Press

Ruminski receives Opera America award, NCO prepares Roadshow Opera

The Am-Pol Eagle

by Roger Puchalski

May 11, 2017

 

Cheektowaga native and founder/general director of Nickel City Opera (NCO), Valerian Ruminski was presented a service award last week in Dallas by OPERA America, the national opera industry organization.

This annual Service Award recognizes those who promote opera in their communities and work tirelessly to ensure the highest possible artistic quality and community service. “On behalf of the staff and membership of OPERA America, please accept my congratulations and thank you for your exceptional contribution to the field of opera,” said Marc A. Scorca, president/CEO Opera America.

Ruminski said, “Receiving an award from Opera America is quite meaningful to me. My mentor and former Buffalo opera general director Gary Burgess received a similar award back in 1995 for running the Greater Buffalo Opera Company for 10 years. So, I am flattered and proud to have kept NCO alive as long as he has and to be recognized for it.”

He added, “I also think this is a statement about that participating minority of Buffalonians who have made it known that they want opera here and love opera. They are the reason we have survived and continue to produce opera at a high level in WNY.”

NCO is preparing for a busy spring with its Buffalo Traveling Roadshow Opera.

Ruminski said, “We are usually busy in June but this is a different year. Our World Premiere of SHOT! by Persis Vehar at Shea's last June was an artistic success but the box office was not as strong as we had hoped so NCO is making up for a slight shortfall by scheduling numerous events all over town.”

NCO’s tour of Mozart’s hilarious one act opera, ‘The Impresario,’ kicks off at UB’s Slee Hall on Tues., May 23 at 7:30 p.m. The Buffalo Traveling Roadshow Opera includes performances at The Saturn Club, Wed., May 24 at 7 p.m.; Villa Maria College on Thurs., May 25 at 7 p.m. and aboard the USS Little Rock on Fri., May 26 at 7 p.m.

Mozart described ‘The Impresario’ as a comedy with music and a parody on the vanity of singers who argue over status and pay. NCO’s interpretation will be sung in English with English dialogue giving it a modern twist with added local references.

Rounding out the “Roadshow” is a master class with Maestro Matthias Manasi Sat., May 27 at 1 p.m.; Echoes of Opera III in the 90 foot Silo City grain elevator, Fri., June 2 at 6 p.m. and as the grand finale, back to The Saturn Club, Tues., June 6 at 6 p.m. for the 9th annual NCO Dinner. For a twist, as the encore, NCO and troupe head to The Lafayette Hotel for Broadway at The Lafayette, Thurs., June 22 at 5 p.m. for a special after work treat with the grand songs of Broadway.

Ruminski said, “We hope to expand the awareness of opera to people all over Erie and Niagara County and grow our base so that when we do a big show next June in 2018 we will have a larger number of ticket buyers.

“Young people and people who have never seen opera are our target market. We hope that doing a show at Villa Maria College and Slee Hall at UB will attract new people and young people to NCO.”

Nickel City Opera Coming To Springville Center for the Arts

Springville-Griffith Institute
November 1, 2017

A collaboration between Springville Center for the Arts, Nickel City Opera and Springville-Griffith Institute CSD, The Music Shop is an all-ages short opera that will feature high school students in the role of a chorus / angry mob. Nickel City Opera will be in residence at SCA and will engage in a variety of workshops with students of all ages. School performances will occur on the high school stage, followed by two public performances at the Center on Friday, November 17 and Saturday, November 18 at 7pm. Springville Center for the Arts presents theater productions, gallery exhibits, concerts, workshops and other arts programs. More information can be found at SpringvilleArts.org.

 

Ivan is instructed by his wife to go to The Music Shop to buy a piece of music to sing for a prestigious event. He proceeds to forget the name of the song and Dmitri the shopkeeper (bass Valerian Ruminski) and his assistant Masha sing almost every piece of music in the place! Hallucinations of the rage of his Wagnerian wife if he returns empty-handed ensue. Watch a mad scramble through the entire stock of “the largest collection of music in all of Russia” in a desperate attempt to recognise the requested melody in the ill-fated music shop. A funny introduction to opera and song!

 

Valerian Ruminski has recently performed with Opera de Montreal and Opera Coeur D’Alene in Tosca as The Sacristan. He is scheduled to appear with Musica Viva in Hong Kong as Colline in La Boheme and Gremin in Eugene Onegin for Calgary Opera in 2018. In 2004 he founded Nickel City Opera (NCO), Buffalo’s premiere opera company.  Over the years NCO has produced The Barber of Seville, Rigoletto, La Boheme, Don Pasquale, Amahl and the Night Visitors, Tosca, Il Trovatore ,The Marriage of Figaro and the World Premiere of SHOT!  by Persis Vehar about the assassination of President McKinley.

In preparation for the event Nickel City Opera will begin a residency at Springville Center for the Arts. During this time they will be putting together a production of The Music Shop by Richard Wargo. They will visit Colden and Springville Elementary, the Middle and High Schools with introductory programs. High schoolers will form a small chorus that will perform in the show alongside professionals which takes place first at the high school aud, then the Center and a final performance in Buffalo.

Schedule of Events:
Tonight, November 1. Valerian Ruminski, founder of Nickel City Opera, will sing with the high school chorus as part of the Fall Concert
Thursday the 9th. 9:15 Intro program at CES
During this week additional programs at SES, MS and HS
Monday the 13  1:30pm show at the high school for HS and MS
Tuesday the 14  10am performance at the high school for elementary students
Wednesday the 15  10am performance for CES
Public performances (with the HS students) Friday 11/17 and Sat. 11/18 at 7pm at the Center.
Learn More About Nickel City Opera at http://nickelcityoperaco.com/

William McKinley is back and this time, he’s an opera

The Buffalo News

by Mary Kunz Goldman

June 7, 2016

He has been sighted at the Spot Coffee on Elmwood Avenue, shaking hands. And at the Ellicott Square Building, where he delivered a speech. He even strode into the lobby of the McKinley Hotel in Canton, Ohio, home to the McKinley birthplace and presidential library.  “This is my hotel,” he beamed, as staffers gawked. The voice is familiar. It is the big, booming bass-baritone of Valerian Ruminski, who has sung with the Metropolitan Opera and now heads up Nickel City Opera. And all the songs and speeches so far have been just a warm-up. Buffalo will hear the full story at Shea’s Performing Arts Center on Friday and Sunday, when the company presents the world premiere of “Shot!,” a two-act opera by Persis Vehar about the McKinley assassination. It is also a love story, Ruminski emphasized at a recent rehearsal. The opera brings out the poignant romance between the president and his wife – and the love between the president and the country. By the end of the opera, the audience will see McKinley as much more than just another obscure president. “Everyone knows that everyone loves Kennedy,” Ruminski said. “Not everybody knows that everyone loved McKinley.”

