April 29, 2023 at 7:30 pm
April 30, 2023 at 3:00 pm
Avenel Performing Arts Center
Chamber Opera in One Act by David Matthew Brown
Libretto by Alize Franchesca Rozsnyai
Alize Francheska Rozsnyai, Soprano (Heather)
Tom Sitzler, Baritone (Heath)
Carl Rosenthal, Tenor (Waiter)
Benjamin T. Berman, Music Director
The premise of Phony is that a couple, having just sat down to dinner for a date at a fancy restaurant, are communicating exclusively by text messages rather than having a face-to-face conversation. They sing aloud the text message just received by the opposite party, and in this satirical manner, flip gender norms and expectations giving the audience a very interesting magnification of these differences. They have been dating for several months, having met on social media, but discover they hardly know each other because they are always on their phones. They reminisce about things they used to enjoy such as reading books or playing chess, and bemoan that they feel they never have time anymore. Ultimately, their discovery leads them both to an unexpected conclusion. A moment of comic relief comes when the waiter sings a passionate aria about tofu.
Notes on PHONY
by David Matthew Brown
Shedding light on a uniquely modern problem, Phony demonstrates the socially degenerative effects of technology addiction. Heath and Heather, an allegorical couple, struggle to communicate as they converse via text message (singing each others' aloud) during a date at a fancy restaurant. Eventually, through self-reflection–and in spite of Claude, the enthusiastic, comic waiter who occasionally forces them to begrudgingly "socialize"–the couple acknowledges the source of their deficiency.
Upon putting their phones down, the music changes and a new reality emerges -- what do they have in common? what has driven their relationship? -- they cannot quite pinpoint it. The dramatic vehicle of the dance gives a moment when they can actually interact at a level that has never been available to them before -- and whether they meet again becomes the question the opera leaves us with. Though words are voiced, this voiceless interaction gives rise to discovery. The opera begs the question: When does technology bring us together and when does it push us apart? That is what Phony poses to us, the audience.
Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht BWV 211 by Johann Sebastian Bach
New English adaptation (2019) by Alize Francheska Rozsynai
Alize Francheska Rozsnyai, Soprano (Lieschen)
Tom Sitzler, Baritone (Schlendrian)
Carl Rosenthal, Tenor (Narrator)
Benjamin T. Berman, Music Director
Hub City Opera is bringing a new perspective to J.S. Bach's The Coffee Cantata, which was written somewhere between 1732 and 1735 and is essentially a miniature comic opera that tells the story of a disgruntled father, Schlendrian, who argues with his caffeine-obsessed daughter, Lieschen, about what he perceives to be her bad habit of indulging in too much coffee.
In a new English Adaptation by Alize Francheska Rozsynai, Hub City Opera will present The Coffee Cantata through the eyes of a twenty-first century lens. Here is the synopsis: Lisa and Sam are a yoga-loving, starbucks-drinking, city-living couple who have suddenly become more conscious of their spending habits, as well as the impact that paper cup waste has on the environment. Sam urges Lisa to give up buying coffee out, but she defends her habit as her quintessential right, and actual necessity. When their relationship is placed on the chopping block, will Lisa ultimately choose her love for Sam, or her love for coffee?
Notes on COFFEE CANTATA
by Alize Franchesca Rozsnyai
I have always delighted in the music of J.S. Bach and am a huge fan of listening to, and performing works which are early (coming from the Baroque era and prior) and contemporary, and I have studied both of these performance practices as a singer. My adaptation is an attempt to marry the main qualities of music from these two eras, in order to truly delight audiences of today with a relatable story and instrumental timbres reminiscent of a present-day jazz club, complete with Saxophone, and Electric Guitar and Bass Guitar. I feel that with this adaptation, it can most closely approximate the feel that Bach's contemporaries might have felt at the premiere of The Coffee Cantata at a Leipzig Caffeehaus in 1735. These Caffeehauses were places where people could hang out, music could be performed, ideas could be shared, and undoubtedly the people would laugh, scoff, or shake their heads affirmingly in response to this work. I hope that I can achieve this resonance with you today through the depiction of a young, "hipster-like" (if you will) couple arguing over spending habits and consumption of coffee from a local overpriced cafe. Though the people of today may not have the same wariness of coffee's drug-like qualities that they did back then in Germany, when coffee drinking was first becoming popular at home, our culture certainly is addicted to the stuff, and indeed the Starbucks© on every corner of every major city in the world can confirm this; the sentiment behind Bach's timeless Coffee Cantata remain the same at their core. While it is true that both the original story, and my contemporary adaptation complain about coffee, both end in a similar fashion - upholding coffee as the ultimate beverage of choice and dismissing any evil it may bring as benign. However, my adaptation also brings another question to light - in a romantic relationship, how far should one party go in advising the other what they should do with regard to health or financial wellness? My adaptation addresses questions of gender roles and expectations as well. The woman, Lisa, in the end insists on her autonomy. But, it's "beans between the happy couple" (as quoted from the adaptation). As for her romantic relationship with Sam: will she be forced to choose between the two, or can the three, Lisa, Samuel, and Coffee, coexist harmoniously? Perhaps the Barrista (as Narrator) can help us find out!
