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 Rossini's Tancredi

 

Opera Southwest, Albuquerque,  October 23-30, 2016

Photographs by Lance Ozier/Todos Juntos Photography, courtesy of Opera Southwest

Charles Jernigan was much impressed by this Opera Southwest production, which very unusually contrived to perform both the initial happy ending and the later tragic one.  Part of his report follows. For the full report, see http://www.operapronto.info/journal.16.10.26.html .

The great thing is that Opera Southwest’s production had that great spirit of collaboration and talent  among its singers and in its young conductor that made the opera live, almost in a way I have never seen it before.  My first production of Tancredi was in Rome with Ms. Horne in 1977.  I saw it with her again in Los Angeles in the 1980’s, and I have seen it several times in Pesaro, at the Rossini Opera Festival.  Opera Southwest’s production stands up to that comparison test, and in some ways was better than many of those earlier productions.  Horne was always great, but in the 1970’s and ’80’s almost no one else in the productions I saw knew how to sing Rossini.  They were fine singers, but they were used to Puccini and Verdi, who demand a far different style.  But now we are fortunate to have young singers who have trained in the bel canto style and can produce elaborate ornamentation without sounding as if they are in the throes of terminal pain.

Opera Southwest had young singers like that, especially in the two main roles of Tancredi and Amenaide.  Heather Johnson, who bears a striking resemblance to the young Horne, sang the eponymous hero.   The mezzo from Minnesota has a deep, rich voice which can pull off some of the coloratura tricks that Horne made famous while investing the role with the deep melancholy it requires.  I was particularly struck by Lindsay Ohse’s crystalline, pure soprano as Amenaide.  She is a striking, tall woman who commands the stage, and her voice blended beautifully with Ms. Johnson’s Tancredi in their melting duets.  Both of these ladies were world-class in the opera’s New Mexico premiere.  Tenor Heath Hubert, from South Dakota, sang the daunting role of Argirio, Amenaide’s father.  (In Rossini, fathers are often tenors; only later in the history of opera will we type cast older men as baritones or basses.)  His second act aria “Ah! segnar invano io tento” (‘Ah, in vain I try to sign’) is so high-lying and difficult that Rossini cut it out of the second production in Ferrara, presumably because the tenor could not sing it, but  Mr. Hubert sang it, and sang it excitingly.  Orbazzano, the bass, gets the short end of the stick in this opera (no aria of his own), but Matthew Curran was a commanding presence.  Even the minor roles of Isaura, Amenaide’s friend, and Roggiero, Tancredi’s squire were very well sung by Apprentice Artists Madelyn Wanner and Chelsea Duval-Major respectively.  Maestro Barrese included the arias, often cut, that Rossini wrote for those characters because he had singers who could do them proud.

Barrese himself is a conductor to the manner born for Rossini.  He led an exciting, driven performance.  He prefers brisk tempos, but he knows how to build a crescendo and manage the rhythm that is so important in Rossini so that the Act I finale becomes inevitable and overwhelmingly exciting.  At the end of Act II, when the dying Tancredi breathes out his last, Barrese and his orchestra diminished to a few strings and chords in that rediscovered tragic finale that seems 100 years ahead of its time (how many operas can you think of that end in silence rather than crashing chords and a riff on the bass drum?)  Ms. Johnson movingly portrayed the dying Tancredi too.

But wait!  You wanted to hear the tuneful happy ending?  You wanted to leave the theater feeling upbeat?  Well you got that too, appropriately, after the first curtain calls, when everybody is all smiles and the audience is on its collective feet applauding.  Barrese stopped the applause from the orchestra pit, and announced that the opera originally ended happily.  And then he turned and the music started again, and we got the lieto fine.

The production itself was simple, effective and followed the dictates of the libretto.  A few platforms doubled as stairs before a palace or the entrance to a rocky cave or the floor of a dungeon.  The rest was done with effective projections and sliding panels.  The dominating projection was of the great Byzantine mosaics of the Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora in San Vitale in Ravenna.  I suppose that was vaguely accurate in establishing an era or the feeling of an era.  The rich and handsome period costumes were borrowed from Santa Fe Opera (Maometto II?)  Ms. Johnson even sported a small beard and five o’clock shadow, and it worked.  Maybe she was getting ready for the role of Baba the Turk in Stravinsky’s Rake’s Progress, which she will sing in Boston in March.  Stage action was well handled by David Bartholomew, using both beautiful tableaux and apposite action.  It was compelling, but it also often gave precedence to the singing, which after all is what Rossini is first and foremost about.  The male chorus (under Kristin Ditlow) and Opera Southwest Orchestra were fine too—better than fine.

Projects like this Tancredi make Opera Southwest a mecca for Rossini lovers, and the quality of the singing and productions make it all worthwhile.  While many casual opera-goers have probably never heard of Tancredi, with these performances they are in for an incredible treat.  More than one left the theater whistling “Di tanti palpiti.”

 

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The Team 

Tancredi - Heather Johnson

Amenaide  - Lindsay Ohse

Argirio  - Heath Huberg

Orbazzano  - Matthew Curran

Isaura  - Madelyn Wanner

Roggiero  - Chelsea Duval-Major  

 

Conductor  - Anthony Barrese

Stage Director  - David Bartholomew

Scenic Design  - Dahl Delu

Lighting & Projection Design  - Daniel Chapman

 

 

 

© Lance Ozier/Todos Juntos Photography

Tancredi and Ameniade

 

 

 

 

© Lance Ozier/Todos Juntos Photography

Orbazzano

 

 

 

 

© Lance Ozier/Todos Juntos Photography

 Tancredi, Ameniade and Argirio

 

 

 

 

© Lance Ozier/Todos Juntos Photography

Argirio

 

 

 

 

© Lance Ozier/Todos Juntos Photography

Ameniade

 

 

 

 

© Lance Ozier/Todos Juntos Photography

 Ameniade and the dying Tancredi with Roggiero, Isaura and Argirio looking on

 

 

 

 

© Lance Ozier/Todos Juntos Photography

 Ameniade and the dying Tancredi

 

 

 

 

© Lance Ozier/Todos Juntos Photography

Curtain call

 







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