Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Will Don Quichotte Be the Last Production at San Diego Opera?

This quotation from Cervantes was displayed before the opening of the opera’s final scene:

“The greatest madness a man can commit in this life is to let himself die, just like that, without anybody killing him or any other hands ending his life except those of melancholy.”

Gound Faust - Calleja and Terfel, Royal Opera House London

Gounod's Faust makes a much welcomed return to the Royal Opera House. With each new cast, the dynamic changes as the balance between singers shifts and brings out new insights. In that sense, every revival is an opportunity to revisit from new perspectives. This time Bryn Terfel sang Méphistophélès, with Joseph Calleja as Faust - stars whose allure certainly helped fill the hall to capacity. And the audience enjoyed a very good show.

Syracuse Opera’s Porgy and Bess
Got Plenty O’ Plenty

The company ends its 2013-14 season on a high note with a staged performance of Gershwin’s theatrical masterpiece

A New Rusalka in Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Antonin Dvorak’s Rusalka is visually impressive and fulfills all possible expectations musically with unquestioned excitement.

Karlsruhe’s Mixed Blessing Ballo

The reliable Badisches Staatstheater has assembled plenty of talent for its new Un Ballo in Maschera.

Louise Alder, Wigmore Hall

This varied, demanding programme indisputably marked soprano Louise Alder as a name to watch.

Luke Bedford: Through His Teeth, Linbury, Royal Opera House

Can this be the best British opera in years? Luke Bedford’s Through His Teeth at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre is exceptional. Drop everything and go.

Powder Her Face, ENO

As one descends the steel steps into the cavernous bunker of Ambika P3, one seems about to enter rather insalubrious realms — just right one might imagine, then, for an opera which delves into the depths of the seedier side of celebrity life.

Iphigénie Fascinates in the Pfalz

Kaiserslautern’s Pfalztheater has produced a tantalizing realization of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide, characterized by intriguing staging, appealing designs, and best of all, superlative musical standards.

ROH presents Cavalli’s L’Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London

Never thought I’d say it but......

Harrison Birtwistle, Elliott Carter, Wigmore Hall, London

Celebrating the 80th birthday of one of the UK's greatest composers (if not the greatest), this concert was an intriguing, and not always stimulating, mix. Birtwistle with Carter makes sense, but Birtwistle with Adams does not - or at least only within the remit of the concert series. The concert was actually entitled “Nash Inventions: American and British Masterworks, including an 80th Birthday Tribute to Sir Harrison Birtwistle” and was the final concert in the “Inventions” series.

Requiem for a Lost Opera Company

On Wednesday, March 19, 2014, General Director Ian Campbell of San Diego Opera announced that the company would go out of business at the end of this season. The next day the company performed their long-planned Verdi Requiem with a stellar cast including soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, tenor Piotr Beczala, and bass Ferruccio Furlanetto.

The Met’s Werther a tasty mix of singing, staging, acting and orchestral splendor

Visual elements in Richard Eyre’s striking production offset Massenet’s melodic shortcomings

Chicago’s New Barber of Seville

New productions of repertoire staples such as Gioachino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia bear much anticipation for both performers and staging.

Lucia in LA: A Performance to Remember

On March 15, 2014, Los Angeles Opera presented Elkhanah Pulitzer’s production of the opera, which she set in 1885 when women were beginning to be recognized as persons separate from their fathers, brothers and husbands. At that time many European countries were beginning to allow women to own property, obtain higher education, and choose their husbands.

San Diego Opera Presents an All Star Ballo in Maschera

On March 11, 2014, San Diego Opera presented Verdi’s A Masked Ball in a traditional production by Leslie Koenig. Metropolitan Opera star tenor Piotr Beczala was Gustav III, the king of Sweden, and Krassimira Stoyanova gave an insightful portrayal of Amelia, his troubled but innocent love interest.

Anne Schwanewilms, Wigmore Hall

From the moment she walked, resplendent in red, onto the Wigmore Hall platform, Anne Schwanewilms radiated a captivating presence — one that kept the audience enthralled throughout this magnificent programme of Romantic song.

Die Frau ohne Schatten, Royal Opera

Magnificent! Following the first night of this new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, I quipped that I could forgive an opera house anything for musical performance at this level, whether orchestral, vocal, or, in this case, both.

La Fille du regiment, Royal Opera

Donizetti’s opera comique La Fille du regiment returned to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, for its third revival.

Schoenberg and company

With Schoenberg, I tend to take every opportunity I can — at least since my first visit to the Salzburg Festival, when understandably I chose to see Figaro over Boulez conducting Moses und Aron, though I have rued the loss ever since.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Mary Wilson as Queen Isabella (Photo by Ken Howard courtesy of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis)
22 Jun 2008

A rare treasure in Saint Louis. . .

Pink flamingos, sheep on wheels, and a queen crowned with giant antlers all inhabit the zany world of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’s Una cosa rara, where the artificial 18th century pastoral commingles with cutesy country colors and 1950s yard art.

Vincent Martín y Soler: Una cosa rara o sia Belleza ed onestá [A Rare Treasure, or Beauty and Honesty]

Queen Isabella (Mary Wilson); Prince Giovanni (Alek Schrader); Corrado, (Paul Appleby); Lilla (Maureen McKay); Lubino (Keith Phares); Tita (Matthew Burns); Ghita (Kiera Duffy); Lisargo (David Kravitz). Musicians of the Saint Louis Symphony, conducted by Corrado Rovaris. Directed by Chas Rader-Shieber, with sets by David Zinn and costumes by Clint Ramos.

