reviews & other press, 2010-2013


New York Times, Anthony Tommasini – “Duets, Ensembles, Dance Music and Arias, All in the Lobby: operamission Performs Handel’s ‘Almira’ at Gershwin Hotel” (May 30, 2012)

“Only a musician with theatrical imagination and pluck would have walked into the artsy lobby of the Gershwin Hotel in the Flatiron district of Manhattan and seen its potential as a space for quirky opera productions.  That is what happened in 2009, when the harpsichordist, pianist and conductor Jennifer Peterson founded the performance company operamission.”

“The soprano Christy Lombardozzi brought a rich, lush voice and impetuosity to the role of the conflicted Almira, who secretly yearns for Fernando, movingly performed here by the virile, ardent baritone Michael Weyandt.  Mark Risinger’s sturdy bass voice was ideal for Consalvo.  The lyric tenor Keith Jameson was excellent as Osman.  Also impressive were the shimmering soprano Kristen Plumley as Bellante, princess of Aranda, and the mellow baritone David Kravitz as Raymondo, a king from Mauritania.  The bright-voiced, animated tenor Karim Sulayman stole every scene he was in as the comic Tabarco, Fernando’s servant.”

“Ms. Peterson drew crisp, lively playing from the ensemble.”

Opera Today, John Yohalem – “Almira, operamission” (June 8, 2012)

“To find a singer or two worthy of attention and able in practice in one of these small companies is nothing unusual; it is one of the joys of going to them.  To find eight excellent singers in eight wide-ranging roles in such a company is astonishing, but that was the case with operamission’s Almira.”

“operamission’s music director, Jennifer Peterson, who conducted from the harpsichord, figured out how to vary the voices nicely, from Christy Lombardozzi’s long, pure lines of queenly suffering to Nell Snaidas’s high, spiky staccati of merriment or anger and Kristen Plumley’s gracious or dubious sentiments.  Considering how interchangeable were their feelings (each lady feels amorously misused by someone or other), they individuated nicely.”

“This was a performance without a single mis-cast singer or actor in eight long roles, which makes one eager to hear whatever operamission comes up with.”

“Not the least of the pleasures of the occasion was the absence of titles of any kind.  A detailed synopsis in the program included the texts of all the arias (both sung and translation) and the lights were up (as in Handel’s day) so that they could be read, but comprehension of the complicated and unfamiliar plot was left to the expressiveness and acting cops of the singers.  None of them had any trouble getting the story across.  Free of blinking and distracting translations, we could revel in music and its performance.  I do hope operamission retains this tradition.”

“…the long score moved swiftly and delightfully through a lenghty score to a joyful conclusion.”

Parterre Box, DeCaffarrelli – “grand, hotel” (May 28, 2012)

“Sneaking in under the wire during the final week of May were two highpoints of New York’s opera season: the Cleveland Orchestra’s Salome with a stunning Nina Stemme and operamission’s revelatory US stage premiere of a complete edition of Handel’s first opera Almira.  While the former overflowed the stage of Carnegie Hall, the latter packed eight excellent singers, a period orchestra of 21 and an enthusiastic audience into a curtained-off portion of the Gershwin Hotel’s lobby in Manhattan’s East 20s.”

“The excellence of the Strauss was no surprise, but Saturday night’s baroque fans were lucky to be treated to one of the best local Handel productions in years by this new and ambitious group, led by conductor Jennifer Peterson.”

“I’ve rarely attended a local show with such integrity and one that radiated a stirring belief in the work’s musical worth, while Jeff Caldwell’s tastefully restrained production always trusted the beautifully-coached performers to embody their characters with a  minimum of directorial intervention—one got the essence of Handel’s (and Feustking’s) Almira—nothing more, and certainly nothing less.”

“operamission was clearly tackling something important Saturday night by presenting Almira’s uncut US stage premiere.”

“Peterson assembled eight exceptionally well-prepared singers who made a strong case for Handel’s maiden effort.”

