program note, he suggests that Cavalli’s librettist, Giovanni Faustini, “set out to fashion a show that a modern promoter might describe as ‘a sexy romp,’” a notion that he and Mr. Winokur carried through.
In a plot loosely drawn from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” Giove, the creator of the universe, falls for Calisto, a virgin archer and follower of Diana. He impersonates Diana to woo Calisto in what appears to be a lesbian fling; the real Diana enjoys courtiers of her own, most notably the humble shepherd Endimione, who wins her.
Giunone, Giove’s wife, rightly suspicious of his two-timing, descends to earth and dominates the second act of this shortened version. She turns Calisto into a bear, but in what must pass for a happy ending, Giove promises to make the lumbering Calisto a goddess in the afterlife.
The scenic design by Charlap Hyman & Herrero uses light touches evocatively, and characters slip on and off the stage through unseen doors, evidently representing caves. But the real tour de force is Giunone’s dress, almost a scenic element in itself but presumably the work of Austin Scarlett, the costume designer.
The young Juilliard singers were mostly terrific. The three principal women were Angela Vallone, fetching as Calisto; Samantha Hankey, essentially doing double duty as Diana and Giove’s fake Diana; and Julia Wolcott, whose Giunone could turn from strong and vindictive to melting and back in an instant.
The countertenor Jakub Jozef Orlinski was the most appealing of the men, partly because his Endimione had the big numbers. Xiaomeng Zhang caught both the strong and the pathetic sides of Giove. Several members of Juilliard Dance filled out the cast, not so much dancing as acting mutely. It all made for most effective use of a modest, charming space. - James R. Oestrich
Ordinarily if La Cieca assigned me an opera revolving around chastity vows, adultery, slut-shaming, lesbianism, transvestism and much more I’d grit my teeth and head for a grim new work at, say, National Sawdust in Williamsburg. Instead, Sunday afternoon found me at Juilliard Opera for a 365-year-old comedy: Cavalli and Faustini’s delicious La Calisto in a superbly imaginative mounting by young director-choreographer Zack Winokur.
Faustini’s magnificent, complex libretto follows Jove on yet another of his many extramarital dalliances. The lust-object this time is the nymph Calisto, a follower of the virgin goddess Diana who initially proves very uncooperative. But Mercury suggests that Jove disguise himself as Diana who then quickly seduces the hoodwinked devotee in what is surely opera’s first lesbian lust-duet.
Of course the real Diana appears in the same Arcadian wood to explore her own illicit erotic longings for the languorous shepherd Endymion. Many complications then arise involving, among others, the betrayed Juno on the warpath, the rejected god Pan, and a horny young satyr.
Since it was resurrected by Raymond Leppard for the 1970 Glyndebourne Festival, the ribald Calisto, filled with Cavalli’s witty, ravishing music, has become one of the most performed 17th century operas. The U.S. premiere at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in 1972 featured Barbara Daniels as Diana and though it continues to be done regularly at American universities, professional performances have been rarer although it was produced at the Glimmerglass Festival twenty years ago with Drew Minter as Endimione and Christine Goerke as a fearsome Giunone (check out the excellent highlights CD once available from BBC Music Magazine).
Juilliard’s Calisto benefited from the participation of its historical performance program; members of its period ensemble Juilliard 415 made up the small band. Compared to a number of Cavalli realizations I have heard, this sensitively-cut version was quite spare. Much of Calisto contains pages and pages of recitative that flow organically into and out of short arias, duets and ensembles.
The excellent—and tireless—continuo group consisted of two harpsichords, cello, bass and a variety of plucked instruments which were joined in ritornelli by a pair of violins. One of the world’s most accomplished lutenists and co-Artistic Director of the Boston Early Music Festival, Stephen Stubbs led the small band of eight from one keyboard and also occasionally played a baroque guitar and assorted percussion instruments.
