Tag Archives: Gioachino Rossini

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

lend me a tenor?

all month on Operatoonity

I’d love to, but you’ll have to be more specific. That’s like a surgeon saying, “Lend me an instrument” when he needs a scalpel.

Since it’s Talented Tenors month, I thought I’d talk about the categories of tenors determined by the range, weight, and color of their voices. Within the operasphere, not only is there ample discussion about all the different vocal types, opera lovers also argue about which singers should be where, which I suppose boils down to which roles do they sing best.

One thing is for certain–tenors know what roles they can sing. They know their categories (their Fach, as its known in German) and so do the opera houses who hire them. Below is one popular categorization of tenors. Where possible I included an opera singer I’ve seen who has been associated with the category.

Juan Diego Flórez, 'Rossini' tenor

Light-lyric tenor–depending on the repertoire, these voices are often called leggiero tenors or “Rossini” tenors. Juan Diego Flórez is one tenor I’ve seen  in the Met’s Le Comte Ory whose name comes up frequently in this category. On his website he refers to himself as a bel canto tenor or one who is ideal for Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini operas. His website says that he has distinguished himself for his  “fluid, expressive singing and dazzling virtuosity.” Now that I’ve heard him in person, I can’t agree more.

Lyric tenor–with not quite the high register of the light-lyric tenor, this voice category is well represented by many beloved roles in opera such as:

Rodolfo, La bohème (Puccini)
Ferrando, Così fan tutte (Mozart)
Elvino, La sonnambula (Bellini)
Ramiro, La Cenerentola (Rossini)
Nemorino, L’elisir d’amore (Donizetti)

David Lomeli

Mexico City native and Operalia winner David Lomeli sings lyric tenor roles. He has garnered critical acclaim for his Rodolfo, which he’s currently singing at the Sante Fe Opera Festival. I saw him sing Nemorino for New York City opera last March, for which he earned rave reviews, including mine.

Lyric-dramatic tenor–while still lyric in nature, this category of singer demands a certain brightness or dramatic color to soar over the orchestra. Light dramatic tenors are often sought for these roles:

Cavaradossi, Tosca (Puccini)
Don José, Carmen (Bizet)
Florestan, Fidelio (Beethoven)
Canio, Pagliacci (Leoncavallo)
Max, Der Freischütz  (von Weber)

Marcelo Àlvarez

Some consider Marcelo Àlvarez a lyric tenor though the weight and color of his voice was ideally suited to singing the role of the artist Cavaradossi at the Met this past winter.

Dramatic tenor–also called tenore di forza in Italian. Dramatic tenor roles that require a spinto quality–an ability to push the voice–so that it sails over heavily-textured orchestral passages. Sometimes this is also called a robusto tenor. Depending on how they are cast, roles can include:

Andrea Chénier in Giordano’s opera of the same name
Don Alvaro, La forza del destino (Verdi)
Otello in Verdi’s opera of the same name

The title role in Verdi’s Ernani and Manrico (Il trovatore, Verdi) were originally considered part of the robusto tenor tradition even though these roles aren’t often cast that way these days.

Salvatore Licitra, tenore di forza

Tenor Salvatore Licitra is commonly identified as a tenore di forza among opera cognoscenti. I had the great pleasure of seeing him sing the role of King Gustav in “A Masked Ball” at Washington National Opera‘s “Opera in the Outfield” a simulcast of the Kennedy Center production in Nationals Park. Besides wowing the crowd with his singing, he proudly donned a Nationals cap at curtain call and will forever be adored by WNO fans who are also Nationals fans.

Stuart Skelton, heldentenor

Heldentenor–this is the dramatic tenor voice of the German repertoire that demands a distinctive ‘ring’ and weight for roles such as:

Siegfried, Der Ring des Nibelungen (Wagner)
Parsifal, Parsifal (Wagner)
Tristan, Tristan und Isolde ( Wagner)
Walther von Stolzing, Die Meistersinger ( Wagner)

Stuart Skelton is widely considered one of the pre-eminent heldentenors of his generation. Though I didn’t see Skelton in ENO’s Parsifal, David Karlin at Bachtrack.com did and said his singing nearly blew the roof off the London Coliseum. See David’s review here.

What about you, Operatoonity readers? Whom have you observed who define this classification? Any delights or surprises? Do you have a favorite type of tenor voice?

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Filed under Performers, tenors, Terminology

opera or Broadway?

I got lucky earlier this month when I went to the Big Apple. I didn’t have to choose between seeing an opera or Broadway show. I packed them both in one day–Ariadne auf Naxos at the Met and Anything Goes at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre later that night. I realize I was fortunate to have seen both. Today’s theatre prices might have demanded I choose.  No, I’m not independently wealthy. I hadn’t seen a Broadway play since 2008.    

