Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Roger Quilter: The Complete Quilter Songbook, Vol. 3

Mark Stone and Stephen Barlow present Volume 3 in their series The Complete Roger Quilter Songbook, on Stone Records.

Richard Danielpour – The Passion of Yeshua

A contemporary telling of the Passion story which uses texts from both the Christian and the Jewish traditions to create a very different viewpoint.

Les Talens Lyriques: 18th-century Neapolitan sacred works

In 1770, during an extended tour of France and Italy to observe the ‘present state of music’ in those two countries, the English historian, critic and composer Charles Burney spent a month in Naples - a city which he noted (in The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771)) ‘has so long been regarded as the centre of harmony, and the fountain from whence genius, taste, and learning, have flowed to every other part of Europe.’

Herbert Howells: Missa Sabrinensis revealed in its true glory

At last, Herbert Howells’s Missa Sabrinensis (1954) with David Hill conducting the Bach Choir, with whom David Willcocks performed the piece at the Royal Festival Hall in 1982. Willcocks commissioned this Mass for the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester in 1954, when Howells himself conducted the premiere.

Natalya Romaniw - Arion: Voyage of a Slavic Soul

Sailing home to Corinth, bearing treasures won in a music competition, the mythic Greek bard, Arion, found his golden prize coveted by pirates and his life in danger.

Le Banquet Céleste: Stradella's San Giovanni Battista

The life of Alessandro Stradella was characterised by turbulence, adventure and amorous escapades worthy of an opera libretto. Indeed, at least seven composers have turned episodes from the 17th-century Italian composer’s colourful life into operatic form, the best known being Flotow whose three-act comic opera based on the Lothario’s misadventures was first staged in Hamburg in 1844.

Purcell’s The Indian Queen from Lille

Among the few compensations opera lovers have had from the COVID crisis is the abundance – alas, plethora – of streamed opera productions we might never have seen or even known of without it.

Ethel Smyth: Songs and Ballads - a new recording from SOMM

In 1877, Ethel Smyth, aged just nineteen, travelled to Leipzig to begin her studies at the German town’s Music Conservatory, having finally worn down the resistance of her father, General J.H. Smyth.

Wagner: Excerpts from Der Ring des Niebelungen, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Paavo Järvi, RCA-Sony

This new recording of excerpts from Wagner’s Der Ring des Niebelungen is quite exceptional - and very unusual for this kind of disc. The words might be missing, but the fact they are proves to have rather the opposite effect. It is one of the most operatic of orchestral Wagner discs I have come across.

Wagner: Die Walküre, Symphonieorchester Des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Simon Rattle, BR Klassik

Simon Rattle has never particularly struck me as a complex conductor. He is not, for example, like Furtwängler, Maderna, Boulez or Sinopoli - all of whom brought a breadth of learning and a knowledge of composition to bear on what they conducted.

Dvořák Requiem, Jakub Hrůša in memoriam Jiří Bělohlávek

Antonín Dvořák Requiem op.89 (1890) with Jakub Hrůša conducting the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. The Requiem was one of the last concerts Jiří Bělohlávek conducted before his death and he had been planning to record it as part of his outstanding series for Decca.

Philip Venables' Denis & Katya: teenage suicide and audience complicity

As an opera composer, Philip Venables writes works quite unlike those of many of his contemporaries. They may not even be operas at all, at least in the conventional sense - and Denis & Katya, the most recent of his two operas, moves even further away from this standard. But what Denis & Katya and his earlier work, 4.48 Psychosis, have in common is that they are both small, compact forces which spiral into extraordinarily powerful and explosive events.

A new, blank-canvas Figaro at English National Opera

Making his main stage debut at ENO with this new production of The Marriage of Figaro, theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins professes to have found it difficult to ‘develop a conceptual framework for the production to inhabit’.

Massenet’s Chérubin charms at Royal Academy Opera

“Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio … Now I’m fire, now I’m ice, any woman makes me change colour, any woman makes me quiver.”

Bluebeard’s Castle, Munich

Last year the world’s opera companies presented only nine staged runs of Béla Bartòk’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

The Queen of Spades at Lyric Opera of Chicago

If obsession is key to understanding the dramatic and musical fabric of Tchaikovsky’s opera The Queen of Spades, the current production at Lyric Opera of Chicago succeeds admirably in portraying such aspects of the human psyche.

WNO revival of Carmen in Cardiff

Unveiled by Welsh National Opera last autumn, this Carmen is now in its first revival. Original director Jo Davies has abandoned picture postcard Spain and sun-drenched vistas for images of grey, urban squalor somewhere in modern-day Latin America.

Lise Davidsen 'rescues' Tobias Kratzer's Fidelio at the Royal Opera House

Making Fidelio - Beethoven’s paean to liberty, constancy and fidelity - an emblem of the republican spirit of the French Revolution is unproblematic, despite the opera's censor-driven ‘Spanish’ setting.

A sunny, insouciant Così from English Touring Opera

Beach balls and parasols. Strolls along the strand. Cocktails on the terrace. Laura Attridge’s new production of Così fan tutte which opened English Touring Opera’s 2020 spring tour at the Hackney Empire, is a sunny, insouciant and often downright silly affair.

A wonderful role debut for Natalya Romaniw in ENO's revival of Minghella's Madama Butterfly

The visual beauty of Anthony Minghella’s 2005 production of Madama Butterfly, now returning to the Coliseum stage for its seventh revival, still takes one’s breath away.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

26 Nov 2019

Ermelinda by San Francisco's Ars Minerva

It’s an opera by Vicentino composer Domenico Freschi that premiered in 1681 at the country home of the son of the doge of Venice. Villa Contarini is a couple of hours on horseback from Vicenza, and a few hours by gondola from Venice).