“Happily, Karim Sulayman’s Tabarco was one of the evening’s highlights; no aging, nearly voiceless character-tenor, Sulayman combined a richly agile voice with a loose-limbed comic flair that never threatened to go over the top.  As his handsome master Fernando, the Queen’s lovelorn secretary who is always being discovered in deceptively compromising situations, Michael Weyandt brought a lovely virile baritone to a role originally written for a low tenor, a casting decision which paid off as his voice effectively contrasted with the two tenors and two basses.  Keith Jameson, who recently shone as the Novice in the MET’s Billy Budd, revealed a surprisingly accomplished florid technique while fussing and fuming amusingly as Osman, the ‘long-lost’ Fernando’s brother.”

“As the spitfire Edilia Nell Snaidas gamely tackled the role’s extravagantly demanding challenges.”

“…Almira’s [music] often rises to high Cs, yet Christy Lombardozzi in her great vengeance aria “Kochet ih adern entzündete Rache” confidently handled those while adding ornaments taking her even higher.  In fact, all the ornamentation throughout the evening was beautifully done, stylish and grateful to the singer and the character.”

“One of the evening’s pleasures was the large (21 strong), young and hard-working period orchestra (including numerous alumni of the newish Juilliard Historical Performance program), particularly in the lush numbers for orchestra alone.”

“The [Boston Early Music] Festival will no doubt produce it on a lavish scale, but I think it will have to work very hard to surpass the passionate world of the Castillian queen created in a hotel lobby on Saturday night by Peterson and her talented collaborators.  I’m eager to see what operamission decides to tackle next!”


Opera News, David Shengold – “Rodrigo” (August, 2013)

“On May 21 at the Gershwin Hotel in Manhattan, Handel’s early opera Rodrigo received what was billed as its U.S. stage premiere.  Last year, the hotel lobby, which seats seventy-five, witnessed a similar occasion for Almira, the composer’s first opera.  Harpsichordist Jennifer Peterson, founder and director of operamission, continued her Handel project with the fifth — the second extant — stage work, given at Florence in 1707.”

“All of operamission’s soloists offered some virtues…”

“Nicholas Tamagna is a gifted firecracker of a performer.”

“Dísella Lárusdóttir proved extremely expressive verbally and in terms of stance and look; her fluid lyric soprano, in fine shape, was consistently stylish and pleasing in a marathon part.”

“Tenor John Carlo Pierce showed rock-solid, Jan Peerce-like runs as the general Giuliano, Handel’s most ambitious tenor part before Tamerlano (1724) and Rodelinda (1725).  He would seem a natural for the great tenor roles in Handel’s late-career oratorios.”

“As Giuliano’s sister Florinda, Rodrigo’s vengeful mistress (and mother of his child), Madeline Bender made an imposingly handsome figure visually, showing a fine voice.”

“It’s miraculous that young countertenor Christopher Newcomer could sing the tough music created by soprano Caterina Azzolini in travesti.  Newcomer is clearly a talent to watch.”

“Daniel Bubeck’s…trills, graces, breath control, absolutely smooth coloratura, command of line and text…bespoke a complete Handelian whom one would gladly hear in anything he undertook.”

New York Times, Vivien Schweitzer – “An Emotional Crew Staying at This Hotel: Handel’s ‘Rodrigo’ at Gershwin Hotel” (May 22, 2013)

“operamission, a company founded in 2009 by pianist, harpsichordist and conductor Jennifer Peterson, saw potential in the lobby of the Gershwin Hotel, where it presented Handel’s Almira last year.”

“Nicholas Tamagna proved the standout in the title role, singing with a luminous countertenor, strong coloratura and dramatic conviction as he evolved from swaggering unpleasantness to humbled redemption.”

“Madeline Bender, a charismatic stage presence, sang with a voluptuous soprano and theatrical flair as Florinda.”

“As Esilena, Dísella Lárusdóttir demonstrated a bright, attractive soprano, singing with nimble coloratura and expressive conviction.”

“As Fernando, Rodrigo’s general, the countertenor Daniel Bubeck made a strong impression with his distinctive, honeyed timbre and secure technique.”

“Ms. Peterson conducted a Baroque ensemble from the harpsichord.  They played with spirit and polish…this proved an enjoyable production with some fine singing from a talented young cast.”

