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99-year-old opera gets US debut

Though Antonio Carlos Gomes looms small in musical annals, the Rio de Janeiro-born composer wrote eight operas, some of which became popular in Italy. Amato Opera Theatre's US premi`ere of his 1889 work ``Lo Schiavo'' (``The Slave''), at Marymount Manhattan Theatre, reveals an opera of skill, melodic inspiration, and a rousing sense of theater.

Richard Cerullo's vivid, colorful design sets a suitably exotic Brazilian mood for this story of interracial love between a slave and her owner's son. Gomes has written a grand opera, full of stirring music that, on occasion, shows a debt to other composers, but is also irresistibly effective.

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Amato's student orchestra responds to his enthusiastic direction in kind. The cast performs with the sort of spontaneity and fresh commitment that is too often missing on our major stages. The production, which continues through Sunday, shows this deserves a wider hearing.

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