Though they can’t have previously performed much of this style of music, Juilliard’s student singers generally displayed a gratifyingly high degree of competence in tackling the challenging recitative. There were no coloratura fireworks to contend with but difficult melismatic passages sometimes threatened to go off the rails. Most everyone sang idiomatically while they were simultaneously coping with Winokur’s intensely physical direction which was refreshingly restrained given the work’s non-stop racy hijinks.
small black-box space in the Rosemary and Meredith Willson Theater featured a versatile, marvelously painted landscape backdrop by Charlap Hyman & Herrero dotted with doors and a few movable screens. The vigorous performers darted, rolled, swooned and raged in and out of this unit set clad in Austin Scarlett’s chic, snazzy costumes, which revealed a lot of skin, particularly the men’s. Scarlett did indulge in one over-the-top coup-de-théâtre at the beginning of the second half garbing Giunone in a splendidly voluminous gold gown which covered the floor of the entire performing space.
The afternoon was dominated by a tour-de-force performance by Samantha Hankey as both Diana and Giove transformed into Diana. I’ve never understood why both the much-traveled Herbert Wernicke production (the basis of theRené Jacobs recording) and the David Alden version I saw in Munich in 2005 had the bass playing Giove don a dress to become Diana. Surely the god of gods could completely transform himself into a woman not just parade around looking like an inept drag queen. At least Alden asked the mezzo singing Diana to perform Giove as Diana’s music from the pit; Wernicke/Jacobs have the bass sing “her” music in campy falsetto, a bad joke that ruins some gorgeous stuff.
Hankey, whose Marcellina threatened to steal last spring’s Nozze di Figaro at Juilliard, again revealed a secure, lustrous mezzo which reveled both in Diana’s hesitant dawning love for Endimione and in the disguised Giove’s lusty seduction. She also deftly differentiated the two contrasting personae: the proud, erect goddess of the moon and the brusque, slouching serial seducer distinctly uncomfortable as a woman. One hopes that Juilliard will soon showcase Hankey is a mainstage production.
The entrancing Angela Vallone’s fresh soprano aptly conjured the spirited Calisto, and her blissed-out post-coital satisfaction after her cave-encounter with Giove/Diana was priceless. Jakub Józef Orlinski revealed a mellow countertenor (and great guns) as the astral-obsessed shepherd Endimione, and he blended most enchantingly with Hankey in their sensuous “Dolcissimi baci.”
Xiaomeng Zhang’s sonorous bass rang out so pleasingly as Giove that one regretted that he has so little to sing. But his moving duet with Vallone informing her of her imminent immortality as the constellation Ursa Major concluded the performance on a blissful note.
here many productions of Calisto cast Linfea with an aging character tenor, Juilliard’s instead featured a strapping would-be Rodolfo in Alexander McKissick whose blunt manner and hairy chest created an interestingly provocative re-interpretation of the conflicted nymph. Soprano Caitlin Redding’s vibrantly furry Satirino tangled amusingly with McKissick, and she, Matthew Swensen as Pane and Cody Quattlebaum as Silvano twirled about with panache on the most uncomfortable-looking cloven hooves.
I’m used to a baritone as Mercurio (Simon Keenlyside sang it for Jacobs) butMichael St. Peter’s able tenor provided pithy commentary in the briefest of costumes and Julia Wolcott’s Giunone (a dead-ringer for Amy Schumer) started out tentatively—perhaps because three dancers were undulating under her enormous dress—but she soon proved a ferocious opponent for the naïve Calisto.
I’ve been a Calisto enthusiast since high school when I wore out my Argo LPs of the Leppard version featuring Janet Baker’s incomparable double-Diana, so I’m always happy to hear it particularly in such an all-around satisfying performance. Unfortunately this smashing show played only three performances in a tiny space seating under 100. In my ideal world Winokur’s show would be snapped up by an enterprising producer and opened for an extended run in some intimate downtown performance venue.
Until that happens, the Yale Baroque Opera Project is presenting two freeperformances of Cavalli’s Xerse on April 30 and May 1. The Paris Opera opens its season in September at the Palais Garnier with a new production of Eliogabalofeaturing Nadine Sierra and star countertenors Franco Fagioli and Valer Sabadus; let’s hope it’s more successful than Gotham Chamber Opera’s misbegotten effort of several years ago.