Surprising, really, for someone whose early ambition was to be on Broadway, that I would rather travel to New York to see opera than catch the hottest Broadway show. Stunning, considering I never used to miss the Tony Awards and always tried to pick the winners ahead of time, always knowing most of the contenders. Now, I have a strong command of many of the names and personalities you’re likely to see at the Met and other houses in addition to the roles they are playing. And let’s not forget who’s doing what–thanks to Bachtrack.com, which I consult regularly. Yet I couldn’t tell you more than a handful of details about the current slate of shows on the Great White Way.     

I enjoyed both productions though perhaps not equally. The point of this post isn’t really to pit opera against Broadway and make the reader choose. The point is to tell you that I think my love affair with Broadway has ended–and that I have a new love interest. Begins with an “o.” Ends in an “a.” Five letters.    

No, it’s not Omaha.    

It’s opera, of course. But why? Because it is so damn difficult to sing and to present. And the performers and houses that do it well make an art form that requires consummate skill and knowhow look easy, like you should try it at home.    

Unless you are a trained professional, don’t even attempt opera singing. You might kill yourself. Or the people living with you, if you persist.    

I won’t go into the reasons why I didn’t pursue that Broadway career. Had life circumstances not changed my path radically, I think I might have made it. I did have talent way back when. Whereas I never could’ve sung opera professionally. Too difficult. It requires too much discipline to study and perform.    

Damrau, Florez, and DiDonota in Le Comte Ory

Too much vocal skill. Skill and vocal calisthenics that many Broadway performers would have a hard time matching–certainly not night after night, performance after performance. Right now, I’m remembering the bedroom scene during Act II of the Metropolitan Opera’s Le Comte Ory. Not only are the three principals acting–deftly–with broad comic timing. They are also singing Rossini at the same time. Rossini. As I said in my review on Le Comte Ory for Bachtrack, “The tryst scene in Act II in which Diego Flórez, Damrau, and DiDonato sing ‘À la faveur de cette nuit obscure’ was the ideal synthesis of song and performance.”   

I’ve never seen Rent and doubt I ever will. The last thing I want is to pay heapum lottum money to be serenaded by an audience of Rent-heads.    

Given the chance to see another professional production of La bohème, I’m there faster than you can say, “Mimi.”

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COC mounts ‘Cenerentola’ with sensational cast . . . and cute contest!

Lawrence Brownlee (foreground) as Don Ramiro in ‘La Cenerentola’

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee as the Prince? Elizabeth DeShong as Cinderella? The two talents together singing classic Rossini?  North American opera simply doesn’t get much better than that.

The Canadian Opera Company’s (COC) spring 2010/2011 season opens with Gioacchino Rossini’s Cinderella (La Cenerentola) featuring a glittering cast in a whimsical rendition. La Cenerentola, an opera for all ages, was created by the Spanish artist collective Els Comediants and led by director Joan Font. Leading the COC Orchestra and Chorus is rising young Italian conductor Leonardo Vordoni, recognized across the United States and abroad for his interpretation of the Italian repertoire.  

COC’s production also includes a Cinderella Outfit Challenge called “Send your Doll to the Ball!” (My aunt and grandmother used to crochet outfits for my Barbie. Is this contest a way cute idea or what?)

Inspired by the crocheted dress-wearing doll used in the creative campaign of the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Cinderella, the opera company launches the Cinderella Outfit Challenge. The gauntlet has been thrown to designers, fashionistas, and those handy with a needle and thread to create a doll’s hand-crafted costume inspired by the classic fairytale.

Participants who submit a photo of their homemade doll costume, inspired by Cinderella, will have a chance to win a prize package including four tickets (plus lounge pass and drink tickets) to the opening night of the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Cinderella (La Cenerentola), an overnight stay at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Toronto, a gift basket from Cheese Boutique valued at $200, and a chance to meet the members of the cast after the performance.

Sung in Italian, Cinderella runs for nine performances at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts on April 23, 28, May 1, 7, 10, 13, 19, 22 and 25, 2011.

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, North American Opera, opera firsts

Rossini’s opinion of Mozart … an Operatoonity Tiny Tale

Someone  asked Gioacchino Rossini who was the greatest musician.

“Beethoven,” came the reply.

“What of Mozart then?”

“Oh, Mozart is not the greatest musician,” Rossini said. “He is the only.”

*Rossini  wrote 39 operas as well as sacred music, and chamber music. He was born in 1792, one year after Mozart died.

 

(adapted from Opera Anecdotes by Ethan Mordden)

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