Volume 76, Number 1 | May 24 - 30, 2006

Clive On

Chelsea Opera snags singing officer

Tenors are rare. Good tenors are rarer. And the rarest of all tenor voices has traditionally been the heldentenor – with the large, ringing, heroic sound required for Wagnerian roles. Rarest, that is, until New York cop Daniel Rodriguez became a category of one, the hero-tenor.

In the weeks and months following 9/11, it meant a lot to New Yorkers – and most especially to first responders – that a New York cop was foremost among singers at the many ceremonial events that helped America come to grips with tragedy. Rodriguez became “America’s Singing Policeman” and his rendition of “God Bless America” became one of the nation’s most familiar musical performances.

Now, retired from the police force and with several CDs behind him, D-Rod finds himself young, famous, justly admired, and well-positioned for the full-time musical career he says he always wanted. He is set for his operatic debut at The Chelsea Opera on June 7 as Canio in Leoncavallo’s turgid Verismo landmark, “Pagliacci”.

For Rodriguez, the role of Canio could be a shrewd springboard into the operatic mainstream. In the days since his abortive, two-note audition at the famously crusty Metropolitan Opera, he has proven that he has a voice and can use it to passionate effect. He can readily display it as Canio, whose music is histrionic and flashy. This was the role most closely associated with another tenor whom New York adopted as a favorite son: Enrico Caruso. That historic photograph of an anguished Caruso in a clownsuit with three giant buttons? That’s him as Canio. Opera doesn’t get more operatic.

It’s not surprising that the Chelsea Opera wanted D-Rod, but the surprising fact that they snagged him might be a rare bright spot in the downtown opera shortage. Then again, it might not. For decades, opera south of Midtown has meant mainly one thing: The Amato Opera, with its reliably good full-length productions and reduced orchestrations in an opera house billed as the world’s smallest.

The relatively young Chelsea company is a promising but unproven addition to our community music scene. My first exposure to it came with last year’s revival of Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors” in both the original English and the premiere of a Spanish-language version. Only a grinch could complain about the charming “Amahl”, which had been absent from New York’s Christmas season for far too long, and the Chelsea Opera scored bonus points for introducing it to Spanish-speaking listeners. But the scant challenges of this undemanding score should have been better served. The production was noteworthy more for the work of director Wendy Taucher than for the level of musicianship.

With “Pagliacci”, the company goes to the opposite extreme: from children’s opera to the very grownup, sex-drenched world of the Verismo school, musically rich and vocally showy. It will require D-Rod to bury his winning, clean-cut persona in the character of one of opera’s most pathetic victims – the spurned, cuckolded husband who plays the clown but whose rage and jealousy drive him to murder.

Chelsea Opera’s four-performance run of “Pagliacci” will be at St. Peter’s Church, 346 W. 20th Street, each evening from June 7 to June 10 at 8 pm. Daniel Rodriguez will sing the first two performances; Christopher Campbell, a veteran Canio, will sing the last two. Relatively brief and performed without intermission, “Pagliacci” is usually half of a double-bill, but not this time. So attendees can make an early night of it – or, better yet, go out for espresso after the performance. Ticket information is available at 866-811-4111 or at www.chelseaopera.org.

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