Ars Minerva is a new San Francisco based company that is presenting the Carnival Series Project: music that was played during the seventeenth century Venetian season of Carnevale, the name of which means goodbye to meat. This time of year culminated in Martedi Grasso (Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday) the day before Ash Wednesday, which begins the penitential season of Lent. Carnevale di Venezia was famous not only for its music but also for its elaborate masks, facsimiles of which were on view in the lobby of the Marines Memorial Theater at La Cleopatra.
On March 14 and 15, 2015, Céline Ricci directed the up-to-date, realistic action of Castrovillari’s timeless opera. I saw the matinee performance on the fifteenth. The stage design by Matthew Holmes consisted of necessary pieces of furniture and a screen on which scenic elements were projected as though reflected in an imaginary pool. Together with Brian Poedy’s lighting, each scene was effectively put in its correct setting. Ricci was a glorious Queen Cleopatra whose regal persona turned romantic when she was with Marc Antonio. Vocally, she endowed her music with a wide variety of colors while conveying every emotional expression from protestations of love to death threats.
In this piece, Marc Antonio, sung with a secure line by countertenor Randall Scotting, was a straying husband whose wife, Ottavia, was anything but a wilting flower. Nell Snaidas sang Ottavia with power and passion as she tried to persuade a servant to kill the queen. Igor Viera, dressed in rough clothing and a grass hat, sang Clisterno with a robust sound. Together with Michael Desnoyers as the smart-mouthed, cross dressing elderly servant, Filenia, he brought moments of comic relief to this otherwise dramatic story.
Jennifer Ellis Kampani sang Coriaspe with sumptuous tones and iridescent waves of musical color. Hers is a voice from which I hope to hear a great deal more. Molly Mahoney was a mellifluous Arsinoe and Spencer Dodd sang with burnished tones in the dual roles of Dolabella and Arante.
The Marines Memorial Theater is not overly big and Derek Tam’s Baroque players filled the space with gorgeous sound. Tam played the harpsichord and conducted. Adam Cockerham played theorbo and guitar. Gretchen Claassen played cello, while Natalie Carducci and Laura Rubinstein-Salzedo played first and second violins. It was a great treat to hear this beautiful, well-composed opera that has been unjustly forgotten for so long. Thank you, Céline Ricci, for bringing it to us.
Cast and production information:
Cleopatra, Céline Ricci; Marc Antonio, Randall Scotting; Ottavia, Nell Snaidas; Coriaspe, Jennifer Ellis Kampani; Arsinoe, Molly Mahoney; Filenia, Michael Desnoyers; Clisterno, Igor Viera; Dolabella/Ariante, Spencer Dodd; Augusto, Anders Froelich; Domitio, James Hogan; Director, Céline Ricci; Video Stage Design, Matthew Holmes, Lighting Design, Brian Poedy; Conductor, Derek Tam; Theorbo and Guitar, Adam Cockerham; Cello, Gretchen Claassen; Violin I, Natalie Carducci; Violin II, Laura Rubinstein-Salzedo.