Ermelinda by San Francisco’s Ars Minerva

A review by Michael Milenski

Above: Kindra Scharich as Rosaura
Photos by Teresa Tam courtesy of Ars Minerva

 

Sig. Freschi’s little divertimento was a but a small part of a much bigger evening that went on, I assume, to include at least a naval battle on the villa’s pools, grandiose entertainment for a multitude of invited dignitaries.

A larger perspective of Venetian opera finds Monteverdi’s complex Coronation of Poppea premiere in 1643. Francesco Cavalli’s racy, slice-of-debauched-aristocratic-life operas that we see these days come from the 1650’s (his famed Parisian misadventure with theatrical machinery, Ercole Amante, was in 1662). Antonio Vivaldi, the resident musician of a Venetian orphanage for musically talented girls, came onto the local opera scene as an impresario of the newer Neopolitan style in 1712, and later (1727) wrote his own Orlando furioso based on Ludovico Ariosto’s 1513 epic poem that had established a psychopathology of love that more or less endured until the Romantics.

Ermelinda_SF2.pngSara Couden as Clorindo, Kindra Scharich as Rosaura

All these threads converge in Sig. Freschi’s little comedy for the Doge’s son Marco whose country estate included an orphanage for talented girls. Possibly this orphanage resource is why the Ars Minerva production made use of only treble voices — one male lover was a trouser soprano, the other was a trouser contralto. Ermelinda and her friend Rosaura were duly female. Ermelinda’s father was a male mezzo-soprano (countertenor).

In short, Ormondo loves Ermelinda, Armidoro does too. Ermelinda loves Ormondo, Rosaura does too. Ormondo becomes the mad Clorindo who pretends to love crazy-in-love Rosaura. Aristeo, Ermelinda’s father, intervenes. Ermelinda tries to kill herself for love. Unlike a Cavalli plot this one is quite simple, and unlike Cavalli’s variety of musical forms Sig. Freschi limits himself to recitative, arioso and through composed arietta. There were a few ritornellos and only one sort of duet in the string of solo numbers that told the story very simply and very directly. The dignity of early Venetian opera had long since been thrown into the canals and the grandiose, embellished arias of the Baroque are many years away,

There was no need for theatrical machinery. We were either indoors or out. The Ars Minerva production covered the huge back wall of the 171 seat ODC Theater (a fine dance venue in San Francisco’s Mission district) with projected images created by Entropy (a person’s name) that colorfully abstracted architectural detail vaguely reminiscent of the period.

The elaborate costumes, wittily abstracted from period shapes were designed by Matthew Nash, now retired from the San Francisco Opera costume shop. Stage director Céline Ricci deftly moved her actors around simple, portable props in the center of the expansive dance floor, the Ormondo gone mad — as Clorindo — teased theorbo player Adam Cockerham who was seated with the harpsichord, cello, and three da braccio viols far stage left.

The program booklet does not credit an edition of Sig. Freschi’s little opera, thus we may assume that early music harpsichordist and conductor Jory Vinikour organized the production musically based on a manuscript found at Venice’s Marciana Library. It is lively music that flows in very natural speech rhythms enhanced with very inventive melodic riffs that tease and amuse us and become upon occasion quite specific songs. These players were a confident lot that gave us great delight in their ritornellos. The three instrument continuo cleverly supported the excellent performances center stage.

Ermelinda_SF3.pngNikola Printz as Ermelinda, lighting design by Thomas Bowersox

Those 17th century dignitaries will have been mightily amused as we were with the broad comic antics of a nicely matched cast. Ermelinda was sung by mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz who brought rich tone and informed period inflection to her femme fatale role, and created, with Sig. Freschi’s help, convincing musical pathos in her attempted suicide. Her friend and rival Rosaura was sung by Kindra Scharich who made this love sick character a comic masterpiece, every sung phrase an insidious calculation, every movement a neurotic gesture, and all in beautiful voice that flowed naturally over composer Freschi’s finely chiseled lines.

Contralto Sara Couden sang Ermelinda’s suitor Ormondo who disguised himself as a peasant named Clorindo to fit into pastoral life. Mlle. Couden possesses a rare contralto voice that offers her a wide range of roles — from this vocally convincing castrato role, to the nurses, grandmothers and witches of later repertory. She gave herself to the creation a truly rustic Clorindo who goes out and in of feigning madness. Clorindo’s rival for the love of Ermelinda, soundly thwarted, is Armidoro sung by soprano Deborah Rosengaus who created one of the most beautiful musical moments of the evening in her final lament, singing composer Freschi’s fine music with exquisite phrasing.

And what would an Italian opera of this period be without a countertenor! Thus male mezzo soprano Justin Montigne sang Ermelinda’s father Aristeo! Not exactly gender bending, but possibly representative of the musical norms of a time gone-by where voices interacted and competed musically rather than theatrically.

Ars Minera is in its fifth year of presenting the modern world premieres of forgotten operas (one opera each year)!

Michael Milenski


Cast and production information:

Ermelinda: Nikola Printz; Ormondo/Clorindo: Sara Couden; Rosaura: Kindra Scharich; Aristeo: Justin Montigne; Armidoro: Deborah Rosengaus. Conductor/Harpsichord: Jory Vinikour. Stage Director: Céline Ricci; Projections: Entropy; Costume Designer: Matthew Nash; Lighting Designer: Thomas Bowersox. ODC Theater, San Francisco, November 23, 2019.

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):