Monday, March 21, 2011

PONY Express

Several years ago, when dear hubby and I hadn't been together that long (it will be six years next month), he took me to some sort of popular entertainment, at the end of which I turned to him and said, "You owe me so many Baroque operas now!" Well, a few weeks ago we saw the Metropolitan Opera's HD broadcast of Iphigénie en Tauride*, and today we saw Pocket Opera New York's production of Mr. Handel's Alcina. Hubby's debt is paid in full.

This is not to suggest that either experience was a chore for him. The moment has passed to write anything about Iph, but I'll state without hesitation that Susan Graham and Placido Domingo can both sing over colds and sound like nothing is wrong. And that there are web sites devoted to the kind of close friendship with large age differential that the Pylade and Oreste of Paul Groves and Placido Domingo shared.

The focus of this weekend was Baroque, with Pocket Opera NY's performances of Alcina on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, March 17-20, an a concert on Friday, March 18, called "A Baroque Evening". We enjoyed the Sunday performance of Alcina, after having heard the Baroque evening on Friday.

Friday night's Baroque concert evening found me once again crying to the heavens, "How many times must I see a countertenor in shiny pants atop a ladder?" The countertenor in the shiny pants, Nicholas Tamagna, was one of the highlights of the evening, with two beautifully sung arias and a duet. Other highlights include mezzo Kirsten Sollek, who gave us, among other things, a moving "Es ist vollbracht" from Mr. Bach's St. John Passion (I don't get how it fits into an evening of Baroque opera either, but it was beautiful), and Sharon I-Chung Chen, who displayed comic talent and dazzling high notes in her two arias. The undisputed star of Friday night's concert, however, was Sarah Moulton Faux's dress. She is a beautiful young woman who can sing and act very well, and has a couple of other talents to recommend her. I did wonder if the arias she performed so well really gave us a full picture of her voice. I hope to hear more of her in the future. Frantic musical direction for the evening was by Wei-En Hsu from the harpsichord. Confusing stage direction by Isabel Milenski.

Onward to Alcina, Mr. Handel's opera of 1735. The story is one of those convoluted mythological stories about magical islands and sorceresses and countertenors in shiny pants. OK, maybe not the last part--the countertenor wore black pants this time. As Ruggiero, the knight who has been shipwrecked on Alcina's island and fallen under her spell, Mr. Tamagna sang beautifully and acted Ruggiero's many emotions, from the most base and vulgar lust to passionate love for Alcina while under her spell to deep remorse when he comes to his senses. Alcina herself was sung with great depth of feeling and beauty by Tanya Roberts. One doesn't need to be an island-owning sorceress to foresee a bright future for both of these stars. (Although I wouldn't mind trying it. Owning an island I mean. Sorcery per se is so tired.)

It's hard to name other standouts in the cast, since they were almost uniformly good and at nearly the same level of technical mastery and commitment to their roles. I was especially fond of the Bradamante of Solange Merdinian. Bradamante's tutor Melisso was well sung by Matthew Royal. Tenor Donald Groves has a voice bigger than what one normally associates with Handel, but managed the technical difficulties and acted the injured Oronte with great commitment. Soprano Claire Kuttler's role of Oberto was too brief. One wanted to hear more of her. Musical direction was by Jorge Parodi.

The original opera is quite long--remember audiences of that time didn't sit in their seats for the entire performance, but rather came and went as they pleased--but director Erwin Maas made some judicious cuts to keep the actual performing time to approximately two hours plus intermission. This reporter, although not an expert in such matters, didn't notice any gaping holes in the narrative created by these cuts. In the opening scenes Mr. Maas made certain we all clearly understood the level of wantonness and debasement those who found themselves on Alcina's island were subjected to under her spell. The dress was current, a way smaller opera companies often avoid costume rental fees, but in truth, period costumes--either from Mr. Handel's time or from the time of the Crusades, when the story's source Orlando Furioso is set--would have gotten in the way of Mr. Maas's direction. Which, on the whole, I got. I got the relationship between clothing and respectability. I got the whole wanton lust bit much more than I really wanted to. I didn't quite understand why everyone held a dagger in every scene. I also didn't quite understand why Alcina's sister Morgana, herself a temptress, was wearing a cardigan. I'm sure someone will post a comment anonymously to enlightlen me.

*Yes, I know Iphigénie was first performed in 1779, too late to be Baroque, but it's before Mozart hit the big time, so it counts. In my mind, at least.

1 comment:

Abigail said...

Love your reviews, you bring the performances to life with wonderful humor. Glad to hear you liked Kirsten Sollek - she's one of the soloists in the Bach B Minor Mass with Riverside Choral Society in May and I'm looking forward to hearing her (even though I'll be standing behind her in the chorus).