Those interested should also look for the promising Winokur’s intriguing next project—as choreographer for Orphic Moments, a Gluck-Matthew Aucoin mashup starring Anthony Roth Costanzo opening next month—at National Sawdust, of course. -Christopher Corwin
The Soldier's Tale
A thought-provoking, atmospheric performance of Igor Stravinsky's "The Soldier's Tale," a chamber piece for instrumentalists, dancers, actors and an actor/narrator.
In one hour, a group of actors, dancers, musicians (the Deviant Septet) and a narrator took Stravinsky's creation to another dimension. Picture them all in black and white, moving across the stage with a narrator on one side and the red-eyed devil on the other. The soldier arrives but, Eureka! there are three of him, (an effect performed by three look-alike actors), one fitted behind the other, to act as parts of the soldier's soul falling away in his bargain with the devil. And then comes the soldier's bride -- in her ephemeral gown designed by famed costume designer Austin Scarlett. But, it turns out the bride is male! It is dancer Zack Winokur in drag.
And looking closely at the Septet, it appeared there were two females -- but they are all male here, with the help of costumery. But Oh! how the "bride" and groom danced to the rhythms of the tango, waltz and jazz, how effortlessly the male dancer lifted the male dancer.
This dark, androgynous production brought images to mind of Bertolt Brecht and Berlin in the 1930s. According to the program, the production was inspired by Shakespeare's play within his play, "Hamlet. " In this production, what came across is the striking originality, the elegant level of professionalism.
The Greenwich Music Festival added another feather to its cap with a thought-provoking, atmospheric performance of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Soldier’s Tale,” a chamber piece for instrumentalists, dancers, actors and an actor/narrator….One consistent characteristic of GMF fare is, in a word, class. Regardless of the subject matter, the musical work or the composer, GMF patrons can count on its class. “The Soldier’s Tale” added another entry to the already long list.
In addition to his part in the re-conceptualization of "The Soldier's Tale" and his creation, as he has in past festivals, of intriguing, expressive, and fluid choreography, Zack Winokur danced as a part of the Soldier but later as the Soldier's Bride, decked out in full wedding white, his face hidden under a veil. Remarkable here was Winokur's ability to translate affection and disillusionment into graceful gesture and body language. Bravo!
Jerome Sehulster, Stamford Advocate
What followed was a precedent-setting performance of the “The Soldier’s Tale.” In one hour, a group of actors, dancers, musicians (the Deviant Septet) and a narrator took Stravinsky’s creation to another dimension…This dark, androgynous production brought images to mind of Bertolt Brecht and Berlin in the 1930s. According to the program, the production was inspired by Shakespeare’s play within his play, “Hamlet. ” In this production, what came across is the striking originality, the elegant level of professionalism.
Anne Semmes, Greenwich Citizen
La Dame a la Licorne
Choreographer Zack Winokur created a tender, sensual ballet that blended magic, chivalry and earthiness.
Judith Malafronte, Opera News
The talented Zack Winokur, who has choreographed several previous productions here, created a ballet that was at times visceral and erotic, at other times, tender and embracing. Breanna O'Mara, the Unicorn, is gentle and trusting, accepting the Lady's hand-held offerings... but her death throes are vigorous and tormented, her heavy breathing clearly and effectively audible in the close performance space. Winokur stylishly accentuates the heat between the Knight and the Lady: Vengoechea is torn, sometimes literally, from her Unicorn and forcefully seduced; Winokur touchingly evokes the loss the Lady feels when the Knight abandons her, as well as the even greater loss she experiences when the Unicorn, unloved and unnourished, dies before her. His range of choreographic expression is wide and creative... Bravo to Winokur; bravi to the others in the production, and bravi to his three excellent dancers.
Jerome Sehulster, Stamford Advocate
La Voix Humaine
...Appropriately haunting stage pictures and brought a visceral freshness to the work.
this work was emotionally riveting, poignant, and ultimately heartbreaking; as the protagonist’s lover called, she wrestled with a party line…three performers held lights, moving with the singer, going up and down and in and out with her, ultimately blinding the audience briefly so that the denouement would be a shock and surprise. The audience erupted in bravos for this marvelous performance.
