The idea of putting on amateur opera in New York seems, at first, a fool's game, what with two of the world's greatest opera companies at our disposal. But, in fact, there has long been a place for smaller-scale opera in neighborhoods around the city: Amato Opera in the East Village, Dicapo Opera on the Upper East Side, the Vertical Players Rep in Cobble Hill. These houses offer intimate, affordable performances for those who unwilling to make the trek up to Lincoln Center - not to mention the opportunity for up-and-coming singers to perform live in front of a New York audience.
A few seasons ago, Sung Jin Hong's Brooklyn-based One World Symphony began to intersperse their orchestral concerts with increasingly ambitious semi-staged operas, performed once each in Brooklyn Heights and Morningside Heights. On Friday night, they offered a more-than-capable reading of Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes: a psychologically-complex opera about a fisherman who is hounded by a mob-like village into a downward spiral of madness and violence. The music is full of tricky rhythms and challenging dynamics that can wreak havoc with even the most professional singers. While some of the secondary roles were uneven, and the layout of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church suffered from poor sightlines, the overall performance was musically and dramatically engaging, complemented by the warm, resonant acoustic of St. Ann's Gothic interior.
Standouts among the cast were Caleb Stokes, who was commanding and often disturbing as Grimes, Heather Meyer as his beloved, Ellen, Jack White as Captain Balstrode, and Mischa Frusztajer as the lawyer Swallow. The One World Symphony under Hong has improved dramatically since I last heard them several years ago, playing with power and intensity, particularly the key "Sea Interludes" which mirror Grimes' increasingly unstable mental state.
There will be one more performance of Peter Grimes this afternoon at 4pm at the Ansche Chesed Synagogue on West 100th Street in Manhattan; tickets are $40. In June, One World returns many of these same singers in two performances of Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos in these same venues. The Met and City Opera will both be shuttered for the season by then, so do yourself a favor and go check 'em out.