Parterre Box, DeCaffarrelli – “self-conquest” (May 22, 2013)

“Likely more than 30,000 people attended the ten-performance run of the Met’s recent Giulio Cesare (with many thousands more viewing its April 27 HD-transmission).  Probably no more than 100 gathered Tuesday in a curtained-off space in the lobby of NYC’s Gershwin Hotel to witness the North American premiere of Rodrigo by operamission.  But much of this wildly uneven version of Handel’s second opera felt more deeply genuine than the Met’s more polished, yet vapid “show biz” effort.”

“Last year in the same space Jennifer Peterson’s group gave the US stage premiere of Handel’s first opera Almira.  Perhaps they are planning to work chronologically through the composer’s oeuvre since this year we got his fifth opera as the three German-Italian works he composed for Hamburg to follow-up the success of Almira have not survived.”

“Tuesday’s mostly-American cast — directed simply but effectively by Jeff Caldwell — gave committed, persuasive performances.”

“Heading a cast of two sopranos, three countertenors and one tenor (there are no low voice), Nicholas Tamagna in the title role shone brightest with his pure, steady countertenor and his committed, anguished portrayal of the bad-guy hero.  Reminding me more than once of Max Emanuel Cencic, a bald-pated Tamagna displayed an easy high extension; however, the voice was at its most attractive in its middle register.  He was particularly effective in Rodrigo’s vibrant “Vanne in campo” and his touching “Dolce Amor.”  This was my first exposure to Tamagna, and I look forward to hearing him again.”

“A fiery Madeline Bender passionately declaimed the recitatives and agilely negotiated her arias, tempering her virago-like stalking of Rodrigo to melt convincingly toward Evanco.”

“One shining light was the fine playing of the frequently virtuoso solo violin music by Joan Plana.”

“I left the Gershwin grateful for the chance to hear this fascinating step in Handel’s operatic journey yet frustrated that such good intentions and hard work are compromised by the lack of adequate funding.  I wish some generous individual or well-meaning foundation would cough up the necessary support to permit this organization to do the fine work that moments of this Rodrigo revealed Peterson and her colleagues are capable of.”

The Classical Review, Judith Malafronte – “Handel’s early ‘Rodrigo’” (May 22, 2013)

“…Peterson made well-informed choices.”

“The playing space, a curtained-off section of the hotel’s lobby, with high ceilings and Persian carpets, is challenged by intrusive columns, but director Jeff Caldwell’s light touch provided variety and movement in the round without scenery, props or costumes.  With the small period orcehstra gathered around Peterson’s harpsichord and the audience crammed everywhere else, the atmosphere felt like a first reading in the composer’s own lodging, with the same excitement of friends and cognoscenti at hearing a new work.”

“Soprano Dísella Lárusdóttir’s gorgeous, pointed sound and creamy middle voice are world-class.”

“Soprano Madeline Bender was impressive as the seduced and abandoned Florinda.  Bender’s full, lyric sound and nice feel for Handel’s musical gestures and structure were on display in the vigorous Alle glorie, alle palme and the opening Pugneran con noi, better known from its re-use in Rinaldo.  As Giuliano, tenor John Carlo Pierce made the most of his robust, martial pieces, while countertenor Daniel Bubeck’s musical assurance and smooth, even coloratura made one lament the early demise of the general Fernando.”

Superconductor, Paul J. Pelkonen – “A Private Little War: operamission presents Handel’s Rodrigo” (May 27, 2013)

“…Rodrigo requires a slew of great voices.  Leading the charge was countertenor Nicholas Tamagna in the high-flying title role: a callow king whose philandering leads to civil war in Visigothic Spain.  Mr. Tamagna navigated the high tessitura with his potent instrument, singing fearlessly in arias depicting his initial rage and the later ensembles that feature his eventual contrition.  This is an impressive talent, a singing actor with formidable technique.”

“He was matched in passion by his wife Esilena, played by Dísella Lárusdóttir.  As Florinda, her revenge-minded rival and operatic opposite number, soprano Madeline Bender gave a scorching performance.”

“It is a hallmark of the different nature of opera in the early 1700s that the tenor is the lowest role in this show.  In this case, it was the duty of John Carlo Pierce to play Giuliano, Florinda’s brother and leader of the rebel forces.  Mr. Pierce displayed a nimble instrument, singing with fire and virility as he led his invisible armies into battle against the tyrant.  Countertenor Christopher Newcomer was a convincing third lead as Evanco, Florinda’s lover.”

