I saw *Hatuey: Memory of Fire* at Montclair State University on 9/22/18. It's a new opera with music by Frank London and a libretto by Elise Thoron. The story takes place in Cuba in the 1930s, where Yiddish poet Oscar is being inspired by a chanteuse at a night club to write a poem about Hatuey, a folk hero who fought against the invading Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.
There were three things that led me to this show. First, I'm always interested in new opera. Second, London is a member of The Klezmatics, who I like a lot. And third, and most especially, one of the stars of the show was Nate Stampley, a good friend from college. Nate played Hatuey, and sang so beautifully, I've never heard him sing so beautifully. The role really showed off his vocal range and dramatic ability, he had a powerful presence. And he got to dance a little, which was a joy to see.
The opera itself was very strong, the storytelling was based in the music, which (for me) is what makes it an opera rather than a musical. You should be able to listen to a recording of an opera and follow everything without the visual - - the staging should heighten the drama but not really be central to it. Best of all, a lot of the music was fantastic, hot Latin jazz, such a thrill to hear, played so well by the crackerjack ensemble. I was impressed at how well the opera made the transitions from the nightclub in the 1930s to a semi-mythological past in the 16th century, and then back to the nightclub, without a lot of scenic involvement.
The other standout performance was by Jennifer Jade Ledesna as the night club chanteuse. She was a knockout, sang with great force and drama and looked like a million bucks in her magenta sequined gown. Here she is with composer Frank London performing a song from the opera on BronxNet. London at one point is playing the trumpet with his right hand and the keyboard with his left! Talk about multi-tasking.