Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music has a reputation as a hidden gem among New York music schools, sharing some of the big-name voice instructors the big three (Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music, Mannes) boast. The school attracts a very talented crop of singers. I must report with regret, however, that seeing Saturday's performance of Aaron Copland's The Tender Land (libretto by Horace Everett) in Brooklyn's beautiful Whitman Theater was disappointing. The Tender Land was first conceived as a project for the NBC Television Opera Workshop, but was rejected by the television producers. It was performed in 1954 at New York City Opera, but was not well received at the time.

The story is simple. Laurie is about to graduate from high school in an unnamed small farming community, and confused about what comes next in her life. Two drifters, Martin and Top, are accepted with suspicion as extra farmhands. When Martin and Laurie are caught kissing, her grandfather flies into a rage. That, combined with Top's common sense, convince Martin that their life as drifters is not a life for Laurie, and the two men run away in the night. Laurie is devastated to find Martin has disappeared, but decides to set out on her own to create her own life.

The most satisfying cast member on Saturday evening was Nikoleta Rallis as Laurie. She has a warm and beautiful voice and uses it skillfully in negotiating challenging tessitura and in communicating text. She is a beautiful young woman and looks the part of Laurie, a very good high school girl. Her biography lists some impressive accomplishments, and I hope to her more from her in the future.

Martin was sung by Daniel Ambe, a young tenor with a very nice voice, but he was not right for the role, or perhaps not ready for it. His performance had many very lovely moments vocally, but also moments where the strain of such a demanding role could be heard. Timothy Bostwick sang the cynical Top well, but needed stronger direction, as did all the singers. I'd like to hear these two men in two years, with more training and experience under their belts.  

Grandpa Moss was sung by Sam Sommers, a more experienced singer brought in from the outside. His sound was rich and sonorous, and he portrayed the alternating emotions of tenderness and anger well. Ma Moss was Viktoriya Nikulina, who has a lovely sound, but whose English was difficult to understand. 

While most of the singing was good, not everything in this production was. The direction by Brooklyn College Opera Theater Director Richard Barrett seemed non-existent. Principals and chorus moved about with no apparent motivation. There were many instances when singers seemed to have been instructed to move to down stage center to sing to the audience, but the movements always seemed arbitrary, with no real indication that the singer was separating physically to focus internally on what he or she was singing. The chorus scenes seemed to have little order to them, and the choreography was at times inappropriate, at times awkward.

The orchestra, conducted by Richard Barrett, was rather ragged. Copland's lovely, soaring unison lines were often far from unison, and his challenging rhythms sounded quite challenging indeed. Costuming was haphazard; Ma Moss's dress was too short, and made her look like a little girl. Laurie's special party dress was not representative of the time – it should not have been sleeveless – and her gingham skirt was not gingham. Although this was a farming community in the 30s or 40s, nary an overall was to be seen on any man. And Laurie's younger sister Beth seemed to be wearing a nightgown for the entire show.

Usually good singing trumps other weaknesses in my book, but I'm not sure that's the case here. I expected so much more.