“The performance was conducted from the harpsichord by Jennifer Peterson, the leader and organizer of this little company.  She also edited the performing edition used for these shows.  Her group, the operamission HANDEL Band, made their period instruments (including historically accurate double reeds) resound in the hotel lobby.  The result: a warm bed for the voices that was surprisingly well balanced.  The acting space was simple, a Persian rug and a pair of double doors, with the singers in conventional concert blacks and modern dress.  In an era of over-produced shows and director’s visions, the spare presentation of this unknown opera spoke volumes.”


 New York Post, James Jorden – “A Mozart ‘Tutte’ made for Twitter Opera’ (August 17, 2010)

Can a 220-year old opera be taught new tricks?  That’s the goal of operamission. which, starting tonight, will present Mozart’s “Così Fan Tutte” in a format that’s part miniseries, part town meeting and part jam session.

Conductor and troupe director Jennifer Peterson decided to challenge the audience to participate in the creative process — which brings us to the evening’s subtitle, “Some Assembly Required.”

In a high-tech twist, laptops, cameras and smartphones are not only allowed, but encouraged.

As the troupe’s young singers rehearse a section of the opera with full orchestra, spectators are invited to blog and tweet their reactions as they follow the score online.

The company includes a trio of “instigators” — that is, experts to facilitate the creative process.  Cori Ellison, formerly of New York City Opera, will serve as dramaturg, leading a discussion about the historical and social background of the era…

Stage director Ned Canty, on hand to delve into dramatic motivation, concedes old-fashioned opera buffs may lament this show’s lack of “mystery.”  But the deconstruction may just appeal to another audience, he says — “the ‘DVD extras’ type of fan!” 

The New Yorker, Goings On About Town, Concerts in Town – “Così fan tutte: Some Assembly Required” (August 16, 2010)

operamission, a project of the Baroque and new-music specialist Jennifer Peterson, takes apart Mozart’s deliciously confounding opera of infidelity and puts it back together in the spirit of a lab experiment, a jam session, and a cabaret over the course of four performances.  A chamber orchestra — deliberately unrehearsed — will accompany a cast that includes such City Opera standouts as Caroline Worra and Jennifer Aylmer.

New York Observer, Sydney Ember – “Twitter Invades the Opera House” (August 18, 2010)

Ladies and gentlemen, please turn on your cellphones.  And take out your laptops while you’re at it.

Those aren’t the usual instructions for an audience at a production of Mozart’s opera “Così fan Tutte,” but that was essentially what a collection of anachronistically opera-philic technocrats were told to do at the Gershwin Hotel Tuesday night.

A troupe called operamission is urging viewers to use their phones, laptops, iPads and other digital devices to blog and tweet during the staging of the 220-year-old show.  (We thought they’d never ask.)  The production — “a free-form amalgam of a lab, a jam session, and a cabaret” — features a “full orchestra, unrehearsed, assembled on the spot,” and, acording to a press release announcing the show, “Twittering musicologists will be in attendance to facilitate access to pertinent sources such as manuscripts, letters, and memoirs of both Mozart and Da Ponte via social media.”  The troupe is showing the opera in four 30-40 minute parts over a span of four days, lest interested parties may be turned off by the prospect of a three-hour show in an age of three-minute YouTube videos.

The Washington Post, The Classical Beat, Anne Midgette – “The lighter side of summer” (August 11, 2010)

And in the category of spontaneous summer performances, the outfit operamission in New York is deconstructing “Così fan tutte,” presenting the opera in four sessions, each with 30-40 minutes of music, sung by professional singers with an orchestra of musicians who are coming in from all over, all totally unrehearsed.  It’s opera for the Twitter age (and you can follow it on Twitter).  As of the last Tweet, they still need violins.  

WQXR, Amanda Angel – “Top 5 @ 105 End of Summer Operas” (August 13, 2010)

Divide, conquer, and then reassemble.  operamission, the project of Baroque specialist Jennifer Peterson presents an improvisational rendering of Mozart’s Così fan Tutte: Some Assembly Required over four evenings at the Gershwin Hotel.  An unrehearsed chamber orchestra will accompany a rotating cast in this staging billed as equal parts lab experiment, jam session and cabaret with a side of audience participation.


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