 

“Shot!” has a distinguished director, David Grabarkewitz. He won an Emmy Award for Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” at the New York City Opera, broadcast in 2008 on PBS’ “Live From Lincoln Center.” The accomplished cast comes from around the world. There is a local twist: Steve Macdonald, the lead singer of the rock band Cock Robin, plays a vaudevillian who appears between scenes, introducing the action.

 

Projections 40 feet high will include original 1901 Edison footage of the exposition, and rare historic photos. Vivid sets will portray settings such as the Milburn house, where President McKinley died, and the jail cell where the assassin was held. The Pan-Am will come to life thanks not only to the video projections but to detailed costumes and props. The company has re-created the dais from which McKinley gave his speech at the exposition. The set also features authentic crowd seating – the 1901 equivalent of folding chairs.

 

The score, modern but tonal, includes 1890s waltzes and a ballad Vehar wrote in the style of the time. But although the music is tonal, it is modern, and called for yeomanlike effort on the part of rehearsal pianist Nancy Townsend and of Michael Ching, who will be conducting the orchestra. Ching also conducted Nickel City Opera productions in the past. “From my perspective, it’s harder than Puccini,” Ching said. “It turns and twists.” Ching admires the score. He particularly enjoys a dream sequence in which the audience enters the deranged mind of assassin Leon Czolgosz, portrayed by baritone John Packard. “He’s dreaming about the anarchist Emma Goldman. She’s flirting with him,” Ching explained. “She convinces him to act on the part of anarchy.” The music also expresses the personalities of the McKinleys.

 

The music Vehar has written for McKinley is bright and martial, suggesting the popular president’s strength and optimism. Ruminski, standing tall and sticking out his chest, sings in his barrel voice a slightly condensed version of the exact speech McKinley gave at the Pan-American Exposition. The singer studied footage of the president giving his speech. “If you’ve ever seen it, he swings back and forth,” he said, demonstrating by sweeping his arms first to the right, then to the left. “I try to integrate that.” Loudly he sings, in that bass voice: “God and man have linked the nations together.” Even in that final scene, his heartiness endures. McKinley, on his deathbed, sings: “What would change my life would be a nice, fat cigar.”

 

The character, larger than life, all but jumps off the stage. Oddly enough, Ruminski said that at first, Vehar was reluctant to accept the commission because she thought an opera about McKinley would be boring. Asked about that, she laughed. “I saw those pictures of McKinley, and he looked devoid of personality,” she laughed. “I thought, ‘Write an opera about this guy?’ ”  She had written an opera about Eleanor Roosevelt and another opera about Chopin’s romance with the writer who called herself George Sand. She knew what she was looking for in a subject. “You need a character passionate enough to break into song.” McKinley didn’t seem to fit the bill. As she did a little more research, though, she began to see him as the vivid personality that he was. “He never lost an election, except one, where the other party lied about him,” she said. “I thought, he had to have some kind of personality. And he did. He relates well to people, he’s folksy. He could relate to people. That’s why he’s so popular. “He did things no other president had done. He was the first to establish a global presence, the first to drive a car, the first president to smile in his photos. He was the first president to appoint African-Americans to office. He really did a lot of things.”

 

Ida McKinley also fascinated her. “She was not like the women of that time. Her father believed in educating women, and she had the equivalent of a master’s degree,” Vehar said. “You should see her clothes. We went to the First Ladies Museum in Canton. Before Jackie O, there was Ida McKinley. “In this opera, Ida McKinley goes from being a fragile lily to being strong for her husband at the end.” At the end of the opera, the president and his wife, Ida, sing a love duet. Historians say, though, that at one point, in her sorrow and panic, she sang the hymn “Nearer, My God, To Thee.” Vehar wove the hymn into the duet. McKinley, slipping into unconsciousness, manages to join in, heartily. When the scene was over, a hush fell over the hall. After a few minutes, the singers dispersed, preparing to break for dinner. Maria Teresa Magisano, portraying Ida McKinley, lingered on the set. The soprano, who sang the Countess in last year’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” seemed to be affected by the scene, and admitted she was.

 

A historic note makes the opera’s ending even more poignant. Vehar, reached on the phone from her home in Ithaca, said that in real life, the love scene never happened. Ida, distraught, had been sedated and was not with her husband when he died. She wished she had been with him. The opera, dreamlike, grants her that wish. The scene is unusual in opera for one reason, Ruminski observed. “Operas usually end with the woman on her deathbed, and the man standing over her,” he said. “In this one, it’s the other way around.” Both McKinleys, with their adventurous nature, would appreciate that.

 

“Shot!” is in English, but it will also have surtitles in case listeners miss a word here and there. Performances take place at Shea’s Performing Arts Center at 8 p.m. Friday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. For information, call (800) 745-3000 or visit sheas.org.

President McKinley is a hearty character in opera premiere

The Buffalo News

By Mary Kunz Goldman  

Jun 12, 2016  

President William McKinley. It will be in your head and under your skin.

The ambitious two-act opera, composed by Persis Vehar and being premiered at Shea’s Performing Arts Center by Nickel City Opera, was meticulously researched. The libretto, by Vehar’s daughter, Gabrielle, is clever and works in a tremendous amount of information.

The creative sets vividly bring back a long-gone Buffalo. Generous video footage shows long-dead people milling about the Pan-Am, and the Electric Tower emitting beams. It’s ghostly to see the Milburn House, demolished years ago, reappear in almost a life-sized vision. The scene changes cleverly so first you are outside the house, and then you are inside, with windows looking out over Delaware Avenue in the distant past.

Most vividly of all, the opera impresses on you the hearty character of McKinley. Valerian Ruminski, the barrel-voiced bass who founded and leads Nickel City Opera, plays the president, and you could not imagine better casting. Ruminski has his own star power. He owns the role, and plays it with heart and enthusiasm. You will never see McKinley in the same way again. Vehar tailored the music to Ruminski and it fits him like a fine suit. The scenes involving McKinley are the best in the show. Watching him wave away security and greet the crowd with leisurely grace, hearing him on his deathbed calling for a cigar – you keep wishing things had turned out differently. Alas, they didn’t. That’s a pity, and it’s the biggest flaw in this admirable project. The subject is too dreary, too sad. The cheeriness of the opening scene, with Buffalonians celebrating, only turns the knife. Sardonic vaudeville numbers between scenes – featuring Stephen MacDonald, the lead singer of the rock band Cock Robin – struck me as kind of grotesque. It’s not MacDonald’s fault. They just didn’t fit.

 

Though the music is tonal and the orchestration is lovely, the singing is for the most part a kind of meandering recitative, and doesn’t give you a lot to grab on to. There are high points: It’s fun, at least to a point, to see McKinley declaiming his speech at the Pan-Am. The music incorporates the actual words that the president spoke. The final love duet between McKinley and his wife is genuinely affecting – they are such a sweet couple, not irritating or smarmy, and the opera brings that out.

