Tag Archives: bel canto

All About Brenda: Wisconsin coloratura captures Phila’s heart

Operatoonity.com review: Tancredi presented by Opera Philadelphia
Live performance: Friday, February 10, 2017, 8:00 p.m.
Venue: The Academy of Music, Philadelphia
Music’: Gioachini Rossini
Libretto:
Gaetano Rossi
4.0 out of 5.0 stars

4-stars

 

 

 Tancredi opened February 10 with Stephanie Blythe in the title role.

Tancredi opened February 10 with Stephanie Blythe in the title role (but another woman stole the show). | Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia

What could have been sleepy homage to opera seria was instead transformed into a moving, vital production at the Academy of Music last Friday evening. Tancredi captured loads of advance media attention and cachet for Opera Phila, who attracted Metropolitan Opera star Stephanie Blythe to the City of Brotherly Love. Ultimately, Opera Phila’s reproduction will remembered for the virtuoso vocal performance of coloratura soprano Brenda Rae as the lovelorn Amenaide.

Yes, seeing Blythe on the Academy of Music stage was a gift to me and all assembled. Yes, the directorial execution, both beautiful and controlled, by Emilio Sagi was impressive. Yes, Corrado Rovaris, who can conduct anything, has extraordinary facility with the bel canto canon.

But simply put, once the stage fog settled, this production of Tancredi was all about Brenda.

Brenda Rae delivers a show-stealing turn in Opera Phila's Tancredi

Brenda Rae delivers a show-stealing turn in Opera Phila’s Tancredi. | Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia | Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia

Tancredi is hardly the most dynamic of operas and is admittedly flawed–mostly static and plodding in pace. It can’t be the opera on which Rossini wanted to hang his Bombetta–too simple in plot, too staid in tone. The storyline proves barely palatable to progressive women and men in our modern era. Tancredi is a tale extracted from the Middle ages, when the Byzantine Empire was under constant threat of attack from the Saracens. Amenaide is wrongly condemned to death as a traitor without any process, let alone due process. Though her honor is defended by her secret suitor Tancredi, essentially she had no voice, no rights, and no recourse, having been stripped of her stature and dignity without any proof of her treason. Scary? You betcha. Laughably archaic tenets? Don’t we wish!

 At their wedding, Orbazzano (Daniel Mobbs) accuses Amenaide (Brenda Rae) of being a traitor.

At their wedding, Orbazzano (Daniel Mobbs) accuses Amenaide (Brenda Rae) of being a traitor. | Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia

So, the feudal-era mores undergirding the story are tough to stomach despite the setting being updated to the 20th century. In spite of the inherent shortcomings in the work, Tancredi succeeds on the Academy of Music stage as a showcase for superb vocal artistry from a winning cast and chorus: tenor Michele Angelini as Argirio, bass-baritone Daniel Mobbs as Orbazzano, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe singing the title role, and the powerful and versatile Opera Phila Chorus.

But most especially because of Brenda Rae, whose meltingly lovely tone, stunning vocal range, and vocal agility spurred the audience to dozens of “bravas” after aria, each more taxing than the last. Bring this talented performer back to Opera Phila in a stronger show, pretty please.

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Amenaide (Brenda Rae) is released from her chains after Tancredi comes to her defense. | Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia

In the title role of Tancredi, the power of Blythe’s voice sent it right up to the rafters. However, her vocal runs were not as easily accomplished especially when compared to Rae’s facility with Rossini. While it may have been Blythe’s wish fulfillment to play a trouser role with such heft and dimension to it, and it was commendable for Opera Phila to give her the chance to realize the title role in a fully staged production, the reality of singing Tancredi proved a less than perfect picture. Certainly, the voicings in Rae and Blythe’s duetti succeeded, with Rossini pairing soprano and mezzo for optimum effect. But this could not have been the versatile Blythe’s finest turn on stage of late. A solid turn, but not a stellar one.

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Tancredi (Stephanie Blythe) and his family have been stripped of their estates and inheritances and banished from their homeland. | Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia

The patriarchs, despite their provinciality and geopolitical shortcomings, were both a vocal triumph. Both Angelini and Mobbs came to their roles vocally well-equipped for the demands of bel canto. However, the fact that two men were deciding the fate of a powerless woman was not lost on the audience.  One couple at intermission couldn’t help but compare Amenaide’s tribunal to a much-publicized political tableau of six white men deciding women’s reproductive rights. (Though likely an unintended consequence, perhaps thanks are due to Opera Phila for reminding us how deadly the world can be when women have no voice.) More to the point of this exercise, their pairings with Blythe and Rae made for rich and complex trios and quartets.

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Orbazzano (Daniel Mobbs) negotiates a truce with his rival Argirio (Michele Angelini), with whom he has been at war for many years. | Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia

While the director chose not to set the work in the medieval period, citing cost-savings, his choice turned out to be an aesthetically rich. The set combined grandeur with enough flexibility to create the various change in stage sets to support the plot, sweeping and subtly turning back and forth to create fresh staging areas. Sagi and his design principals’ (sets by Daniel Bianco and lighting by Eduardo Bravo) seamless mastery made the reproduction as successful as it could be.

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Tancredi (Stephanie Blythe) dies in the arms of Amenaide (Brenda Rae). | Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia

It may be unfair to have enormous expectations of an opera star like Blythe and few of an up-and-coming soprano like Rae by comparison, and to allow those expectations to guide this review. But that is the beauty and the treachery evident in live performance and reviews by sentimental human critics.

