As part of our continuing series spotlighting New York's independent theatre scene, we attended the January 9 opening night performance of the Bronx Opera's Die drei Pintos, a comic opera by Gustav Mahler, who finished the project begun by Carl Maria von Weber in the early 1800s. Mahler's completed opera premiered at the Neues Stadttheater in Lipzig, Germany on January 20, 1888. Almost exactly 122 years later, the Bronx Opera debuts their English-language version of this rarely seen opera -- only the third time in history being performed in the United States and the first time being done in New York.
The Bronx Opera's version of Die drei Pintos, featuring a fresh translation by Associate Artistic Director, Benjamin Spearman, is a frothy, fun mix of opportunistic con men, stolen identity, starcrossed lovers, and a man who is impersonated not once, but twice during the course of the story with each of his imposters being more preferable to the original.
By design, it would seem, this production achieves its laughs from dialogue and reactions rather than from the frenetic comic pacing that one would associate with farce. However, the story of Die drei Pintos is no less farcical or improbable. Don Pinto de Fonseca, a slovenly, buffoonish country squire, while on his way to Madrid for his arranged marriage to the cultured Donna Clarissa, stops at a local inn where he encounters Don Gaston de Viratos and his friend-servant, Ambrosio. Once Gaston decides to have "a bit of fun" by stealing Pinto's letter of identification/introduction that he is to bring to Clarissa's family (whom he has never actually met) and pass himself off as Don Pinto, the hijinks begin.
The cast of this entertaining romp is filled with standouts: Eapen Leubner's charismatic performance and affected Dudley Do-Right perma-smile anchors the comedic proceedings with his rich tenor as Don Gaston, while Jeremy Moore (Ambroiso) and Michael O'Hearn (Don Pinto) provide wonderful comic support and lend their respective baritone and bass in several numbers. They steal Act 1 in a memorable scene in which Gaston teaches Pinto how to woo a woman -- using Ambrosio as the woman.
Hannah Rosenbaum (as Inez) deserves special mention for her crystal-clear soprano. Her one solo number, "Leise weht' es, leise wallte" is an absolute knockout and manages to set itself apart from even the other many notable songs in this opera. This is to take nothing away from Catherine Meyers (Clarissa), Brace Negron (Don Pantaleone), Patrice Eaton (Laura), and Kirk Dougherty (Don Gomez) whom the opera exclusively focuses on in Act 2. The romance between Clarissa and Gomez is derailed by two small things: first, Clarissa's father has promised her daughter's hand in marriage to the aforementioned Don Pinto and second, even though Clarissa's father has never met Gomez, hates Gomez based solely on his reputation.
Thus, with all of the comic complications set up in Acts 1 and 2, the entire cast converges and meets in Act 3 where the magic letter is now in the hands of Don Gomez who becomes Pinto number 3 and attempts to marry Clarissa through this trickery. Until, that is, the real Don Pinto shows up...
Die drei Pintos, as is common for an opera, is quite lengthy. It clocks in at about two-and-a-half hours, but does not feel nearly that long. It remains entertaining all the way through, and each cast member gets at least one musical number in which to shine. We didn't find a single weak link in the company. The Bronx Opera has a deep bench of top-rate talent and each actor delivers a noteworthy performance.
Ben Spierman's new translation of the original German opera sparkles, and the impressive and finely-tuned orchestra was immaculately conducted by Eric Kramer on opening night. Mr. Spierman himself takes over conducting chores for the remaining three performances.
If you have ever considered the idea of attending an opera, but found the prospect rather daunting or, quite frankly, boring, then we would recommend the Bronx Opera's version of Die drei Pintos as the perfect gateway into the world of classical opera. Always engaging, never stuffy, and made highly accessible by being fully translated into English, it's a great night of entertainment for both the regular and novice theater goer alike. To order tickets, visit the Bronx Opera's website at http://www.bronxopera.org/ and enjoy!
Click here for our exclusive interviews with Benjamin Spierman of the Bronx Opera.