 

In its entirety, though, the show grows onerous. It’s far too long. One scene, showing assassin Leon Czolgosz in his cell dreaming about anarchist Emma Goldman, especially drags. Michele Capalbo, the soprano who portrays Goldman, has a beautiful, clear voice, so that’s a pleasure. John Packard, as Czolgosz, also has clarity and intensity. And there are moments of humor, as there are throughout the opera. Still it stretches on, and who wants to hear sermons about anarchy? It segues into another lengthy scene showing Czolgosz being interrogated by police. The final scene, too, stretches on, as it did in real life. There is a lot of choreographed back-and-forth between gaggles of reporters and doctors, and creative as it is, it should have been edited.

 

There is a payoff, though, in the end. You will know what happened, and you will know President McKinley as you would not know him by reading a book. The show brings an old story alive in a new way. The production is high quality. Surtitles are a plus, because it’s hard even for seasoned opera voices to fill Shea’s, and though the orchestra carries beautifully, sometimes even these very good singers sound thin. And they are fine singers. Maria Teresa Magisano is wonderful as Ida McKinley, and so is Jacqueline Quirk as Mrs. Milburn. Stephen Salters has a memorable cameo of James Parker, a patriot who tries to save the president’s life. The large chorus and 25-piece orchestra are extremely good, particularly when you consider the demands they face. Michael Ching does a remarkable job of conducting a complex score.

Shot! Nickel City Opera Lays Its Future On The Line With Premiere Of New Opera About The History of Buffalo  

Artvoice Magazine

by Jan Jezioro

June 9, 2016

 

The world premiere of “Shot!” a new opera by composer Persis Vehar. For the first time in its eight-year history, the Nickel City Opera Company (NCO) will present a production this season in Shea’s Buffalo Theatre.  The world premiere of “Shot!” a new opera by composer Persis Vehar, will take place on Friday June 10 at 8pm, and Sunday June 12 at 2:30pm. Metropolitan Opera bass Valerian Ruminski, founder and artistic director of NCO, Buffalonian born and bred, calls Shot! “The biggest story about Buffalo history in the history of Buffalo”. 

When Ruminski launched Nickel City Opera, his new, locally-based opera company at the height of the country’s recession in 2009, there were undoubtedly many local opera-lovers who, while they wished him unlimited good luck in his new venture, wouldn’t have bet a plug nickel that the company would still be, not only around, but actually thriving, eight years later. Nickel City Opera has grown from strength, to strength in each of its opera productions at the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda over the past seven seasons. Ruminski and his company have upped the ante this season, however, when they present the world premiere of “Shot!” composed by the nationally known, much-awarded, and until very recently Buffalo-based composer, Persis Vehar at a much larger venue, Shea’s Buffalo Theatre in Downtown Buffalo.

One of the most significant events in the history of our city occurred on Friday afternoon, September 6, 1901, when President William McKinley was shot twice by an assassin in the Temple of Music on the grounds of the Pan American Exposition, which resulted in his death seven days later on September 14. The assassination was a genuine American tragedy, both for the nation and for the City of Buffalo, at the Pan American Exposition, an event marking the high point of our city. So, why and how do you go about creating an opera about such a historically defining event?

“Back in 2010 I was reading a few books about Buffalo and Buffalo history”, says Ruminski. “I was on a train ride to New York City one day reading and I was struck in particular about the tragedy of the assassination of President William McKinley at the Pan American Exposition in 1901. I thought to myself that if there was any moment in the history of Buffalo that deserved to be brought to the stage it was this moment that was not just local in nature but global in its ramifications”. 

“After proposing the idea of an opera about the McKinley assassination to composer Persis Vehar I hired an artist to create a poster to embody the idea of our creation. Persis embraced the idea and her daughter Gabrielle was quick to begin studying and doing research to generate a quality libretto as she had for ‘Eleanor Roosevelt’ a previous opera by Persis that has enjoyed regional success”. Producing the premiere of a new opera that includes all new sets is a very expensive proposition, however, and while Ruminski had perhaps over-optimistically promised a production of “Shot” for the last several seasons it was only when his company was awarded a $25,000 grant last year by the locally based Cullen Foundation that the new opera could be green-lighted. Yet, the projected cost of the new sets was $45,000, significantly more than the grant money. The ever-resourceful Ruminski entered into an agreement with the Delaware North Corporation, whereby volunteers supporting Nickel City Opera would help the concessionaire at Bills games, and also at Sabres and Buffalo Bandits games, earning NCO another $25,000. Ruminski was himself a hands-on participant in this significant effort, which was a lot of hard work for every volunteer involved. It is very unlikely that there is anyone in a CEO position in any arts producing organization in Western New York who does as much, for so little monetary compensation as Ruminski.

“As far as the structure of the opera I turned to Verdi’s “La Traviata” as a matrix since it is one of the most successful and well loved operas in the genre. It opens with a party followed by a tragedy and ends with the main character dying in bed. I also envisioned a very dark, atmospheric prison scene with the assassin Leon Czolgosz dreaming of Emma Goldman who inadvertently inspired him to shoot the President. I also knew that we needed a host for the evening and I suggested that we create the Vaudevillian as a kind of Greek Chorus, to talk to the audience, introduce the scenes and break the ice. I feel this will be an effective structure for this story”.

“As we neared the end of the libretto process both Persis and Gabrielle were vehement that this was not only a story about a shooting but a story about the love between Ida and William which, as they related to me, had been mostly lost to history. The relationship between William McKinley and his wife rivals the intensity of the relationship between John and Abigail Adams as well as Harry Truman and Bess. It is as legitimate a reason to see the opera as the story of the assassination”.

“Over the past 5 years, after a few stops and starts, all the components needed to stage a premiere have come together. Our decision to take SHOT! to Shea’s Buffalo Theatre was done to present the opera to a larger audience and to present the opera in Erie County and in the City of Buffalo which is where the President was assassinated. SHOT! deserves a big stage and a big audience”.

“My hope is that everyone takes the time to come to Shea’s and experience a dramatization of one of the most seminal moments in the history of their home town. This moment has never been put on stage before and there will be many digital projections of historic Buffalo, with many references to Buffalo and Buffalonians can take pride in the fact that a major new piece of performance art about Buffalo is hitting the stage in 2016”.

The two act production, sung in English with super titles projected above the stage, features 18 principal singers, with a 32 person chorus, and a 26 piece orchestra, all directed by the very capable retuning NCO  veteran conductor Michael Ching. Valerian Ruminski will sing the role of President McKinley, and soprano Maria Teresa Magisano that of his wife, Ida, while tenor John Packard will sing the role of Leon Czolgosz and soprano Michele Capalbo that of Emma Goldman.

Sets will include the Milburn House, now demolished, where President McKinley was taken after the attack and scenes from the Pan American Exposition, as well as the jail cell of the assassin with a dream sequence featuring Emma Goldman. Popular songs from the period about Buffalo and the Exposition, sung by the character of The Vaudevillian, sung by Stephen MacDonald, will preface each of the opera’s four scenes.

