Tag Archives: Donizetti

Voices in ‘Siege’ Set Glimmerglass Stage Spinning

Operatoonity.com reviewThe Siege of Calais presented by Glimmerglass Festival
Live performance: Monday, July 24, 1:30 p.m.
Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, New York
Music: Gaetano Donizetti
Libretto: Salvadore Cammarano
3.5 out of 5.0 stars

 

 

The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2017 production of the American premiere of Donizetti’s “The Siege of Calais.” Photo: Carrington Spires/The Glimmerglass Festival

This summer Glimmerglass Festival took on a seldom-seen Donizetti work, The Siege of Calais. To their credit, the production dramatically underscored the centuries’ old adage: “War is Hell,” famously attributed to General Sherman during the U.S. Civil War. How many times has that sentiment been uttered by not-so-famous conquerors and conquests alike? Many of us are thankfully spared the scope of war’s true horrors.

The Festival’s Calais reminds us the devastation caused by war is as real today as when that siege occurred on the port city on the Northern coast of France during 14th century. Director Francesca Zambello sought to connect the crisis in medieval Calais to war-torn Syria in this century. A blockade ordered by Edward III resulted in besieged civilians lived in abject agony with no fresh food or water–some of who resisted, many of whom had no hope. Her association was apt and the message received.

“The Siege of Calais” | Photo: Carrington Spires/The Glimmerglass Festival

The functionality of the spinning set mirrored the vicious cycle that ensnares those living in war-torn towns and cities, past and present. A towering ruin slowly whirled around to reveal the bombed-out shell of a building, just different faces of the structure depending on the degree of rotation. Each turn showed the audience facets of a town where no one would have chosen to live but who lived there just the same.

The leading roles in this work were both sung by women, soprano Leah Crocetto and mezzo Aleks Romano, with Romano singing a trouser role. During the show talk, the presenter said the Donizetti, who wrote many more operas besides the ones most people know, always wrote to the talent pool available and that no tenors impressed him at the time. For that reason, he made the male lead a mezzo. The show is also not a prima donna-centric work–no opening aria signalling, “Hey, operagoers. I’m the reason for attending this show. Here’s my opening aria.” That choice made it unpopular and almost uncastable.

So Calais did not follow the expected formula of the time to attract the most highly touted sopranos in Donizetti’s day, but this production certainly featured a classically talented prima donna in Crocetto.

Leah Crocetto as Eleanora in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2017 production of the American premiere of Donizetti’s “The Siege of Calais.” Photo: Carrington Spires/The Glimmerglass Festival

The garbage-strewn stage stands at odds with a bel canto style opera. It is Crocetto’s powerful and pure soprano voice that ushers in the bel canto, the beautiful singing, the opera requires. Her performance was rich and nuanced. While evidencing genuine despair, frustration, loss, and other strong emotions, her technique never faltered.

Aleks Romano as Aurelio, Rock Lasky as Filippo, and Leah Crocetto as Eleonora in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2017 production of the American premiere of Donizetti’s “The Siege of Calais.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Cast as wife and husband, together she and Romano sang beautifully and believably all the music Donizetti created for two complementary women’s voices.

Aleks Romano as Aurelio in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2017 production of the American premiere of Donizetti’s “The Siege of Calais.” Photo: Carrington Spires/The Glimmerglass Festival

A trouser role in a dramatic opera is a devilishy difficult role to play just right. As Aurelio, Romano had the appropriate amount of swagger and male physicality to suspend our disbelief that these two characters deeply loved one another as man and wife. Her voice was a strong and facile instrument, which sounded at its most beautiful when paired with Crocetto’s.

Young Artist Adrian Timpau delivered an outstanding turn as Aurelio’s father, Eustachio de Saint Pierre, mayor of Calais. He sang the role with gravity and sensitivity, never losing his conviction, despite the odds of saving his town mounting with each day his war-torn city is under siege.

Adrian Timpau as Eustachio de Saint-Pierre in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2017 production of the American premiere of Donizetti’s “The Siege of Calais.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass

Under Maestro Joseph Colaneri’s baton, the orchestra is in fine and varied form–brassy and militaristic, and at other times, pensive and atmospheric, matching the emotions on stage.

In this piece, Donizetti opted for more ensemble numbers than arias, and all rang gloriously throughout the house. After all, resistance makes for impassioned singing and captivating choruses.

In sum, directorial vision was sound, the staging and lighting were arresting, and the voices soared. So, why 3.5 out of 5.0 stars? Sometimes, pieces fade in the repertoire because they should fade, because they are flawed. They lack excitement, memorable music, and sufficient onstage action.

A convention hailing back to the Ancient Greeks of never showing audience violence onstage, but rather, speaking of it once the deadly deed has been done, handicaps theatrical works presented in the 21st century. It may have been a convention honored by Donizetti, but it is far less appreciated by today’s audiences, sorry to say.

