Sunday, July 25, 2010

Speak softer--Mother will hear!

No, that is not what dear hubby tells hangers-on when your intrepid report has a sick headache! The two of us trekked up to Caramoor again on Saturday evening to hear more bel canto opera. The opera in question is Mr. Donizetti's rarely performed Maria di Rohan, which I had been confusing all week with Mr. Rossini's rarely performed Matilde di Shabran. (Considering my voice teacher told me yesterday that, with my voice, I should be writing reviews professionally, I'd better up my scholarship a little bit! ) It was a very hot evening, but fortunately the program was a very good fan.

The program also had other uses. The Wikipedia link above for Maria di Rohan is practically useless, so we must thank the Lawd God Margarettm for the program notes (here) of amazing musicologist Philip Gossett and Caramoor opera director Will Crutchfield. The plot has some similarities to Roberto Devereux, the Munich production of which I recently reviewed here. Maria married the Duke of Chevreuse (baritone) secretly, although she still loved former main squeeze Count of Chalais (tenor, of course). Political intrigue ensues. Chevreuse learns of Maria's and Chalais's former relationship, thinks it's still going on, throws Chalais to the political wolves through his inaction when he could have saved him, and basically prepares Maria to live in misery the rest of her life at his sadistic hands and words.

The star of the evening was the lovely Photo of Jennifer Rowley by Devon Cass.  Courtesy jenniferrowley.comJennifer Rowley, Caramoor young artist and cover for the role of Maria, who stepped in when the original star Takesha Meshé Kizart (self-indulgent article here) cancelled due to illness on Friday. (Acres of snark here.) The role of Maria is demanding and far-reaching, a typical bel canto lead soprano role. Extremes of range, dramatic impact, and coloratura are expected. Although in her first aria and cabaletta Miss Rowley seemed the slightest bit tentative--wouldn't you be, with only one rehearsal?--once she got her feet under her she was balls-to-the-wall (or whatever the soprano equivalent is) the entire evening. Miss Rowley has a beautiful vocal color, an even scale, and technique for days. She portrayed the multi-faceted role of Maria convincingly and with complete commitment. I hope that this high-profile surprise debut launches a far-reaching and successful career.

And her dress was beautiful and completely appropriate.

Photo by Rob Moore; Courtesy imgartists.comI'd been quite looking forward to hearing Luciano Botelho, a handsome young Brazilian tenor whose star is rising. I must say when he stepped onstage I had another reason to fan myself! Mr. Botelho has a beautiful, light, lyric voice. He has some perfectly beautiful audio and video clips on YouTube. I think Mr. Botelho sang well, but I also think he was miscast in this role. His sound is sweet and lyrical, and the role of Chalais requires a little more of a stentorian sound. I fear Mr. Botelho might do himself a mischief if he continues with roles a little too big like this. The lighter bel canto roles are perfect for him, as is anything Mozart. That said, he did an admirable job, and certainly acted the role well.

And he needs his mommy to shorten his coat sleeves.

The Duke of Chevreuse was played by baritone Scott Bearden. I found his singing a little uneven in Act I, but it seemed like he warmed up as the evening wore on. He certainly was convincing as the wronged husband. Oh my, yes! I don't want to meet him in a dark alley! (I must say I do have friends who would want to meet Mr. Bearden in a dark alley, and would take delight in his name: bear den. It suits him.)

Hearing the amazing music and seeing the riveting drama of this opera, I will state without hesitation that this is one rarely-performed opera that does not deserve to languish in obscurity. I often forget to credit a librettist, but in this case Mr. Cammarano deserves great praise. There are terrific arias, but the ensembles are simply amazing. The scenes between Maria, Chalais, and Chevreuse are rife with pain and drama. The scene in which Chevreuse urges Chalais to hurry to an arranged duel (snarky pants mezzo Gondi had cast aspersions on Maria's character, so Chalais demanded satisfaction) or risk dishonor contains at least three meanings for different instances of the exhortation "Speak softer--Mother will hear!" Very clever indeed!

A note about the acoustics of this venue. I found the sound in the cheap seats for Norma two weeks ago quite different from the sound I later heard on YouTube. My opinions of various singers held up, but the sound was quite different. The sound Saturday evening different still, possibly having to do with the sound system. I eagerly await the YouTube clips that you know will pop up.

Another delightful night at the opera. I don't expect to attend any more outdoor performances this summer, which is a good thing. I will, however, keep you, my loyal public, up to date with my comings and goings.

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