In the final analysis, Tancredi is a solid presentation of a seldom-seen show and deserves to be seen for Rae’s breakout performance, everyone’s vocal calisthenics, beautifully controlled conducting, and clean and sexy staging. The show continues through February 19. More information is available at the Opera Phila website.

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Filed under Bel canto opera, Classic Opera, Reviews, seldom heard works, sopranos

what’s your favorite Donizetti opera?

Gaetano Donizetti

Today is composer Gaetano Donizetti’s birthday!  He was born on November 29, 1797, in Bergamo, Italy.

Some wonderful links to recordings, broadcasts, publications, and performances of Donizetti’s work have been posted at the Donizetti Society web page and a worth a visit.

 To celebrate the occasion of this marvelous opera composer’s birth, I thought would revive my Donizetti poll.

So, gentle readers and bel canto buffs. Would you like to weigh in on your favorite Donizetti opera? Write-ins welcome in the comments, of course.



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Filed under Audience participation, Bel canto opera, Classic Opera, Poll

have you read ‘Bel Canto’?

Editor’s Note: Since I will soon be publishing my own opera novel, I thought I’d repost a review of a very fine, award-winning opera novel.

I don’t do many book reviews on “Operatoonity,” but since we are featuring North American opera this month, I wanted to mention a beautiful read by a North American author that employs classic opera as a backdrop. 

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

The book is called Bel Canto, and for me it was a life-changing read. Bel Canto is a highly acclaimed novel by Ann Patchett that bridges literary and suspense writing. It won both the Orange Prize for fiction and also the Pen/Faulkner Award in 2002. An opera motif is a major thematic thread in the story. 

As you most likely know, “Bel canto” is a term from opera that refers to a style of singing that emphasizes beautiful tone, good phrasing, and a clean articulation of words, popularized in the 19th Century in Europe. 

More than any other single work, his book conveyed to me the importance that opera holds in some people’s lives. Granted, that could be because I’m a writer, and I respond to the language of words before the language of music. 

If you don’t know the book, here’s what it’s about:  

Bel Canto revolves around a famous opera singer who is taken hostage by local insurgents while singing at a private birthday party for a Japanese businessman. The siege takes place in the home of the vice president of an unstable South American country. The kidnappers’ plan is foiled from the beginning—their target—the president of the country is a no-show; he decided not to attend the party after all. So the guerrillas make a list of demands, which neither the police nor the government intend to meet—none of the hostages are very valuable, except for the opera singer. 

This is a character-driven piece of literary fiction with a strong plot. The inciting incident, the siege, is a riveting plot point, setting the stage for deep character development. The end is also gripping. What’s interesting about this book is that language is always in the foreground—that’s what makes it literary. The author doesn’t care whether the reader has any knowledge of opera in building the story—it’s only used as a tool for developing character and plot. 

Bel Canto does an exquisite job conveying there are people around the world with a fervent, even reverent love for opera—that the human voice is a powerful seductress and may be the best and the finest instrument in the world as “played” by some. That listeners have a deep and visceral connection with opera. That certain composers and arias can awaken things in the human soul that other forms of art cannot. And of course, opera celebrates the human voice. No one comes to the opera primarily to hear the orchestra. Opera is also an acquired taste, and I like the way Ann Patchett showed how these characters acquired their love for opera, when it applied, and what about opera and opera singers other characters less familiar with opera came to love. 

If you haven’t read the book and you enjoy both an engrossing read and classic opera, you absolutely must put it on your reading list.

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Filed under Bel canto opera, Classic Opera, North American Opera, Opera fiction

Spanish tenor Albelo replaces JDF in Bellini’s ‘I Puritani’

Celso Albelo replacing JDF in 'I Puritani' this month

Tenor Celso Albelo will travel to Japan this week to take the lead role in the opera I Puritani  vacated by Juan Diego Flórez.

According to his website, Flórez broke a small blood vessel on a vocal cord after swallowing some sea water which is not a serious injury but does preclude him from singing.

Albelo will be touring Japan with the Bologna Teatro Comunale alongside Italian soprano Desirée Rancatore.

The production, written by the quintessential composer of bel canto opera Vincenzo Bellini, will be directed by Pier’Alli and conducted by Michele Mariotti. It will premiere at the Biwako Hall in Otsu on September 11 then on to the Bunka Kaikan in Tokyo for two performances on the 17th and 21st.

Albelo’s tour of Japan precedes a season of European debuts including  performances with the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London (La Sonnambula), the ABAO in Bilbao, (Spain, L’elisir d’amore) and the Valencian Palau de les Arts (Spain, Thäis).

Celso Albelo in I Puritani / photo c. P. Stanzione

Other upcoming performances include a return to Tokyo to give a concert and a trip to Tel Aviv to perform Rossini’s Stabat Mater, as well as returning to La Fenice in
Venice, also with Elisir d’amore.

* * *

For more information about Celso Albelo, visit his website, available in three languages.

 

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Filed under Bel canto opera, opera news, Performers

don’t quote me . . .

Since I featured the novel Bel Canto yesterday, I thought I’d share a quote from the book:

“Try to concentrate on the music. The music is the truth of opera.”
–Ann Patchett

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Filed under Bel canto opera, Classic Opera, opera quotes