Monday, March 21, 2016

More Donizetti at Amore Opera

Robert Garner and Jessica Sandidge
Photo:  Hiroko Matsuike, NY Times
On Sunday afternoon I saw the second Donizetti opera presented in repertory by Amore Opera, Poliuto. This is the first time since 1859 the opera has been staged in the US, apparently. Even in Europe, it appears it's only brought out and dusted off as a star vehicle. It's a typically convoluted story, including the expected love triangle--usually the protagonist has gone off to fight a war, conquer the New World, get some slightly salted butter at Sainsbury's*--whatever it takes to get him out of the way for a while--and while he's gone his main squeeze is told he's dead and is coerced into marrying someone else. The protagonist always comes back, and hijinks ensue. In Poliuto, add the element of Christian converts in the 3rd century Roman Empire, and it's magic! Consider the confusing fact that Poliuto, while a tenor, is the one the girl has been forced to marry, and the lover who's gone off slaying dragons is a baritone. Clearly some operatic conventions were not completely settled in the 1830s.

Paolo Buffagni
Photo:  Amore Opera
We need three great singers as the love triangle, and the cast I saw on Sunday were just what the critic ordered. In fact, it would not surprise me to see all three moving up to higher-profile (and higher paying) opera engagements very soon. The typical Donizetti soprano heroine requires range, power, agility, and expression, and we were pleased with all of these in Jessica Sandidge's Paolina. As with her other two triangle-mates, she started in a good place vocally and improved as the performance continued and she warmed up even more. She has a genuinely beautiful sound throughout her voice and is also a beautiful young woman. Poliuto, the man Paolina had been forced to marry, was quite ably sung by the handsome Italian tenor Paolo Buffagni. Powerful high notes and an assured, manly presence were what gave Mr. Buffagni the authority to carry an eponymous role like Poliuto. I do hope to see and hear more from him in the future, associated with bigger opera companies.

Robert Garner
Photo:  Amore Opera
For me the star of the afternoon was Robert Garner as Severo, Paolina's boyfriend who was reported to be dead. He has now come back as the Roman Proconsul. This is a baritone with rich sound, highly accomplished characterization, and good looks. His bio-blurb suggests a level of stability as a member of the Metropolitan Opera's extra chorus that singers pray for, but I do hope that won't preclude him from seeking bigger and better solo work.

Comparisons between Poliuto and L'Elisir d'Amore, the other Donizetti opera that Amore Opera was performing concurrently, are inevitable. Same opera company, same conductor and director (Daniele Tirilli and Nathan Hull, respectively), much of the same orchestra and chorus--it can't be avoided. Based on the performances I saw, this appeared to be the show that had more attention and rehearsal time. The Elixir orchestra was ragged while the Poliuto orchestra was much more together. Casting riches were directed toward Poliuto--I liked every singer I heard in Poliuto, while this is not the case with Elixir. (For the record, I stated that Elixir's Nemorino and Adina were really very good, and I stand by that statement.)

I enjoyed both operas in Amore Opera's Donizetti sort-of-festival, and don't wish to appear to say otherwise. I'm only sad that Sunday afternoon was the last performance. Ah well, there are other houses in town performing Donizetti this month, one hears. I wonder how those will go.

*The first person who identifies this reference goes to the opera with me when I get a pair of comps to something local.

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