United States Various, The Brooklyn Job: Soloists / Dan Franklin Smith (music director & piano). New Camerata Opera, New York. Streamed on 8.5.2021. (RP)
Writer & director – Sarah Morgan Ashey
Film & editing – Erik Bagger
Audio recording, mixing & mastering – Derek Box
Zoom management – Ryan Allais
Doc – Erik Bagger
Brains – Eva Parr
Officer Ward – Scott Lindroth
Rancher – Stan Lacy
Shane McDonough – Victor Khodadad
Diana Charleston – Barbara Porto
David Edgar Linus Lovitt – Kofi Hayford
Sia Faraway – Samina Aslam
Rafaella Lauren – Julia Tang
Tootsie Green – Anna Tonna
Puccini – ‘Hai ben ragione’ (Il tabarro)
Saint-Saëns – ‘Printemps qui commence’ (Samson et Dalila)
Szymanowska – ‘Se Spiegar’
Puccini – ‘Un bel dì vedremo’ (Madama Butterfly)
Rossini – ‘Zitti, ziti, piano, piano’ (Il barbiere di Siviglia)
Giordani – ‘Nemico della Patria’ (Andrea Chénier)
Offenbach – ‘Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour’ (Les contes d’Hoffmann)
Rossini – ‘La calunnia’ (Il barbiere di Siviglia)
Handel – ‘V’adoro, pupille’ (Giulio Cesare)
Mozart – ‘Smanie implacabili’ (Così fan tutte)
Mozart – ‘Il mio tesoro’ (Don Giovanni)
Grever – ‘Cuando vuelva a tu lado’
Mascagni – ‘Intanto, amici, qua’ (Cavalleria rusticana)
Over the past year, many of us have more or less adapted to doing things from home, including leisure pursuits. In the performing arts, digital is a crowded field, so creativity and innovation are essential ingredients for success. Indie opera companies have pushed the envelope further than most in the pack by creating new content, not just video streams of standard fare in fancy places. New Camerata Opera, however, has been doing just that for the past five years.
NCO’s mission is to engage, excite and educate through immersive operatic performances that break down barriers and inspire the fans of the future. In addition to its video offerings, the company presents full-length operas at nontraditional venues and newly arranged and adapted children’s operas. NCO has been hailed as ‘the future of opera’, but in reality, it is much more – a one-stop shop, cum incubator, for the past, present and, indeed, the future of the genre.
Written and directed by comedian Sarah Morgan Ashey (who, with her husband, Paul, is the co-owner of Kings Kolache, a bakery in Brooklyn), NCO’s latest video opera, The Brooklyn Job, is a virtual, interactive whodunit museum art heist. Some of the twists and turns, such as what work of art is to be stolen or the get-away route, were determined by real-time audience polls. The convoluted but wafer-thin plot is the dramatic skeleton on which arias and songs are hung. Musically, they always fit the mood, and if the words don’t, others are substituted in the surtitles.
The comedy is broad: think The Dukes of Hazzard meets The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. Accents are slathered on with a trowel. In addition to a zany crime drama, The Brooklyn Job is also a love story: most of the characters either have been married to or are past or present loves of the museum director, Tootsie Green, who puts a new spin on gender fluid. Shane McDonough, the driver of the getaway car, is the exception. He sings ‘Il mio tesoro’ to his Toyota.
NCO is a family affair. Most of the cast are founding members of the company, who not only perform but do everything else that makes the company tick. Its master of digital artistry is Erik Bagger, who also appears in the film singing a rousing ‘Hai ben ragione’ from Puccini’s Il tabarro and playing the guitar for Anna Tonna’s sultry rendition of María Grever’s ‘Cuando vuelva a tu lado’, also known as ‘What a Difference a Day Makes’.
It is the packaging – the visual elements, in other words – that makes The Brooklyn Job an enjoyable romp. Filming on location was not always possible due to COVID restrictions, but imagination leaped over that hurdle. Victor Khodadad’s lyrical, easy flowing ‘Il mio tesoro’ was filmed with him sitting in his car, but most of the other scenes involved intricate and extraordinarily precise editing and layering effects.
There were special moments when voice and video took artistic flight. Spring blossoms, some encased in snow and ice, were the backdrop for Eva Parr’s ‘Printemps qui commence’. Samina Aslam sang a stunning, impassioned ‘Un bel dì vedremo’ against a kaleidoscope of natural beauty. The boat in the harbor was seen, as well as a beautiful butterfly, which appeared at the exact moment she sang the word in the aria. Barbara Porto, dressed as a warrior princess, melted hearts with ‘V’adoro pupille’, while images of her beloved Tootsie faded in and out.
The most witty and relevant juxtaposition was Kofi Hayford singing ‘La calunnia’. Hacking was his profession: images of circuit boards, code and patch cords, the modern tools used to slander, flashed across the screen. Hayford struck the keys of his laptop, as if he were playing the piano, his glee and precision perfectly in sync with the spirit of Rossini.
My only complaint is that I was viewing The Brooklyn Job outside of the New York metropolitan area and couldn’t order a cocktail box with beverages selected to pair with the opera. I would have opted for the bourbon.