Nickel City Opera’s “Marriage of Figaro” is the best yet.

Buffalo Rising

June 27, 2015

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:

This is the best Nickel City Opera (NCO) production to date. Don’t miss it. It’s really, really good. And that hasn’t always been the case with NCO. The overall ensemble balance between the singers was even, the orchestra sounded more robust than usual, and all of the “details” – the set, the costumes, the lighting, all came together this time.  And the new Riviera projector made the super-titles (which were very cleverly written) come to life. If you have avoided NCO because of some mis-steps in the past (the most recent “Amahl and the Night Visitors” and 2011’s “Il Trovatore” were painful) then this time you will be missing a wonderful treat.

Three singers deserve special praise right at the top.  As Figaro, Valerian Ruminski put his well-known ego on hold and instead brought forth all of his art, craft, and experience from singing on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera and around the globe. He was believable, nuanced, and really quite funny during the comic bits, all of which happen in ensemble, where it would ruin the moment to ham it up. This was his moment; it’s a big role requiring great acting chops and Ruminski brought all of his skills to bear.

Young Jena Abati stood out as Barbarina, which is an ingénue role with music composed by a man who loved sopranos (Mozart first fell in love with Aloisa Weber, but when she became unavailable he married her sister, Constance Weber, both highly regarded singers of their day). Abati’s voice and demeanor were perfect for the role.  Abati is currently studying to be a Physician’s Assistant, we hope that she’ll stay in Buffalo for years to come.

Ray Chenez sings the role of Cherubino, the teenage boy who falls in love with anything wearing a skirt (although he’s finally reigned in by Barbarina). Usually this is a “pants role,” meaning that a soprano plays the part. Chenez is a counter-tenor, singing the entire role using the male falsetto voice, which is a rare treat.  And, he can act.

Also notable were Jessica Best as Marcellina and Maria Teresa Magisano as Countess Rosina. However, while the countess’s famous “Dove sono” (in which she wonders what happened to the blissful marriage she once enjoyed) was serviceable as was her “Sull’aria” duet with Amy Grable (also a nostalgic moment), neither rose to the sublime level that opera goers have come to expect. I suspect that may have something to do with the orchestra, which, due to the limited space in the Riviera pit, just cannot hold enough string players. Even if you don’t consider yourself a classical music maven, you must have heard the Nelson Riddle arrangements for Frank Sinatra.  You can’t create that kind of magic with only five violins.

However, even with only 18 players, this was the best orchestra that NCO has assembled to date. With Mozart, as with Beethoven, it’s all in the woodwinds. And check out this lineup: Marlene Witnauer, flute; Susie Myers, oboe; Sal Andolina (yes!) and Andrea Runfola, clarinets; Ellen Barnum, bassoon; and Tim Schwartz and Rose Valby, horns.  Holy Amadeus! These cats can play. And what holds a great combo together? Drums and bass. A special shout-out goes to Andrew Ziemba, tympani and Paul Zapalowski, double bass.

And a special kudo to Michael Ching, not only the waving your arms around conductor, but also the harpsichord player for the recitative (spoken) portions, just as it was done in Mozart’s day.  Very impressive. While I usually despise electronic instruments, I don’t think that they could have fit a real harpsichord into the pit.  Also, unlike a real harpsichord which, being all wooden, is almost impossible to keep in tune, the electronic harpsichord serve as a constant and consistent “pitch pipe” to the rest of the orchestra, which I believe led to a more cohesive sound.

Unfortunately, and perhaps because my expectations may have been too high, I didn’t think that Buffalo favorite (and mine too) baritone James Wright was quite the Count Almaviva that I wanted.  With his matinee idol good looks and smooth baritone voice, Jim didn’t quite fit the role of the disreputable aging womanizer and really crappy husband. I believe that we are supposed to dislike the Count and all that he represents. And because everyone who’s acquainted with Jim knows he’s such a really nice guy, it was almost impossible to believe him in the role. I think in 10 years, Jim might make a great Don Giovanni, and could pull off that trick that actors Larry Hagman (“Dallas”) and Jon Voigt (“Anaconda”) accomplished, going from “good guy” to “bad guy” in a manner that audiences accept, even though it shocks them.

The set was ideal and cleverly used (and cleverly recycled from the opera “Don  Pasquale” two seasons ago). The lighting by Derek Heckler was sensitive to the mood, and the wigs and make-up (Georgiznna Eberhard and Elaine Rubach), and costumes (DC Theatricks/Jodi Mancuso) were very, very convincing. 

After the Sunday afternoon, June 28th performance, the next project for NCO is a new, 21stcentury opera, “Shot!” by Persis Vehar. Let’s hope the momentum keeps going.

BWW Previews: SHOT! A World Premiere presented by Nickel City Opera at Shea's Buffalo Theatre

Broadway World

by Michael Rabice

May 16, 2016

Buffalo's Nickel City Opera Presents SHOT! An Original Work By Persis Vehar Based On The Assassination Of President William McKinley At The 1901 Pan American Exposition.

Buffalo, New York - Out of a sense of homegrown spirit and pride, Nickel City Opera enlisted the 27 time ASCAP award winning composer, Persis Vehar to set a libretto to music based on the assassination of President William McKinley at the 1901 Pan American Exposition by Polish-American dissident and self proclaimed anarchist Leon Czolgosz. Commissioned by Dr. Judith Wolf and written by librettist Gabrielle Vehar, 'SHOT!' dramatizes the events before, during and after President McKinley's death providing the flavor of Buffalo in 1901 including actual songs that were written about the Pan American Exposition and its' relationship to Buffalo.

General Director Valerian Ruminski (Metropolitan Opera/New York City Opera), a Cheektowaga, NY native, wanted to create a new opera around a pivotal time in history. "Opera is always about life and death. The assassination of President McKinley changed the world. Any event that changed the world is a good subject for an opera and I wanted to present this tragedy within the genre. An assassination, a death row inmate, the underground railroad and fascism have all been subjects of new operas. SHOT! breathes life into the relevance of the art form as well as the subject matter. For an arts organization to grow you have to challenge yourself." ...Valerian Ruminski.

Now in it's 8th Season, Nickel City Opera has performed works in the standard repertoire from Puccini, Mozart, Donizetti, Rossini and Verdi at the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda. Ruminski has been planning on programming SHOT! for a number of years, and feels that the company is ready to present this World Premiere. With so many ties to the city of Buffalo, it is only fitting that the opera will be produced on the stage of the historic Shea's Buffalo Theatre. This will be the first time a local company has staged an opera at Shea's since the Greater Buffalo Opera Company's last performances in 1997. SHOT! engages a full chorus, orchestra, costumes and sets that help suggest the excitement of the electrification seen at the Pan Am by many for the first time, utilizing a combination on projections and set pieces.

