Dulce Rosa, a brand new opera, had its world premiere Friday night, May 17, 2013 at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, California. It was produced by Los Angeles Opera, but staged in the smaller theater. The opera is based on Isabel Allende’s short story, Una Venganza, (An Act of Vengeance). She wrote it some thirty years ago, at a time when people were attempting to understand the Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological phenomenon that causes hostages to have positive feelings toward their captors. The opera’s heroine, Dulce Rosa, is raped by a Tadeo Cespedes, a high-ranking soldier who kept her alive during an invasion when other women were being killed. Rosa’s father was going to kill her himself, but she promised him that she would wreak vengeance on her abusers if she was allowed to live.
Eventually, she developed some affectionate feelings for Tadeo, despite her attempts to dispel them. Sometime before her ordeal she had become engaged to Tomas, a medical student who went to the United States to study. Returning after the war, he wants to marry her but she gives him back his ring. When she shows her preference for Tadeo, Tomas pulls out a gun and aims for the soldier but kills Rosa. Actually, in Allende’s original, Rosa commits suicide, but librettist and stage director Richard Sparks changed it for the opera. It is a sad story from Latin America in the 1950s, but its dramatic situations work very well onstage. Sparks did not ask the singers to do very much acting and there really could have been a great deal more action, but the story was well told and the music was delightful.
Composer Lee Holdridge has written a tonal, melodic opera with an interesting, complex orchestration. Holdridge is obviously a follower of Puccini. His music is a little bit like that of the late Daniel Catan, but with a stronger string component. Interspersed in the drama is some affecting Church music that adds solemnity and historical context, while offering a bit of respite from the drama. Most of the scenery for the production was composed of Jenny Okun’s projections which were focused on a simple arch with two upper windows designed by Yael Pardess. She projected the lush scenery of a South American spring, stained glass church windows, the devastation of war and the beginning of a post-war rebirth. Anne Militello’s lighting designs added greatly to the ambience seen on stage. Durinda Wood’s costumes were a mixture of Latin American folk dress, army uniforms, and 1950s street and formal clothing.
The most important aspect of this performance was the singing. Uruguayan soprano Maria Antúnez not only has sterling silver high notes, she also has a warm, creamy middle register. Tall and slim, she was a most believable Rosa. In truth, she is an excellent new artist whom I hope to hear in other roles as well. Greg Fedderly, whose voice seems to have grown as of late, was Rosa’s overbearing father. In Act I his tones were warm and his nature inviting. When he returned as a ghost in Act II, he was an avenging angel who even threatened his daughter. Like many starring sopranos, Rosa has a mezzo-soprano companion. Sung passionately by Peabody Southwell, Inez not only provided pleasant harmonies, but also an occasional Allende one-liner.
Warm voiced tenor, Benjamin Bliss, soon to sing Alfredo in La Traviata, was the disappointed fiancé who returns to find that his Rosa has become an entirely different person. Dark voiced Mexican baritone Alfredo Daza was the sexy bad boy who eventually won Rosa’s heart. He made Tadeo an intriguing character and probably won a few hearts in the audience as well. In the middle of war and conflict of emotions, the politician Aguilar, sung and acted most effectively by Craig Colclough, played both sides against each other and gained high office. His character was one we know all too well. Grant Gershon’s chorus was usually heard singing Holdridge’s charming Church music. Plácido Domingo conducted the moderate sized orchestra, bringing out Holdridge’s complex, nuanced melodies and the dramatic tonal language that supported Sparks’ text. Although the performances in Santa Monica are sung in English, a Spanish translation will soon be ready. Dulce Rosa is at the Broad Stage through June seventh.
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