When the piece premiered in 1836, it included a lengthy ballet–a device Donizetti hoped would provide its entré to the Paris Opera. Thankfully Glimmerglass jetéd his ballet scene. If this opera tended to be dull without a ballet, imagine the piece with one!

It was a noble intention to breathe new life into this rarely done work. Sometimes good intentions just aren’t enough.

* * *

Plenty of Glimmerglass Festival remains through August 22. See the Festival Calendar for all the events that remain this season.

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Filed under Bel canto opera, Festival Opera, Italian opera, North American Opera, Regional opera, Reviews, seldom heard works, sopranos, young artists programs

Opera Phila’s ‘Elixir’: Just What the Doctor Ordered

Operatoonity.com review: The Elixir of Love presented by Opera Philadelphia
Composer: Gaetano Donizetti with text by Felice Romani
Live performance: Sunday, May 8, 2016
The Academy of Music, Philadelphia
4-stars

 

Opera Philadelphia closed its mainstage season with the potboiler The Elixir of Love. The show was rollocking good fun, and, a lot like the last professional Elixir I saw at New York City Opera in 2009, the production ushered a rising star into the opera firmament. In 2009, that star of the NYCO show was David Lomeli as the lovestruck Nemorino. In Opera Phila’s version, the luminous soprano Sarah Shafer, a Curtis Institute of Music graduate from State College, Pennsylvania, ensconced herself as a talent to remember:

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Sarah Shafer as the petulant, flirty Adina was a standout in Opera Phila’s springtime show. Photos courtesy of Opera Philadelphia

In this version, Adina was a country schoolteacher in the 1940s after WWII, who opens the show by telling pupils and villagers all about Isolde falling for Tristan after he drinks the magic potion in the classic myth. Had she been asked to portray Adina as a fishwife, GI Jane, or a blood-soaked zombie, nothing could have diminished her impact on this production. The audience hung on Shafer’s every note, from her first appearance in Act I until her Act II aria “Prendi per me sei libero…,” a glorious version, easily sustaining the legato passages, and effortlessly reaching her top notes with the clarity and sweetness of a silver bell. She is a preeminent lyric soprano and poised for even greater roles and stages.

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Tenor Dimitris Pittas sang the role of Nemorino

As the lovestruck Nemorino, New York tenor Dimitris Pittas showed off his stellar comic timing. He was a lovable, empathetic schlub for most of the show, which is most of what is required of the role. According to a press release dated April 21, Pittas stepped into the role only a week before the show opened because the previous tenor was stricken ill. Carrying the lead role on such short notice deserves recognition. However, this reviewer can only critique the show she saw. Pittas was handed the aria of a lifetime in “Una Furtiva Lagrima,” which was a fine vocal showcase for him but not the showstopper I had hoped for. Pittas absolutely did a serviceable job and after his noteable performance in Opera Phila’s Don Carlo, I hope to see him again soon, perhaps in the 2016-17 season.

Baritone Craig Verm as Belcore

Baritone Craig Verm as Belcore

If Donizetti handed Nemorino the aria of a lifetime, then he bestows the comic role of a lifetime on the opera singer who portrays Sergeant Belcore. Belcore is an over-the-top character. To perform the role with too much swagger is probably impossible. While baritone Craig Verm was amusing and well caricatured, I was *selfishly* hoping for a bigger overall performance to contrast with Nemorino’s ingrained schlubiness, like Brutus to Wimpy. Verm sang the role well and cut a handsome figure. Coming into the show, I came down with a bit of a fever, however, a fever for some beloved Elixirs of years gone by. The only prescription would have been more swagger from Belcore.

Kevin Burdette as Doctor Dulcamara

Kevin Burdette as Doctor Dulcamara

One of my favorite Phila Opera regulars is Kevin Burdette. I have seen him excel in a range of parts. He can be menacing (Dark Sisters) and he can also be knee-slappingly funny (The Barber of Seville). Lately he has been handed several funnyman roles in Opera Phila productions and never disappoints. His characterization while singing contrapuntal patter passages was praiseworthy. Burdette won’t sacrifice one bit of his character to achieve operatic heights and this reviewer deeply appreciates his total immersion into character.

The controlling concept–an Italian countryside tale post-WWII–lent itself to some clever set devices, including the quaint billboard on which numerous images revolved. Kudos to all the behind-the-scenes talent, all of whom were Opera Phila newcomers, who made this a successful show–Director Stephen Lawless, Set Designer & Costumer Ashley Martin-Davis, and Lighting Designer Pat Collins.

In the background is the colorful period billboard promoting olive oil

In the background is the colorful, period billboard promoting olive oil

It seems like the orchestra and chorus always get mentioned in the last portion of my reviews. In the scoring of Elixir, Donizetti himself made his orchestra serve the singers rather than the other way around. In the production notes, conductor Corrado Rovaris says he sought to draw out all the emotional colors in this opera, including melancholy, which he readily accomplished. I have come to appreciate that Rovaris can conduct anything with aplomb and surrounds himself with talented, versatile musicians, coaxing many diverse sounds and styles from them, time and time again.