Ruminski will be portraying President McKinley and tapped into his vast network of colleagues for the cast. John Packard, last seen at Nickel City as Count Di Luna in Il Trovatore returns to Buffalo as assassin Leon Czolgosz, the tormented self proclaimed anarchist influenced by political activist Emma Goldman. An internationally recognized helden tenor, John originated the role of Joseph De Rocher in the San Francisco Opera premiere of 'Dead Man Walking' and appeared in the NCO productions of 'Rigoletto' and 'The Barber of Seville'.

Rounding out the cast as First Lady Ida McKinley, Maria Teresa Magisano (New York City Opera/Vancouver Opera) appeared as the Countess in NCO's production of 'The Marriage of Figaro' and Eric Fennell (New York City Opera/Glimmerglass Opera) as Staff Secretary Mr. Cortelyou. Local favorites, Jena Abati (NCO's production of La Boheme/The Marriage of Figaro), Jessica Best (Gotham Chamber Opera/Finger Lakes Opera) and local tenor Stephen MacDonald (lead singer of Buffalo's legendary rock band Cock Robin) as 'The Vaudevillian', our host for the evening. International Soprano Michele Capalbo (Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico, Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse, France, the Canadian Opera Company and San Francisco Opera), who most recently portrayed TOSCA to great acclaim in Nickel City's Opera's 2014 production portrays Emma Goldman, the leader of the Anarchist movement in the USA.

Stage Director David Grabarkewitz returns to Nickel City Opera after directing it's 2013 production of DON PASQUALE. He served as The New York City Opera's Resident Stage Director from 1995-2010 and as Artistic and General Director of El Paso Opera from 2009-2015. His staging of MADAMA BUTTERFLY for The New York City Opera won the 2008 Prime Time Emmy Award for Best Live Performance, Music or Dance.

Grabarkewitz has done extensive research regarding this important event in American history, but also notes that this was a very historic time for anarchist caused assassinations around the world. King Umberto I of Italy was assassinated in 1900 and Alexander I of Serbia was assassinated in 1903. He notes that in interviews Leon Czolgosz stated "all these people seemed to be bowing to the great ruler. I made up my mind to kill that ruler."

Mr. Garabrakewitz fully realizes the importance of accurately bring to the stage this part of Buffalo's history while honoring the the composer's decisions. Vehar has added a character named the Vaudevillian to introduce each scene, giving a framework and commentary for the action. He describes how the opera starts with a cast of 60 onstage to convey the excitement of the Pan Am Exposition and President McKinley's visit, but by the final scene the opera is pared down to two characters, with President and Mrs. McKinley on his death bed. These private final hours attempt to dramatize their love story, as well as the First Lady's anguish.

Composer Persis Vehar (Eleanor Roosevelt/Hill of Bones) believes that a natural evolution from music of the past, wedded to new and different ideas, makes for accessibility and listenability for both opera audiences and those new to opera. "Based on traditional operas successful for centuries, SHOT! contains a drinking song, death scene, recurrent motives and conflicting personalities. The musical style includes syncopation and mixed meters, diatonic with chromaticism and jazzlike elements. A Vaudevillian, like a Greek Chorus, introduces scenes with recitatives (spoken word) and 1901 melodies. After a 'McKinley Two Step' and a 'gay '90s like song', the love story between the President and his wife Ida unfolds."

SHOT! will be conducted by Nickel City Opera's Music Director Michael Ching. The former Artistic Director of Opera Memphis, Maestro Ching is a noted composer himself and his opera SPEED DATING TONIGHT! has been programmed over twenty times since its premiere at the Janiec Opera of the Brevard Music Center in July 2013. This spring, the opera will play at UT El Paso, Vanderbilt University, University of South Carolina, Emerald City Opera (Colorado), Humboldt State University (California), and Arkansas State University. His most recent one act opera, ALICE RYLEY, was commissioned and premiered by the Savannah Voice Festival in October 2015. ALICE featured a speaking role for baritone Sherrill Milnes. Michael is currently writing another one act for Savannah Voice Festival. His 2010 opera, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, opera a cappella, was recorded and released on Albany Records and his PIANO CONCERTO will be rereleased on a 25th anniversary recording by the San Jose Chamber Orchestra.

ABOUT THE PAN-AMERICAN EXPOSITION

In 1901, the world came to Buffalo to celebrate peace and prosperity between North and South America. The Pan American Exposition was called "The Rainbow City" for its celebration of light, color, and architecture. The Expo offered companies, cities and countries an opportunity to show off their agricultural techniques, technological innovations, and cultural contributions to the world. Millions of people came from every corner of the globe to see the spectacle.

SHOT! will be performed Friday, June 10th at 8:00pm and Sunday, June 12th at 2:30pm. Tickets available at the Shea's Performing Arts Center box office at 650 Main Street, Buffalo or by calling Ticketmaster at 800.745.3000 or www.ticketmaster.com.

Nickel CIty Opera on a - What else - 5 year winning streak

The Buffalo News

by Mary Kunz Goldman

June 24, 2013​​

Over the last five years, opera companies across the country have seen more ups and downs than a Rossini aria. But in Buffalo, Nickel City Opera is celebrating five years of high notes. Its fifth annual production, this weekend at North Tonawanda’s Riviera Theatre, is the comedy “Don Pasquale” by Italian bel canto composer Gaetano Donizetti. Valerian Ruminski, the barrel-voiced bass who runs the company, is giving the production a special, madcap flair. “We’re going to have a bathtub with a bubble machine. Girls are going to be in the bathtub,” promised Ruminski, who is not known for political correctness. “I told the guy, ‘Let’s pull out all the stops.’ ”

“I want the audience to be shocked. I want them to see something we didn’t do before.”

 

There are still trends in opera, even after hundreds of years. And Patricia Kiernan Johnson, of the national organization Opera America, suggests that the companies that survive this tough economy are often smaller start-ups, with angles that are unique, confident and, perhaps, offbeat. “We are seeing a real trend in entrepreneurial spirit,” she said. “A lot of smaller companies are founded on an artist’s vision, finding something to say that couldn’t be said in larger companies. A smaller company can do something more interesting.”

Johnson has noticed small companies that are making a noise in the opera world.

 

In New York City, the New York City Opera may be struggling but Gotham Chamber Opera is doing well. The upstart company (motto: “Where opera gets intimate”) kicked off with “Il Sogno di Scipione,” an obscure opera by the young Mozart about ancient Rome. Its current production, a contemporary opera, is taking place in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. Baltimore, which suffered the loss in 2009 of the Baltimore Opera, now plays host to several smaller companies including one that performs staged operas in a mansion, accompanied by a piano. Johnson stressed that the smaller companies are not trying to replace their grander cousins, but want to do something different. “We’re seeing smaller, more agile companies that say, ‘Look, we’re not going to perform grand opera in a grand house. That’s been done. We’re going to do something more interesting. I have this vision and I’m going to make that happen,’ ” she said. “A strong artist viewpoint is really important. What’s unique to your organization? What sets you apart from the crowd? There are a lot of options in the entertainment world and out,” she said, citing the Metropolitan Opera’s high-definition simulcasts, which can be seen in Buffalo. “What are you doing that’s unique?” 

