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*The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,* Feb 3, 2022

I saw a new opera on Feb 3, 2022, *The Garden of the Finzi-Continis.* It had music by Ricky Ian Gordon and a libretto by Michael Korie. Gordon I knew only by reputation - - he's best known for having made an opera of *The Grapes of Wrath* in 2007 and has another chamber opera premiering in New York right now, *Intimate Apparel,* adapted from the play by Lynn Nottage. Korie I was familiar with, from his lyrics for *Grey Gardens,* *Far From Heaven,* and *War Paint.* Saw all of them - - I was crazy for the first, really enjoyed the second, and thought the third was a glorious mess.

The opera was presented by the New York City Opera and the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene. Here's how the NYTF was described in the program: "Now celebrating its 107th season, NYTF is the longest consecutive producing theatre in the US and the world's oldest continuously operating Yiddish theatre company." They produced the recent off Broadway Yiddish production of *The Fiddler on the Roof,* which was extraordinary, and even more memorably, a production of *The Pirates of Penzance* in Yiddish, which I saw at the 92nd Street Y not long after I moved here. That modern Major General was something to behold in Yiddish. I thought it was curious that they'd produce this opera because it was almost entirely in English, with a few bits in Italian and Hebrew...

*The Garden of the Finzi-Continis* started as a novel by Giorgio Bassani from 1962 and was then was made into an award-winning Italian film in 1970.



I saw the movie many years ago and thought it was beautiful to look at but rather dull, though it did have a powerful ending. It's the story of an aristocratic Jewish family in Italy during the rise of Mussolini until the start of WW II. The point-of-view character is a working-class Jewish boy/young man who's in love with the daughter of the Finzi-Continis.


The word I'd use to describe the opera is FRUSTRATING. It was relentlessly loud. One of the early scenes had the lead tenor singing with the ensemble singing backup chorus. You would think the chorus would sing quietly, right? No, they did not. Twenty opera singers, all hollering full tilt boogie in a rather small concert hall, it was an assault on the senses. The orchestra was small, only 15 pieces, but since they were on the same level as the audience they were overly present.


There were beautiful moments in the score but the music in general was impressive or admirable rather than enjoyable or effective. Gordon appears to know how to write for the voice but the words were a big problem: Korie didn't use enough variety in the length of the phrases, which led to a tiresome sameness in the vocal lines.


The strongest performance by far was by tenor Anthony Ciaramitaro as the central character, Giorgio. What a gorgeous voice and a gifted singer. I'd love to hear him in something more worthy of his talents. Here he is singing the show-stopping Italian Singer's aria from *Der Rosenkavalier.*



About a half hour into the show I was conflicted about whether or not I was going to stay after the intermission. One of the characters rhymed "submerge in" with "virgin," which is a direct steal from Sondheim's *A Little Night Music.* Not so much an homage as a theft. That made up my mind. The next 45-60 minutes were rough going but I was in the middle of a row and didn't want to disturb my neighbors. If I had been sitting on the aisle I woulda been outa there. Maybe the opera got better in the second act, like the movie. I'll never know.

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