Bronx Opera sings life into Mechem comedy, ‘The Rivals’

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The Bronx Opera Company opened its 47th season last weekend with a robust and spirited production of Kirke Mechem’s The Rivals at the Lovinger Theater on the Lehman College campus.

The libretto is based on Richard Sheridan’s comic play of manners from 1775, featuring the character of Mrs. Malaprop, whose misuse of the English language was so renowned that her name inspired the creation of a new word in the lexicon.

Mr. Mechem alters the setting of the play from the spa town of Bath in the United Kingdom during the 18th century to the affluent enclave of Newport, R.I. around 1900 for his opera.

Though Mr. Mechem completed composing The Rivals in 2002, it did not premiere until 2011. The Bronx Opera’s production of the opera marks its first performance in New York.

Michael Spierman, 70, the Bronx Opera Company’s founder and artistic director said he chose to present The Rivals because he aims not only to produce operas from the repertoire widely familiar to audiences, but also to promote the works of contemporary composers.

“It’s an amazing opera, worthy of performance,” Mr. Spierman said of The Rivals. “If one does not perform the work of living composers, one effectively finds the art form becoming a museum piece.”

Two different casts performed in last weekend’s dual shows.

During Sunday’s matinee, soprano Lindsay Ohse’s voice soared above the orchestra in her turn as Lydia Larkspur, Mrs. Malaprop’s niece, who despises the idea of wedding a rich man while pining for her romanticized vision of life with an impoverished composer — a life she describes as “charming poverty.”

Patrick McNally sang in a full-bodied baritone as the unflappable Captain Jack Absolute, who is so enamored of his own cunning that he unwittingly creates a rival for Lydia’s affection in himself.

And tenor Blake Friedman’s sad, wealthy sack and Jack’s friend Nicholas Astor, who bemoans his vast fortune worrying that no woman will love him for anything but his money, gave the opera one of its few serious moments during his compelling aria longing for Lydia’s cousin Julia.

All three singers brought the flawed but alluring characters to life onstage.

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