 

Rock and ‘Rigoletto’ The answer to that question, in the case of Nickel City Opera, is: “Plenty.”

The Riviera Theatre might seem at first to be a provincial location for an opera company. (One production of “Rigoletto” was briefly interrupted by a rock band pounding at a bar down the block.) But the historic movie palace has its singular charms. Visiting singers have likened it to regional European opera houses.

 

Ruminski capitalizes on the Riviera’s strengths. He sells popcorn at performances. For several years he has staged the popular Christmas opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors” on Thanksgiving weekend, accompanied by the Mighty Wurlitzer. He has always had a populist approach. Before founding NCO, he commissioned Buffalo composer Persis Vehar to write songs for him based on the rough-hewn poetry of Charles Bukowski. He has NCO posters drawn by comic book artists and heavy metal artists. In 2011, the company performed Puccini’s smoldering “Il Tabarro,” about marital jealousy on a ship, at dusk aboard The Sullivans. Johnson, at Opera America, applauds such endeavors.

 

“That’s another important point, a real authentic relationship with the city you’re in,” she said. Ruminski plans at some point to stage “Shot!,” an opera by Vehar about the McKinley assassination. Meanwhile, he has been pulling in crowds with proven hits. Rossini’s slapstick “The Barber of Seville” was followed by two dark Verdi dramas, “Rigoletto” and “Il Trovatore.” For “Trovatore,” Ruminski got a bargain on some of the costumes seen in the 1967 movie “Camelot.”

 

Often, Ruminski has played peripheral roles. His experience showed in how he made the most of them. As the assassin Sparafucile in “Rigoletto,” he skulked about with long black hair, at one point picking his teeth. In “Il Trovatore,” playing the sidekick of the villainous Duke, he grinned nefariously as the Duke announced his evil plans. In a surprise move, he is starring in this week’s opera as Don Pasquale, a buffoon who decides to wed a young wife, with disastrous consequences. He played the role recently for Hawaii Opera Theatre. “This for me is a big deal,” he said. “It’s the first time I’ve sung a lead role in one of my own productions.”

 

Wooing singers to Buffalo

Nickel City Opera’s 2011 induction into Opera America, which requires certain professional criteria, bodes well for the company’s future. Even with those credentials, though, and even with a board of directors and Cheektowaga offices, NCO is not out of the woods.

Ruminski is always on the lookout for operas that are affordable to stage and for deals on costumes and sets. He knows other singers from his work with opera companies around the world – including the Metropolitan Opera, the Canadian Opera Company, the Seattle Opera and companies in Europe – and is able to woo them to Buffalo on a budget.

Don Pasquale” illustrates his knack for smart spending.

“We have a wonderful soprano from Puerto Rico, a graduate of the Academy of Vocal Arts, singing Norina,” he said, referring to Zulimar Hernandez, playing the attractive widow who is the opera’s leading soprano role. “She just sang this role in Santa Barbara, Calif., two months ago. She sings two Norinas a year. She is a new hot young Norina. I was lucky to get her, in that her agent will let her work for as little money as I’m paying.” Other singers in “Don Pasquale” include Benjamin Brecher (“He and I were Chautauqua artists together when we were kids,” Ruminski said) and James Wright, who has appeared as one of the Three Kings in “Amahl.” The conductor is Michael Ching, of Opera Memphis. He will be directing a small orchestra – larger than a chamber orchestra, smaller than the BPO. The orchestra will be made up of high-caliber local musicians.

 

Performances of “Don Pasquale” take place at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Riviera Theater, 67 Webster St., North Tonawanda. Tickets are $24-$59. For information, call 692-2413.

The Nickel City Opera Company will present Don Pasquale by Donizetti

starring Valerian Ruminski as Don Pasquale 

The Am-Pol Eagle

by Roger Puchalski

July 1, 2013

The performance is special for two reasons according to Ruminski. First, NCO is marking its 5th year. That longevity, according to Ruminski, “is an accomplishment for a small not-for profit, especially in opera and in the economy we’re in.”

He said the NCO’s success has been bolstered by grants it has received from the Wendt Foundation, Fatta Foundation, Community Foundation of Buffalo and the Bauman Fund. Also, the audience for NCO presentations has grown for the past four years according to Ruminski. Ruminski is the founder and director of the NCO.

Another reason Don Pasquale, a comedy with full sets, orchestra and costumes, is significant is Ruminski will be doing the lead.

The Cheektowaga native is a graduate of the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia and of SUNY-Buffalo. The bass has performed across the U.S. (including at The Metropolitan Opera and New York City Opera) and around the world. Earlier this year, he served as a panelist for the Rochester Oratorio Society’s Classic Idol competition and performed in Brahms’ Requium with the Oahu Chorale in Hawaii.

After the North Tonawanda performances he will be playing that same role at the St. Anton am Arlburg Festival in Austria in August before performing in the Verdi Gala at Opera de Montreal in December and in the The Flying Dutchman with the Calgary Opera in January.

The story is that of an old rich buffoon, Don Pasquale, who must find a young woman to marry and provide an heir for his fortune. His old friend Malatesta arranges a marriage but plays a trick on Don Pasquale. Hilarity ensues. The cast of Don Pasquale also includes Benjamin Brecher as Ernesto, James Wright as Malatesta, Zulimar Hernandez as Norina and Nicholas Kilkenny as the Notary. It is directed by David Grabarkewitz and conducted by Michael Ching.

Nickel City  Opera Goes to Sea

Artvoice Magazin

by Jan Jezioro
July 11, 2011

 

Puccini in a unique setting.  

 

Nickel City Opera is on a roll. After a small disaster regarding the upkeep of the venue - a cleaning contractor failed to stock the proper janitorial supplies, which led to restrooms without toilet paper and paper towels - the venue quickly recovered from this pr debacle. Last weekend’s performances of Verdi’s Il Trovatore featured the strongest production by the company in its three-year history. Director Henry Akina’s atmospheric staging at the Riviera Theatre was highly effective, while the singing of the principal soloists proved to be memorable. Hoping to keep that momentum going, Valerian Ruminski, artistic director of the NCO, decided to stage this weekend’s performances of Puccini’s one-act opera Il Tabarro, on Saturday, July 2, and Sunday, July 3, in a genuinely unique location: the stern deck of the USS The Sullivans, the destroyer permanently docked at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park, at the foot of Pearl and Main streets, across from HSBC Arena.