Above: Mary Wilson as Queen Isabella
All photos by Ken Howard courtesy of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

 

Although Cosa rara’s eponymous rare treasure concerns the honesty of a beautiful woman, Opera Theatre surely enjoyed the play on words in presenting this rarely performed but once-treasured opera. The company has successfully contextualized Mozart in its last few seasons by presenting works of his contemporaries, including Grétry’s Beauty and the Beast (1771) and Cimarosa’s The Secret Marriage (1792). Vincent Martín y Soler’s opera continues this trend, since nearly everything about Una cosa rara reminds us of its more familiar Mozartian brethren.

Born in Spain two years before Mozart, Martín lacked his contemporary’s astonishing precocity, though by his early twenties he had composed comic operas for many important Italian towns. He moved to Vienna in 1785, four years after Mozart’s own arrival. The following year each man composed an opera for Emperor Joseph II’s Italian theater. Mozart inaugurated his partnership with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, culminating in Le nozze di Figaro. Martín likewise collaborated with da Ponte on his comic opera, Una cosa rara. Figaro’s modest success in May 1786 was overshadowed by Una cosa rara’s triumphant debut eight months later. In October 1787 Martín penned a follow-up hit with the immensely popular pastoral work L’arbore di Diana. Less than a month later, Don Giovanni opened in Prague. In it, Mozart acknowledged his peer’s popularity by quoting a tune from Cosa rara during the Act II dinner entertainment. These textual and musical links to Mozart are not just historical happenstance, but structurally important in Cosa rara. Da Ponte’s influence weighs heavily, with both the plot and the characters echoing Figaro and Così fan tutte. Although Martín’s musical style lacks the spice of Mozart at his best, Cosa rara is perfectly passable as good 18th century opera. For us just as for the Viennese, Martín’s pleasant pastoral ditties digest easily.

Stage director Chas Rader-Schieber conceived Opera Theatre’s Cosa rara as a farcical world of warped whimsy, albeit with a rather friendly touch. His vision was amply fulfilled by the aforementioned sheep on wheels, pink flamingos, garden gnomes, etc. These flamingos extended beyond mere props, even decorating the outdoor gardens at intermission. The set and the costumes seemed to get as much or more attention than the music, since each character’s entrance was accompanied by applause or laughter. The costumes continued to get more and more outlandish, culminating in the high (or low?) point of the Queen’s Act II hunting outfit, which featured giant pink glittering antlers affixed to her head. It was all extremely silly, but the cast (and audience by extension) seemed to have a ball.

Although the visual spectacle of this production dominated at times, the vocal performances were solid as well, with some truly excellent moments. Soprano Mary Wilson was both impressive and endearing as the dotty Queen of Spain, and she certainly seemed to enjoy her silly onstage shenanigans. She wowed the audience during many of her numbers, particularly the virtuoso rondo in Act II. A great example of Cosa rara’s more elevated musical style for the noble characters, Wilson nailed the difficult technical passages in this aria with finesse and good taste in ornamentation. Her son the Prince was interpreted in a delightfully hammy manner by tenor Alek Schrader. With his over the top pink and black sequined costume, his platinum blond wig a cross between Madame Pompadour and rockabilly à la Jerry Lee Lewis, Schrader titillated the audience throughout. His difficult Act II recitative and aria was very nicely sung, although perhaps one might desire a little more power in the finish. Corrado’s part, sung by Paul Appleby, was much less substantial, with only short solos.

Cosa_rara02.pngMaureen McKay and Alek Schrader

On to the peasants! Soprano Maureen McKay was absolutely delightful as the ingenuous shepherdess Lilla, and had the audience in stitches from her first entrance, running frantically onto stage and literally throwing herself at the Queen’s feet. Though this particular performance had a few isolated strained notes in the higher register, McKay has a lovely clear voice, and her perfect acting really helped make the production. Lilla’s lover Lubino, a rather dimwitted impetuous shepherd, was well-served by Keith Phares’ rich baritone voice and excellent diction. Phares particularly amused the audience with his ridiculous Act I parody of a vengeance aria. If Lilla and Lubino represent the perfect shepherd couple, their counterparts Ghita and Tita offer (still more) comic relief. Ghita was saucily interpreted by soprano Kiera Duffy, while Matthew Burns took the bass role of Tita. The two bickered impressively, interspersing their arguments with hilarious make-out sessions. Both singers had some of the more difficult patter singing in Cosa rara, which they managed with aplomb. Matthew Burns’s voice was especially impressive, as was his stellar diction.

The orchestra members, drawn from the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, were well conducted by Corrado Rovaris. They performed the 18th century style cleanly and followed the singers sensitively, with the only minor shortcoming being the occasional trampling of forte-piano alternations.

Hugh Macdonald’s new English singing translation certainly added to the hilarity of it all. He clearly reveled in fashioning silly rhymes such as mooning and spooning and swooning, and even alerted the audience to the arrival of the melody famously quoted in Don Giovanni. His new translation played a major role in the successfully slapstick comedy of this Cosa rara, cramming in jokes, puns, wink-wink references, and general silliness by the handful.

Opera Theatre’s rare treasure in this performance seemed to lie not in the revitalization of some forgotten masterpiece, but in presenting an opera completely without pretensions, a perfectly frivolous summer treat.

Erin Brooks © 2008

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):