Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Santa Fe’s Mozart Cast Sweeps All Before It

A funny thing happened on the way to Andalusia.

Die Liebe der Danae in Salzburg

The tale of a Syrian donkey driver. And, yes, the donkey stole the show! The competition was intense — the Vienna Philharmonic and the Grosses Festspielhaus in full production regalia for starters.

Snape Proms: Bostridge sings Brahms and Schumann

Two men, one woman. Both men worshipped and enshrined her in their music. The younger man was both devotee of and rival to the elder.

Cosi fan tutte in Salzburg

This Cosi fan tutte concludes the Salzburg Festival's current Mozart / DaPonte cycle staged by Sven-Eric Bechtolf, the festival's head of artistic planning.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Original illustration by Tomi Um for operamission
08 Jun 2012

Almira, operamission

There are many different ways to analyze the health of New York City. My personal measurements judge the town thus: How many aspiring artsy kids are forced to share a single apartment in an outer borough while they “find themselves” and how many small but immensely able opera companies are functional at any given time.

G. F. Händel: Almira, Königin von Kastilien (Almira, Queen of Castile), HWV 1

Almira: Christy Lombardozzi; Edilia: Nell Snaidas; Bellante: Kristen Plumley; Consalvo: Mark Risinger; Osman: Keith Jameson; Fernando: Michael Weyandt; Raymondo: David Kravitz; Tabaco: Karim Sulayman. Presented by operamission at the Gershwin Hotel in New York with the Operamission Handel Band, conducted by Jennifer Peterson. Performance of May 29.

Above: Original illustration by Tomi Um for operamission

Photos by Mallury Patrick Pollard courtesy of operamission

 

Almira041.gifChristy Lombardozzi as Almira

That latter stat defies all the rest just now: Small opera companies are thriving. My post-Met-season has included Holst, Telemann, Richard Strauss and De Falla; Rossini, Gay, Rachmaninoff, Chabrier and Saint-Saëns lurk in my near future; and now the American professional premiere of Handel’s tyro effort, Almira (1705), has been presented by a youthful group called operamission, providing four hours of pleasure for any Handelian who chanced through the Flatiron District.

Almira was composed by the 19-year-old Saxon who had not yet gone to Italy to have his rough edges planed, for Hamburg’s Theater am Gänsemarkt, the largest and grandest private opera house in Northern Europe, which for a quarter century had been importing works by the likes of Lully, Cavalli and Steffani and “improving” them to the taste of that rich and sophisticated imperial free city, no egotistical royal court being around to interfere. An entirely homegrown school of opera-making had arisen to exploit this setting. Among its charms was a rear wall that could be opened after the celebratory conclusion of a performance for a fireworks display on the River Elbe.

Almira099.gifMichael Weyandt as Fernando

Some Gänsemarkt operas (such as Telemann’s Orpheus, recently given its New York premiere by the City Opera) mixed two or three languages, and the local style was also mongrel in the extreme. There was, if operamission’s Almira is exemplary, far less egotism, less of artists so confident of audience adulation that they stepped out of character to over-ornament the dramatic event. That is the direction opera took in Italy (and, under Handel’s auspices, would move in England), but it had not come to Hamburg. The stories enacted were long and foolish, but the pace was swift, and young Handel was already a tunesmith to rank with the best. The merchants of Hamburg got their money’s worth and so, three hundred years later, did we.

Another local peculiarity in Hamburg was the absence of the Italian custom of using castrati. Heroes and villains were generally sung by tenors and basses, which made the operas a little easier for later generations to perform and to accept—the program for this Almira calls it “the only Handel opera staged during the nineteenth century.” (In Hamburg and Leipzig, “severely truncated.”) Today, however, the lack of male altos or women in trousers may be a hard for the contemporary audience for baroque opera to swallow when attending Almira. Sorry: Tenors and basses is what we got here, though they are required to be considerably more flexible than the male singers of the nineteenth century would be.

Almira029.gifKeith Jameson as Osman and Nell Snaidas as Edilia

Almira, Königin von Kastilien (Almira, Queen of Castile) mixes languages (German and Italian—the libretto is a bit of a hodgepodge) and styles with bits of plot derived from many sources. Winton Dean, the grand authority on Handel’s operas, sounds impatient with it in his study of Handel’s operatic oeuvre, condemning him for not deepening the characters or straightening out the story with its coincidences and contingencies, letters gone awry, confessions overheard and misunderstood. To the lover of Handel’s mature output, however, the score is frankly astonishing for what it does achieve, the way the young genius contrasts his sets of rival lovers in their rival clichés, the way the grandeur demanded by audiences in wealthy Hamburg was worked into the story in procession and dance, the way the manners of the different source schools (French, Italian, German) were maneuvered to create a more or less seamless piece of theater and, most of all, the flood of melody already at his command. To expect the more personal maturity of his greatest works would be churlish. Almira is a delight on its own terms, and its own terms (minus gaudy costumes and sets) are how operamission takes it.

The lobby of the Gershwin Hotel on East 27th Street (right beside the Sex Museum, you can’t miss it) is a tall room. The 21-piece band of original instruments, recorders, valveless horns, baroque bassoon, cello, harpsichord—was that a viola da gamba joining in the recits?—is stuck at one end of the L-shaped playing space, which permits double doors to open for grand entrances, and there’s some room for court dances by a tiny corps de ballet.