While Puccini set Il Tabarro on a barge docked on the river Seine in Paris, Ruminski explained that he first got his idea when he read a newspaper article about a production of the work a few years back that was set on a ship docked in Brooklyn. “When I read about this production,” he says, “my mind started racing, and it only took me about five minutes to come up with the idea of putting on a similar production by the Nickel City Opera, but on the deck of The Sullivans.” That production, by the Vertical Player Repertory, an indie opera company, took place on the deck of a former oil tanker undergoing restoration, docked in the busy container port of Red Hook. The New York Times reported that “parts of the production married beautifully: both the story and the show begin at sunset. The cast had to adjust to the boat’s swaying, but even that proved well meshed. ‘You’re feeling the motion of the ship, and the music begins with this lovely rocking,’ said a member of the show’s chorus.”

Nickel City Opera’s performances also will begin at dusk, about 8:45pm, with some orchestral musical selections preceding Il Tabarro. The audience will be seated on the pier, while English supertitles will be projected onto a screen hanging on the USS Little Rock, docked in back of The Sullivans. Performers will be entering, in some cases through the seated audience, and exiting, via gangways, onto the Little Rock. In the event of rain, a concert version of the opera will be presented under a canopy on the Little Rock.

Ruminski is enthusiastic about his new production: “Anyone with a sense of excitement will want to see Il Tabarro performed on a destroyer. Has anyone in our audience ever seen an opera performed on a ship before? The sightlines from the audience seating area on the dock are very good, and I think that our production, set in the 1940s, during World War II, the time when The Sullivans was commissioned, benefits from being staged on this ship.”

Two of the principal soloists for Il Tabarro played a large part in the success of last weekend’s Il Trovatore. Baritone John Packard, a ruefully forceful Count di Luna in Il Trovatore, will be appearing in Il Tabarro as the deceived husband Michele. Soprano Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs sang the demanding role of Leonora exquisitely in Il Trovatore, portraying a woman who kills herself rather than be unfaithful to her lover, but she gets to put the shoe on the other foot as Michele’s philandering wife Georgetta in Il Tabarro. Both Packard and Blancke-Biggs have sang their roles in Il Tabarro previously, and so did not need to start rehearsing these roles again until this week, while director Henry Akina recently mounted a successful production of Puccini’s Il Trittico, the three-part opera of which Il Tabarro is a part, at his Hawaii Opera Theatre home base.

The role of Georgetta’s unlucky lover Luigi will be sung by tenor Adam Klein, whose career highlights have included Tristan in Tristan und Isolde with the Seattle Opera and many appearances with the Metropolitan Opera, including as the Witch in Hansel and Gretel, as Steva in Jenufa, as the Chevalier in Les Dialogues Des Carmelites, and as Elemer in Arabella, opposite Renée Fleming.

Bass Valerian Ruminski, who appeared as the first soloist in Il Trovatore, set a dramatic standard that the rest of the cast had to work hard to duplicate. In Il Tabarro he’ll sing the role of Talpa, husband to the faithful if eccentric La Frugola, who will be portrayed by NCO newcomer Gillian Cotter, a mezzo-soprano from the Fredonia School of Music, while Hawaiian tenor Jeremy Blossey will sing the part of Tinca. The Easter Festival Symphony Orchestra will be conducted by Zachary Kampler.

Tickets are $50. For reservations, call 931-0591. Tickets also may be purchased at the Naval Park Gift Shop on the evenings of the performances, by cash or check

Nickel City Opera Launches 3rd Season with Big Plans

Artvoice Magazine
June 17, 2011

 

On Friday, June 24, at 8pm, and on Sunday, June 26, at 2:30pm, the Nickel City Opera presents Giuseppe Verdi’s ever-popular tale of love and gypsy revenge, Il Trovatore, at the Riviera Theatre on Webster Street in North Tonawanda.

The Nickel City Opera exists due to the vision of its artistic director, Buffalo native and Metropolitan Opera bass Valerian Ruminski, who along with the company’s executive director, Eileen Breen, felt that there was both the need and the opportunity to continue the legacy of Gary Burgess’ groundbreaking Greater Buffalo Opera Company, which produced full-staged opera productions from 1986 to 1997 with an increasingly high level of professionalism. The first two Nickel City Opera seasons featured a thoroughly enjoyable inaugural production of the Barber of Seville, and a more ambitious production of Rigoletto last year, followed by a charming holiday production of Amahl and the Night Visitors on the weekend after Thanksgiving, which will be given a reprise this November.

While the first two seasons of the Nickel City Opera have to be considered as genuine successes, Ruminski feels that the organization has reached a turning point. “The Nickel City Opera is currently experiencing a growth spurt,” he says. “Something significant, maybe like an individual going through puberty. I have to consider our first two seasons to have been successful, but as we now expand, and plan on additional productions, beyond our core month of June time-frame, we definitely are hoping for a little box office bump for Trovatore, which, I think, is our strongest production, to date.”

As part of the company’s growth, Nickel City Opera is taking the bold step of producing a second summer opera, on July 2 and 3, at a most unusual location, when it stages Puccini’s Il Tabarro aboard the USS The Sullivans, the destroyer docked in the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park.

The legendary tenor Enrico Caruso famously once said that all that it takes for a successful performance of Il Trovatore is the four greatest singers in the world. Perhaps with Caruso’s remark in mind, for this production Ruminski has assembled the strongest cast of soloists in the company’s short history.

The pivotal role of the gypsy Azucena will be sung by the internationally renowned Metropolitan Opera star Victoria Livengood, a Grammy-nominated mezzo-soprano who is best known for her dynamic portrayals in well over 100 performances with the Met, where she has established herself as a house favorite. Livengood has also appeared throughout Europe, South America, Canada, and the United States, including many appearances at the Spoleto Festival, where she sang the title role in The Medium under the direction of the work’s composer, Gian Carlo Menotti. Her portrayal of Azucena in a recent production of Il Trovatore in Fort Worth, Texas drew high praise: “The real star of the production is the simply awe-inspiring Victoria Livengood as Azucena. Her potent mezzo includes a fearsome chest voice; a smooth, flexible middle voice; and a bright trumpet of an upper range that cuts through chorus and orchestra with amazing force.”

“I have a powerful voice,” Ruminski says, “and while I sometimes have had to rein in my volume level when singing with others, the only time that I have ever had to raise my voice was when I was singing with Victoria.”

The role of the doomed lover Manrico will be sung by the versatile tenor Eduardo Villa, who has appeared in the role more than 100 times. Villa is a regular guest star of the Metropolitan Opera, having appeared on the Met stage in the title roles in Verdi’s Don Carlo and Ernani, and as Radames in Aida, Rodolpho in Luisa Miller, Don Jose in Carmen, Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana, and Enzo in La Gioconda. He has also appeared as well as in other leading opera houses throughout Europe, Australia and North America.

Soprano Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs, most recently heard worldwide in the Sirius Satellite Radio Metropolitan Opera Broadcast of Puccini’s Tosca, with tenor Marcello Giordani, and in Verdi’s Macbeth, as Lady Macbeth, at Santiago, Chile’s Teatro Municipal, will appear in the role of Leonara, a women who unwittingly tempts men to their ultimate destruction.