Bios Singers (in alphabetical order)
Carl Rosenthal, tenor, has performed with several professional U.S. regional companies, including Missouri Opera, Massachusetts Opera, Loudoun Lyric Opera, and Franklin Light Opera, as well as performing as a tenor soloist with the Dayton Philharmonic and the Illinois Symphony Orchestra. Carl also spent the 2022-2023 season as an Artist-in-Residence with Dayton Opera, where he sang the role of Nemorino (The Elixir of Love) and King Kaspar (Amahl and the Night Visitors).
Alize Francheska Rozsnyai, Coloratura Soprano and Librettist, was seen last year on the Hub City Opera stage in her hilarious portrayal of Serpina in "La Serva Padrona." She is a graduate of The Curtis Institute of Music’s Opera Program. Her performance credits include appearing with Beth Morrison Projects in “when icarus fell, was there a splash?”and at New Music on the Point, performing several world premieres She performed as Katherine Hutchinson in The Silk City, Opera Fayetteville, International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival in Harrogate, England, ENA Ensemble, and the lead role of Zohara in the world premiere of Meira Warshauer’s opera Elijah’s Violin at the Presidio of San Francisco under the baton of Jonathan Khuner and Directed by Yefim Maizel.
Alize’s concert performances include performing at the Annenberg Center, Cape Cod Symphony, Carnegie Hall and The Curtis Institute’s 20/21 Ensemble at the Kennedy Center. Other favorite performances include the arias of Königin der Nacht with Den Nye Oper Orchestra, in Bergen, Norway, the Soprano Solos in Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts, a stylistic fusion of opera and jazz to open Wilmington, Delaware’s Clifford Brown Jazz Festival, and as a guest recitalist in Saigon’s Performance Complex at the Soul Music and Performing Arts Academy in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
As a librettist, Alize was a finalist, along with composer collaborator Roger A. Martinez, for MassOpera’s NOW (New Opera Workshop), and the recipient of the Lolotte Gaucher Fellowship Award at Really Spicy Opera’s Aria Institute where she will continue her studies as librettist in the Spring of 2023. Several of her works including Potentialite, Phony, and her “boundary-pushing” (Broad Street Review) Alcina REVAMPED adaptation have all beenperformed. She recently completed the libretto for Garth Baxter’s A Pregnant Pause, his first chamber opera, and Phony will receive its second performance with Hub City Opera in Spring of 2023.
Tom Sitzler, baritone, has been capturing audiences with his warm, generous voice and convincing stage presence since 2009, when he made his professional debut as the Old Gypsy in Il Trovatore with Union Avenue Opera. Tom joined Hub City Opera and Dance last year as "Son Ami" in Hub City Opera's production of the Le Pauvre Matelot. His most notable roles include Escamillo (Carmen) and Leporello (Don Giovanni) with Boulder Opera, Germont (La Traviata) and Scarpia (Tosca) with Painted Sky Opera, and Prophet (Dark Sisters) with Opera Fayetteville. He has sung the bass solos for Handel’s Messiah, the Verdi Requiem, the Mozart Requiem, the Faure Requiem, and Mendelssohn’s Elijah. He also was just recently seen as Golaud (Pelleas et Melisandre) and Karl Baum (Liebovar). Learn more at www.tomsitzler.com
Bios Composer and Musicians
David Matthew Brown, composer, holds music degrees from West Chester University (BM, ‘11) and the University of Delaware (MM, ’13). His compositions have been performed, commissioned, and/or recorded by the New Russia State Symphony Orchestra, Csik Chamber Orchestra (Romania), Vidin Sinfonietta (Bulgaria), International Opera Theater, Network for New Music, LINK Ensemble, 6ixwire Project, and Alter Ego Chamber Opera, of which he was a founding member. Moreover, David is a conductor, tuba player, Celtic strings player (mandolin, mandocello, tenor banjo), and has composed over fifty Celtic jigs, reels, hornpipes, and other dance forms.
Equally active as a violinist, David is the founder of illumine, a violin-voice-piano trio ensemble that champions its unconventional instrumentation, works by living composers, obscure works of history, and performance practice reform. He has performed as a soloist with orchestras including the Csik Chamber Orchestra–with which he was also guest concertmaster–the Vidin Sinfonietta, and the Newark Symphony.
Benjamin T. Berman, tenor, organist, harpsichordist, and conductor is Music Director of the Presbyterian Church of Bound Brook and of the Highland Park Community Chorus. A variety of pursuits has brought him to play harpsichord with period instrument ensemble La Fiocco; serve on the board as secretary, music director, and founding member of the Hub City Opera and Dance Company; and work as accompanist at his alma mater: for the Rutgers Queens Chorale. Benjamin enjoys an active performing career in the region, performing with Opera Philadelphia, West Jersey Chamber Music Society, Makhelat Hamercaz, Choral Arts Society, and Vocala, and was honored to sing in the Czech Republic in 2018. In recent years, he has conducted the operas Der Mond by Carl Orff, Le pauvre matelot by Darius Milhaud, La serva padrona by Pergolesi, and Goyescas by Enrique Granados, and worked as music director for the innovative virtual programs Un\Rooted and Masks for Hub City Opera. Ben is a member of AGMA, ACDA, NATS, and NYSTA.
Grant funding has been provided by the Middlesex County Board for Chosen Freeholders through a grant award from the Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund.
Program funded by Middlesex County, a partner of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.