Almira100.gifKeith Jameson as Osman

A single lobby pillar did duty as a tree, an arras, all sorts of concealing partition. The audience had the remainder of the room, so some head-swiveling to follow the action was required. Not the least of the pleasures of the occasion was the absence of titles of any kind. A detailed synopsis in the program included the texts of all the arias (both sung and translation) and the lights were up (as in Handel’s day) so that they could be read, but comprehension of the complicated and unfamiliar plot was left to the expressiveness and acting chops of the singers. None of them had any trouble getting the story across. Free of blinking and distracting translations, we could revel in music and its performance. I do hope operamission retains this tradition.

In brief, Almira (Christy Lombardozzi), newly-crowned Queen of Castile, is in search of a husband. She inclines towards the foundling Fernando (Michael Weyandt) who is, in fact, in love with her, but for typical libretto reasons she thinks he’s in love with her cousin Edilia (Nell Snaidas). This confusion is encouraged by underhanded Osman (Keith Jameson, whom you may recall as the Apprentice in the Met’s recent Billy Budd), who is Fernando’s foster brother and has been flirting with Edilia himself, all of which goes by the board when he hopes to attain the crown matrimonial. His father, the regent Consalvo (Mark Risinger), hopes to marry the queen off to a man of proper birth, that is, not Fernando. That would be more than enough plot for the mature Handel (when he was hiring imported Italian singers for his own company), but on the Gänsemarkt’s thaler, he added Bellante (Kristen Plumley), who is also in love with Osman and therefore spurns Consalvo’s antiquated flirtations, and a Mauretanian king, Raymondo (David Kravitz), who hopes to woo Almira but, happily, falls for Edilia instead. All we need for denouement is the discovery that Fernando is of noble birth, a long-lost son of Consalvo’s, and all three couples may marry—and do.

Almira082.gifMark Risinger as Consalvo and Christy Lombardozzi as Almira

These regal types, honorable or otherwise, are served by Tabarco (Karim Sulayman). The sarcastic servant is another Gänsemarkt tradition (as those who attended Conradi’s Ariadne in Boston will recall); he extols gold and drink, doubts everyone’s high-flown sentiments, cracks wise about insincere young lovers and ridiculous old ones, attempts blackmail and information leakage, and generally cuts the exalted brew. His lineage is actually very exalted, for he traces his ancestry to Pseudolus, Mosca, Juliet’s Nurse, Hamlet’s gravediggers and Sancho Panza, and his operatic descent is grander still: Mozart’s Leporello and Papageno, the Sacristan in Tosca and the Noctambulist in Louise. We need him to remind us (and the other characters) what planet we live on. It isn’t just highfalutin planet opera, or not all the time.

To find a singer or two worthy of attention and able in practice in one of these small companies is nothing unusual; it is one of the joys of going to them. To find eight excellent singers in eight wide-ranging roles in such a company is astonishing, but that was the case with operamission's Almira.

There are three sopranos here, you will note, and (like all characters in opera seria), they are obliged to offer arias of a variety of states of mind: yearning, wrath, flirtation, outrage, tragic renunciation. Operamission’s music director, Jennifer Peterson, who conducted from the harpsichord, figured out how to vary the voices nicely, from Lombardozzi’s long, pure lines of queenly suffering to Snaidas’s high, spiky staccati of merriment or anger and Plumley’s gracious or dubious sentiments. Considering how interchangeable were their feelings (each lady feels amorously misused by someone or other), they individuated nicely.

Almira127.gifDavid Kravitz as Raymondo and Nell Snaidas as Edilia

Square-shouldered and handsome, Michael Weyandt ably deployed his agile baritone to proper stone-faced Dudley Do-Right effect as Fernando, the all-but-uncomplaining (ten arias) object of everybody’s plots and betrayals. Keith Jameson, as his devious brother Osman, had much more fun, skulking and conniving. His tenor seems a bit grainy for leading lover roles in any case, and his stage personality thrives on shifty characters. Mark Risinger sang the grandee Consalvo with poise and dignity but did not quite convince as a despairing lover. David Kravitz’s Raymondo was all sly politician until Edilia stole his heart, when his lyric bass found a warmer element. Karim Sulayman, who specializes in wisecracking servants (I’ve seen him with Vertical Players and Opera Lafayette) had more fun than anybody; plot shenanigans never unsettle his enjoyable light bass. I’m not sure which I’d look forward to more: His Leporello or his Osmin (in Seraglio).

The staging by Jeff Caldwell made witty use of an awkwardly shaped stage and less than grandiose forces to keep us on the proper page of the plot and happy with its impressive length. This was a performance without a single mis-cast singer or actor in eight long roles, which makes one eager to hear whatever operamission comes up with.

Almira121.gifKarim Sulayman as Tabaco

Due perhaps to an audience so intent that it withheld applause until the end of the evening — or perhaps to an absence of da capo repeats with their self-glorifying fireworks — the long score moved swiftly and delightfully through a lengthy score to a joyful conclusion.

John Yohalem

Click here for the program for this production.

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):