John Packard, who has become the de-facto “house baritone” for the Nickel City Opera, following solid performances, both in the title role of Rigoletto and in the Barber of Seville, will portray the tragically libidinous Count di Luna, while Nickel City Opera artistic director Ruminski appears as Ferrando, loyal henchman to the Count, who Ruminski also characterizes as being “something of a father-figure” to that unlucky individual.

Ruminski had originally engaged an Irish director for this production, but after that individual was left scrambling due to the loss of his position, following a forced merger of his company, Ruminski was luckily able to engage Henry Akima, the director of the Hawaii Opera Theatre, a company with which Ruminski has sung for the previous three years, and with which he will again be appearing in February.

Wesley Krantz, former operations manager at the BPO, is the production manger and Zachary Kampler will once again lead the Eastern Festival Symphony Orchestra, and the large chorus of gypsies – a dozen women and a dozen men – all local singers, in the opera’s many well-known numbers, including the famous “Anvil Chorus.”

The Buffalo News

Rigoletto 

June, 2011

 

Nickel City Opera, Buffalo's new opera company, has upped the ante for its second production, Verdi's "Rigoletto." The tragic tale of a jester bent on revenge could not be more different from Rossini's "The Barber of Seville," which we saw last year.

And the NCO pulled it off. John Packard sang his heart out as Rigoletto, drawing in the audience with his pathos and his power. Heather Buck, as Rigoletto's daughter Gilda, dazzled the audience with her bell-like high notes, and she shared good chemistry with strong-voiced tenor Eric Fennell, who made a terrific, rakish Duke of Mantua.

You get to see NCO director Valerian Ruminski himself, too. As the assassin Sparafucile, he looks as if he walked in off the set of "Boris Godunov," with long, lank black hair and an indifferent, oafish expression. He takes chances. You have to love him.

Friday's opening night production had only a few glitches. There were several long waits between scenes (the 8 p.m. show did not let out until close to midnight). In a hilarious North Tonawanda situation, a live band began booming at a bar down the block and you would have thought it was in the same room with us, it was that loud. Someone must have rushed over and pleaded with the rockers ("Guys, we're doing an opera next door ") because it was silent after 10 minutes or so.

It is high praise for the production that it triumphed and remained taut and gripping. Ruminski scores points for not trying to do anything pretentious. He and his colleagues give you the story straight, with just enough humor to keep it human. The scenery is traditional, the Renaissance costumes sumptuous. The Eastern Festival Symphony Orchestra, led by Zachary Kampler, was effective from the word go -- that is, from the first rich, tense trumpet tones that set the stage for the action to come. The group was resonant and confident. Packard was last year's Figaro, and even the jester costume and the fake nose cannot hide that he is a handsome man. That makes sense -- there ought to be more to Rigoletto than meets the eye. His flexible, strong baritone brought out the beauty of Verdi's writing. The audience felt for his character. Fennell filled out what could have been a cardboard part with humanity and lent even the chilling "La donna e mobile" a certain allure. You could see why Gilda could not resist him, and you sensed that the womanizing Duke could have reformed, if the stars had lined up differently. He and Buck sang beautifully together, with intensity and passion. In their cadenza-like passages, they sounded free but together -- a tough thing to pull off. Quinn Patrick's creamy voice made Maddalena, the Duke's next flirtation, worth watching and hearing. As a whole, the cast looked good and worked together well. Belly dancers from a local company added color to Act I. Little touches like this matter. Speaking of which, Ruminski -- besides grabbing attention with that scene-stealing bass voice -- has the gift of look-at-me. You always want to watch him when he's on stage. One moment when he picked his teeth was priceless.

 

In deference to the historic Riviera he prefaced the opera with a grainy film of himself introducing "Rigoletto." "Relax and enjoy an evening of opera," he told us. I think everyone did.

NCO's "Rigoletto" repeats today at 2:30 p.m.

Nickel City Opera's 'Barber of Seville' Deserving of Accolades

The Buffalo News
August 21, 2010

Want some popcorn with your opera? You can have it at the Riviera Theatre, where the new Nickel City Opera is in residence this weekend doing a bang-up job with Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville.”

With so much good news surrounding the company’s first production, knowing where to begin is difficult. Friday’s performance of the slapstick opera by Gioachino Rossini featured tremendous voices, fine comic timing, lovely sets, sumptuous 18th century costumes and a competent orchestra. It topped the opera productions I have seen at the Chautauqua Institution. That was how good it was.

Earthy humor abounded. Directed by University at Buffalo graduate David MacAdam, the opera is being presented mostly in English, with a couple of arias in the original Italian. The words fit the music well, and the jokes were nonstop. This “Barber” had a youthful, populist feel, probably the way it did when Rossini wrote it.

From the beginning, you got the idea that the opera was in good hands. Benjamin Brecher, as the Count Almaviva, radiated the appropriate confidence. He navigated the twists and curlicues of the Count’s lines with clarity and panache.

This is high praise, but John Packard was the best Figaro I have ever seen, and others said the same thing. His singing is lusty, on the mark and marvelously expressive. He even does his own guitar playing, accompanying the count’s serenade.

As Rosina, Nadia Petrella is world class — beautiful and funny. Her high notes were clear as bells, her demanding lines dazzling. Even in the face of the treacherous “Una voce poco fa,” she projected humor and ease. That’s the crowning challenge of Rossini — you not only have to pull off challenging vocal derring-do, but you have to enjoy it.

A special bravo to Christopher Mallory, who made Don Bartolo a delight to watch and to hear. Making a bad-guy role consistently entertaining is challenging. Your eyes were always drawn to him. Valerian Ruminski brought his usual vocal power and off-the-wall comedy to the role of Don Basilio. Rosemaria Serrano was a fine Berta, and Brian Cheveries and Kendrew Heriveaux also distinguished themselves. The balance was good, and the ensemble work sparkled. One crowd scene involving a police force got as hilarious as a Marx Brothers movie. In a superb comic touch, one figure on stage slept all through it, his walking stick by his side. That is the kind of production this is. Nothing is neglected.

The Eastern Festival Symphony Orchestra, led by Zachary Israel Nobile Kampler, played well, especially considering it is a student orchestra. The violins’ pizzicato, the horns’ touches of color — it all admirably followed the breathless action on stage.

Finally, the Riviera itself was a star. It is a great place for opera, not too big or too small. The acoustics were good. A few members of OperaBuffs, who were out in force, pointed out that it reminded them of elegant European opera houses.

“The Barber of Seville”

Presented by Nickel City Opera, Friday night in the Riviera Theatre, 67 Webster St., North Tonawanda. Another performance at 2:30

p. m. today. For more information, call 692-2413 or visit www.rivieratheatre.org.