LoftOpera’s Lucrezia Borgia

Matthew Anchel and Joanna Parisi. Photo: Jay ScheibLoftOpera productions are just what they say on the package. There is a loft. There is opera. Everything happens a maximum of twenty feet away from you; the orchestra, if you sit where I sat, is on your right shoulder and the harp is in your ear. The program is a folded bit of paper (you made programs just like this in college), and it leaves out little details, like the composer’s name.

It’s hardly the Met…and it turns out you don’t really want to experience Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia any other way. If you want a big, fat, famous opera with lots of drinking, teenage birthday parties and troubling incest, then it seems right and just that you search for it in Bushwick. It only heightens our sense that opera is something sumptuous when it’s hidden behind a warehouse door. Admittedly, some things in that loft were a little wobbly. The combination of linoleum floor, skyscraper heels and plastic glasses used for emphatic quaffing adds up to a dangerous, shard-covered surface. Singers and supernumeraries would occasionally surface from the scrum with scrapes and bruises—yet they were almost always still singing at the tops of their well-trained lungs.

Photo: Jay ScheibThe stage director Laine Rettmer clearly revels in the original’s delicious trashiness, so she updated the action to a nightmarish Orange County: Lucrezia (the astonishing soprano Joanna Parisi) tottered angrily around sporting Donatella Versace’s hair, stripper heels and her best Real Housewives of Ferrara hauteur. When she and her husband the Duke (Matthew Anchel, delicate eyelashes and a subway-rumbling baritone) got into their famous Act I barney, the audience leaned close. We had beers, but we should have had popcorn—it felt that immediate and titillating.

The aesthetic was gleefully tacky, but music director and conductor Sean Kelly seemed deadly serious. Even in a giant room with a tin roof, Kelly somehow managed to balance the various colors of “loud and intense” so that all was distinct, nothing muddy. Singers in full-throated holler and a two-dozen strong orchestra kept keying us higher and higher, but his hand stayed steady. And the glorious noise the LoftOpera crowd is creating can not help but carry you away. Having very powerful people yell Donizetti in your face has a wonderfully adrenalizing effect. Parisi, Anchel and the rest have voices that can fill volumes ten times the size, so fetching up next to them feels like being in the cage with a tiger. Your heart’s in your mouth, your hair stands on end. At last! Someone’s found a way to turn the fight-or-flight response into a theatrical tactic.