Alexandre bis / Comedy on the Bridge

Oct 14, 2014

The New York Times

Anthony Tommasini

In this inventive Gotham production, with an appealing young cast, conducted by the company’s founding artistic director, Neal Goren, and directed by James Marvel, these two outrageous pieces made a good pairing. With the demise of New York City Opera, there are potential openings for New York’s small companies. Gotham knows it cannot get ahead of itself: There are three productions this season. Still, the delightful Martinu double bill is a good omen. 

“Alexandre Bis” (“Alexander Twice”), set in a Paris salon, is farcical yet strangely resonant. Alexandre, a prosperous man, decides to test the fidelity of his wife, Armande, in a weird way. He tells her that his cousin from Texas is coming to visit. That relative turns out to be just Alexandre with his bushy beard shaved off, looking 20 years younger.

Though bored in her marriage, Armande has been faithful, resisting even the aggressive advances of Oscar, a hyperathletic friend. The domestic intrigue is commented on continually by Philomène, the maid, and also, eerily, by a portrait of Alexandre that comes to life.

When the “cousin” arrives, Armande recognizes her husband. Still, with his makeover, Alexandre awakens new desire in her, feelings explored during a dream sequence when Armande imagines making love to the “cousin,” joined by the portrait of Alexandre and, while she’s at it, Oscar. The opera asks provocative questions: If you cheat in your dreams, aren’t you still cheating? Can you be unfaithful to your spouse with your spouse?

Martinu’s bustling Neo-Classical score is spiky and pungent. The simple set by Cameron Anderson evokes a black-and-white film, and the singers slip into the posturing style of silent-era melodrama. The costumes by Fabio Toblini are playful and a touch surreal. The hard-working cast is terrific, especially the hearty baritone Jarrett Ott as Alexandre and the mellow bass- baritone Joseph Beutel as the portrait Alexandre. The soprano Jenna Siladie brings a sweet voice and endearing confusion to Armande. Cassandra Zoé Velasco as the maid and Jason Slayden as the randy Oscar are also charming.

“Comedy on the Bridge” tells of two warring principalities separated by a river with only a bridge connecting them. Sentries guard each side. Popelka (Ms. Siladie), a young woman returning from a sanctioned visit to the enemy side, surrenders her safe-conduct pass to a sentry only to be prevented from crossing home by the other one. Soon, several townspeople find themselves stuck with her on that bridge: Bedron (Mr. Beutel), a hops grower with an eye for Popelka; Sykos (Mr. Ott), Popelka’s fiancé, who sees her being kissed by Bedron and calls off the wedding; Eva (the mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer), Bedron’s jealous wife; and Ucitel (Mr. Slayden), an eccentric schoolmaster baffled by a riddle.

When victory is declared, the bridge must be cleared for the soldiers to march across. But not before the liberated villagers skip and twirl to the fractured dance music that ends this beguiling opera. 

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