“The-Little-Opera-Company-That-Could” can be a compelling aesthetic. Scrappy productions of unusual rep often prove rewarding, offering a chance to hear new singers in innovative settings, without the trappings of high-budget productions.
But trying to keep that magic going for three-and-a-half hours, as Amore Opera attempted in the Theater at Riverside Church on Tuesday night, strains the limits of even the campiest charm.
Amore’s presentation on Tuesday was of Meyerbeer’s 1859 opéra-comique Dinorah—according to the company, the first staging of the work in the United States in nearly a century. The opera features some ingenious musical interplay in its group numbers, and gentle lyricism in its arias, but all of it is strapped to an insipid scenario: a pastoral buddy comedy that tracks a mad peasant girl, a duplicitous goatherd, and a bagpiper as they follow a magic goat through the forest to find a haunted treasure. Naturally, it all ends in a wedding.
The extraordinary roughness of the orchestra hardly helped: Dinorah is not an easy score, and it proved a constant struggle for Amore’s volunteer musicians. The winds were largely passable, but the strings could barely wrap their fingers around some of the music. One tricky arpeggio figure in particular, featuring heavily in the overture and reappearing frequently to represent lightning, was a mess every time it was heard. That Richard Cordova managed to keep everything together as well as he did was itself a feat of conducting.
Tuesday’s performance did, at least feature some impressive singing from its young cast. The most polished of the leads was Suchan Kim as Hoël, the greedy goatherd who schemes to claim the cursed treasure before finding redemption through his love for Dinorah. His rich, smooth baritone was effective in emphatic declamation, as in the early “O puissante magie!” Yet he was an even better fit in gentler, lyrical writing, giving a lovely account of the pleading little arioso “Et maintenant, mélasse,” praying for Dinorah to recover in Act III.
In the title role, soprano Holly Flack showed the most explosive talent, even if she was not consistent throughout the night. There was a little tightness at times in her upper register, but her middle was all flowing warmth and she showed off rippling coloratura and effortless trills. She gave a brilliant account of “Ombre légère,” a nimble, tuneful show-aria reminiscent of “Il dolce suono” in its little duet between soprano and flute, and capped it with a searing high A-flat that she actually held.
Juan Hernández brought a firm tenor as the bagpiper Corentin, playing the comic relief role with a fistful of ham. The music for his part is not especially memorable, but he made the most of what he had, showing a warm tone and easy phrasing in his playful duets with Hoël.
As a pair of shepherdesses, Kristina Malinauskaite brought a warm soprano and Savannah Greene showed a dark-hued mezzo in the quartet at the top of Act III. Their counterparts impressed as well, Steven Tompkins with a wooly baritone as the Hunter, and Gennady Vysotsky with a robust tenor as the Harvester.
Director Nathan Hull wisely embraced the silliness of the piece, relying on painted flats to construct the scene. Though he may not have exactly intended for a door frame to fall over during a duet, the mishap helped break up the tedium of the dreary English dialogue. When Dinorah complained, “Why is the night so long? . . . I’m so cold and bored here,” a nearby audience member quipped, “Me too.”
Dinorah will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and 2:30 and 7:30 Saturday at the Theater at Riverside Church. An alternate cast features Jennifer Moore as Dinorah, Michael Celentano as Corentin, and Nobuki Momma as Hoël. amoreopera.org