Live review: A Bohemian rhapsody courtesy of One World Symphony

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verunkavlkovaAs it closes in on its tenth-anniversary season (which will open on September 17), One World Symphony continues to remind us of why it's highly likely it will be around for decades to come. Not only does the bubbly ensemble present a unique blend of new music with old and oft-neglected gems, it does so with superb players and, in its operatic presentations, top-flight casts, all led by artistic director Sung Jin Hong. This weekend's production of Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen was no exception.

Ansche Chesed Synagogue on the Upper West Side presents several challenges for an opera staging: The cramped space doesn't allow for a lavish production and the acoustics are not singer-friendly. (We're curious to see how the company fares in its other regular haunt, St. Ann and the Holy Trinity in Brooklyn Heights.) Tempering some ingenuity with a sense of humor, stage director Adrienne Metzinger created a fanciful world evocative of the Bohemian woods. Dragonflies buzzed down one aisle while fox cubs scampered down another; a drunken schoolmaster (resonantly sung by Oliver Shngen) found ample stumbling space, and a keen amount of tension was created when Vixen was shot.

As Vixen, soprano Verunka Vlkova (pictured) had a shimmering top and a charming presence, though her lower register was often muddied by the synagogue acoustics. She makes cute with Fox (Kathryn Janssen) with a ravishing love duet that allowed their voices to soar. Tenor Jos Pietri-Coimbre was a valiant last-minute replacement as Forester, singing from a score in hand yet remaining on par with his colleagues. Everyone struggled with enunciation (an amplified concern in such a small space and in an English-language translation), but the polished orchestra's flawless reading of the score made up for any shortcomings.

Prior to the overture, Hong gave a quick lecture on Janacek's piece, reorchestrated here by composer Jonathan Dove in an arrangement that fit the orchestra like a tailor-made glove. The five-minute dissection of the love duet could easily be turned into a 30-minute preconcert talk by Hong. While he is incredibly knowledgeable, he is also passionate, which makes the experience all the more illuminating. See what we mean June 4 and 6 with One World's season finale, an all-Parisian program.

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