Linda Phillips, Greenwich Citizen
Four dancers wearing evocative costumes by Austin Scarlett — two men, Manelich Minniefee and Andrew Murdock; a woman, Yara Travieso; and a boy, Jose Tena — enacted scenes from Montejo’s life with Zack Winokur’s athletic, articulated choreography. While the work’s leftist political statements seem dated, on a purely artistic level “El Cimarrón” is a compelling musical and theatrical experience, especially in this tightly wrought and excellent production.
Vivian Schweitzer, The New York Times
This vibrant, percussion-driven piece—based on the astonishing, image-rich memoirs of former Cuban slave Esteban Montejo (1860–1973)—will be codirected by Huffman and Juilliard whiz-kid dancer-choreographer Zack Winokur, a rising force at 21, who also directed brilliant offerings of works by Monteverdi and Viktor Ullmann in recent seasons.
Time Out NY
El Cimarrón does not specifically require staging, but the performance was greatly enhanced by the work of directors Ted Huffman and Zack Winokur. The performances took place in the Theater of St. Catherine of Sienna in Riverside, Connecticut. The theater space is in the low-ceilinged basement of the church, which rules out the possibility of elaborate sets. Huffman and Winokur impressively relied on creative use of lighting and highly athletic dancing to convey the drama in a meaningful yet unobtrusive way. All four dancers — Manelich Minniefee, Andrew Murdoch, Jose Tena and Yara Travieso — performed gracefully and with dramatic aplomb.
This production is a shining beacon of minimalism, using sparse staging and simple, elegant and realistic costumes by Austin Scarlett (yes, he of Project Runway fame) not because the production team didn’t have access to grander possibilities, but because this was the most genuine and affecting way to share their vision. This production of The Runaway Slave is essentially a Tanzoper, and the addition of dancers adds a level of depth to the story that makes this piece almost entirely new.
Ted Huffman and the director and choreography wunderkind Zack Winokur tell Mr. Montejo’s story through a lens of darkness, with much of the stage often covered in shadow and the fantastically gifted dancers moving in a way that suggested pain and oppression.... this is an experience that very well may be once in a lifetime.
Four dancers, under the direction of choreographer Zack Winokur, performed a similar function on stage: an agile young Jose Tena was sometimes young Montejo as a slave, sometimes just "slave" in general; muscular and agile Manelich Minniefee, also sometimes a slave, did many of the strength moves and much of the lifting in the choreography, usually elevating the attractive Yara Travieso. She was at times the pretty woman Montejo longed for, a woman seduced by the priests, or the mermaid who seduces men. A supple Andrew Murdock was usually "the man," the overseer, the boss, the priest.
As are the restless, vivid ideas, images, and memories in the mind of Montejo, Winokur's choreography rarely stood still. He set his dancers to describe, to act and to provoke. The overseer walks in stiff, authoritarian strides; the slaves are fluid and loose. The frenzies of escape and revolution were effectively captured, as was the magic of a forest infested with spirits. But the dance sometimes got really wild: one of Travieso's wild flings to the stage floor triggered audible gasps from
The Stamford Advocate
Der Kaiser von Atlantis
This production, engagingly directed by the festival's artistic director Ted Huffman with Zack Winokur as choreographer and co-director, beautifully caught the spirit of the original conception.
This crack team of performers and designers has managed to present this many-faceted jewel of an opera in a manner utterly respectful of its unique origins while remaining so fresh that it feels incidentally composed for this moment.
Georges Briscot, Operaticus
…true art does not always please. It can repel, attract, surprise, shock and change us. That is the accomplishment of this production, which was at once absurd, grotesque, and brilliant…
Linda Phillips, Greenwich Citizen
Deploying the six disciplined singers - elegantly choreographed in slow motion by Zack Winokur - to manipulate the simple (largely red) props and Brechtian banners made the best of... the Theater at St. Catherine's.
The Summer Stages debut performance of Zack Winokur's new company, the
Troupe (directed with Michelle Mola), was on the way to selling out so quickly
that a Sunday show was added. It's a testament to the popularity and talent of the
hometown Winokur, whose eight dancers bring a multidisciplinary evening of works inspired by Monteverdi opera, early Futurist Theater, ballet, and circus arts.
Winokur, Troupe show flashes of brilliance