Overall, this was another winning production from a winning company featuring some new backstage blood and capitalizing on the talents of opera performers in Opera Phila’s growing stable of first-rate performers. I look forward to Opera Phila’s enterprising 2016-17 season, and hope to have the privilege to bring you more Operatoonity.com reviews next year.

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Filed under Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Live opera performance, North American Opera, Reviews, sopranos

two top contemporary tenors!

One of my most popular posts on “Operatoonity” is called Today’s Top Tenors, a somewhat informal and exhaustive listing of purportedly the best tenors performing in the greatest houses in the world today. I created the list since I couldn’t find one on the Internet that was anywhere near up to date.

Since I posted it almost 18 months ago, “Today’s Top Tenors” has had more than 23,000 visits. And it attracts a lot of commenters as well, who are very well behaved, most of the time.

My latest commenter, who was in fact polite, nonetheless lamented in essence that he thinks the Golden Age of Tenors is behind us. And while he is certainly entitled to his opinion, which I am happy to post, I wanted him to know that he need lament no more.

I’m here, dear readers, with glad tidings of great joy. Ring out the opera bells! The Golden Age of Tenors is actually ahead of us–for decades to come.

And here’s two golden reasons why: David Lomelí and René Barbera. 

David Lomelí, Operalia winner, 2006

René Barbera, 2011 Operalia winner

Both young men (and I DO mean young) are past winners of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, an international opera competition for rising stars, both were featured here on Operatoonity (David and René), and (drumroll, please) both were just profiled in Opera News’ Sound Bites in the past year:

Click here for David’s Sound Bites profile.

Click here for René’s Sound Bites profile.

I haven’t yet had the privilege of seeing René perform in person, but I have watched every videotaped performance of his available, including his winning performance of “Ah Mes Amis” from The Daughter of the Regiment during the Operalia competition.

Here is René’s winning performance captured on YouTube  below, where he absolutely lasers all those top C’s. I can’t imagine Donizetti himself wasn’t smiling at this performance, never thinking any tenor would someday hit those notes straight on from the top rather scooping up to them in a yodel. I can’t help myself. I find myself clapping with joy every time I listen, as if I were in that Operalia audience, too.

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In 2010, I had the extraordinary privilege of seeing David Lomelí starring in The Elixir of Love at New York City Opera, Lincoln Center.  He was absolutely captivating in the role of Nemorino, skewering all of our hearts with his sheer artistry and abundant energy. He leaves everything on stage when he performs. He doesn’t know the meaning of marking a performance. He stopped the show with “Una furtiva lagrima”–literally. The audience applauded for at least 3o seconds during a matinee! You can read more about what I thought of David’s performance at my Bachtrack review of Elixir.

In the meantime, here is one of my favorite YouTube recordings of David singing “Nessun Dorma”:

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So, for the kindly commenter yearning for the Golden Age of Tenors, yearn no more, my friend.

A new age is just beginning. Oh, and a new list.

 

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, artists, Bel canto opera, opera competitions, tenors, Uncategorized

This. Is. Jeopardy.

Want to play along?

“Quotes by operatic composers for $800, Alex.”
“Answer?” says Alex.

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Filed under opera firsts, opera parody

“Love Potion No. 9” meets “Jack in the Beanstalk” in an 18th century Italian village

As promised, today we’ll take a closer look at L’elisir d’amore by Gaetano Donizetti. It is an opera bouffe, or classic opera known for elements of comedy, satire, parody and farce. According to Opera America it is one of the top 20 most-often performed operas in North America.

And why not? Isn’t the premise a winning one? A peasant falls for a woman who is out of his league and buys a love potion with all the money he has (think magic beans) so that she will fall for him. He buys the potion, which is really cheap wine, and drinks all of it, believing he has just ingested the elixir of love. When he sees Adina weeping, he knows that she has fallen in love with him and that the  elixir works.

The opera contains the popular, “Una furtiva lagrima” (A furtive tear), which is one of the most famous and often-excerpted arias in all of opera and has been sung by the likes of Enrico Caruso, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, and every other tenor of consequence in the opera firmament.

You might enjoy watching Rolando Villazón, a Mexican-born tenor and one of the top young guns in the present day international opera circuit, singing  “Una furtiva lagrima.” I love how expressive his face–his eyebrows are when he sings and that he conveys the emotion of the song through his whole body. No stone statue singing, not for Villazón. Also, the scenery is picturesque. The opera is sometimes updated, for instance, San Francisco Opera recast the show in the Napa Valley, circa 1915. Sometimes a traditional approach, as was used in Vienna production featured below, is quite winning. And holy smokes, what an ovation he gets! So glad it’s included in the clip. It makes you feel like you are there.

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Filed under Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Performers, Terminology