Classically Speaking / Nickel City Opera bounces back
Ruminski brings a new production to Villa
Acclaimed French-Canadian soprano Stephanie Lessard plays Violetta in Nickel City Opera’s production of La Traviata.
Photos courtesy of the artist
UPDATE: Unfortunately this event has been postponed. Please check the Nickel City Opera (NCO) website for updates.
Bass-baritone Valerian Ruminski, the founder and artistic director of Nickel City Opera (NCO), took a big gamble when, in 2016, he presented the world premiere of Shot!, a new opera by the longtime Buffalo-based composer Persis Vehar. Up to that time, his company had staged increasingly successful once-yearly runs of some of the most popular operas in the repertoire at the North Tonawanda’s Riviera Theatre. Shot! was different. Ruminski had already worked often with Vehar, and he wanted to premiere her new opera based on the assassination of President McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in the city where that tragic event occurred. He chose to produce it at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, a much larger and more expensive venue than the Riviera, and created an entirely new—and highly innovative—staging, a much more expensive proposition. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, including the weak dramatic arc of the opera’s libretto (McKinley is shot in the first half hour of a two-plus-hour production), the work didn’t do nearly as well as expected, resulting in more than $100,000 in losses, a mountain of debt for the small organization.
Since then, the NCO has only been able to present small events, but, despite the company’s still-not-completely-resolved financial difficulties, Ruminski has not given up on his mission to provide a professionally sung opera, once a year, in Buffalo. “I feel that the NCO is finally emerging from a dark cloud cast by the circumstances of staging Shot!” he says. On the last weekend in May, NCO presents two performances of its new, exquisitely costumed, fully staged production of La Traviata, Verdi’s most popular opera, in the Grand Theater at Villa Maria College in Cheektowaga. Ben Spierman, the associate artistic director and resident stage director of the Bronx Opera directs, and the full orchestra is led by Berlin-based conductor Mathias Manasi.
The title role of Violetta is sung by the French-Canadian soprano Stephanie Lessard, who has performed with groups such as I Musici and the Amati Ensemble, and who was critically acclaimed for her performance as Violetta at the Société d’art lyrique du Royaume in Quebec this past February. Lyric tenor Jeremy Blossey, who has performed over fifty roles in his international operatic career, sings the role of Alfredo, the smitten young lover of Violetta. The cast also includes baritone Grant Youngblood as Germont, Alfredo’s father; mezzo-soprano Jessica Best as Flora, and Ruminski himself as Dr. Grenvil, who delivers the news of Violetta’s fatal illness. Suzanne Fatta, the Buffalo-based female baritone who performs the role of the Commissioner, is the new managing director of the NCO. In this position, she has helped reduce the company’s financial deficit, says Ruminski: “Suzanne’s leadership is one of the reasons that we have been able to mount this production.”
Threepenny Opera at UB
The University at Buffalo Department of Theatre and Dance, beginning May 2, presents five performances of the first US production of a new adaptation of composer Kurt Weill’s groundbreaking Threepenny Opera, book and lyrics by Bertolt Brecht. This compellingly raw translation by Tony and Olivier Award-winning playwright Simon Stephens premiered in 2016 at the National Theatre in London. Nathan R. Matthews is the director and music supervisor for this newly designed production with full orchestra, which features choreography by Buffalo area theater veteran John Fredo and music direction by the multi-talented pianist Alison D’Amato.
First premiered ninety years ago, Threepenny Opera remains one of the most produced works of musical theater worldwide. This macabre masterpiece, a criticism of capitalism and middle-class morality set in a world of corrupt money still manages to shock the audience. Nathan Roberts plays Macheath, Hannah Keller is Polly Peachum, Michael Keller is Jimmy “Retail’” and Rory Tamimie is Tiger Brown.
Buffalo Chamber Players at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery
The program title of the BCP’s Thursday May 9 concert, Images from the Dark Land, comes from the subtitle of George Crumb’s Black Angels: Thirteen Images from the Dark Land. Written in 1970 for electric string quartet, the work is a musical reaction to, and depiction of, the Vietnam War. The quartet players play on amplified instruments as well as a vast array of percussion, including bowed crystal glass, maracas, metal thimbles, and gongs. The program’s war theme continues in the other works: Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s Battalia à 10 and Claudio Monteverdi’s Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, which also portray the brutality of war and the ultimate resilience of the human spirit.
See all music listings here.