First let me say that yes, it is 2:30 in the morning and I am eating chocolate chips out of the bag. I am up so late because I have just finished writing a marathon post for an opera list I belong to. (Yes, I belong to an opera list.) I've been at it for over 2 hours, getting my facts straight, arranging the flow of ideas just so. I am, if nothing else, a perfectionist. Even still, I would probably sit on it longer and let it marinate for a while, let the ideas stew, but if I did that I would never get around to posting it and then the production I was writing about would end and then it would be pointless. I am eating chocolate chips out of the bag because there is nothing to eat in this apartment (this is a lie) and Kellogg's has apparently discontinued my most favorite cereal ever (Cranberry Vanilla Crunch), or at least, the grocery stores I shop at have stopped stocking it. It is a sad day indeed. If you have never eaten Cranberry Vanilla Crunch be glad, for you know not what you are missing. But I digress.

My marathon post to the opera list is a review of not one but two operas I have seen in the past 10 days. (Actually I have seen three operas in the past 10 days (I am also nothing if not an opera glutton) but that is beside the point.) As I only briefly reviewed the first, that one will need to be expanded upon before I can consider posting here. Which means I may never get to it. (COUGHflorezrecitalCOUGHeugeneoneginCOUGH). No, really, I will get to it. At any rate, on with the show:

Flavio is a baroque opera written by Handel. It does have a lot of notes
and not a lot of words, but is not the opera alluded to in the previous post.

The Cast:

Kathryn Allyn: Teodata, Ugone's daughter
Katherine Rohrer: Vitige, Teodata's lover (also a courtier in Flavio's court)
Matthew Chellis: Ugone, Flavio's counselor (Teodata and Guido's father)
Jan Opalach: Lotario, Flavio's counselor (Emilia's father)
Gerald Thompson: Guido, Ugone's son (Emilia's betrothed)
Marguerite Krull: Emilia, Lotario's daughter (Guido's betrothed)
David Walker: Flavio, King of Lombardy

Are you confused yet? Reading the synopsis with no prior exposure to this work certainly left me scratching my head and wondering how I would remember who was who. New York City Opera has kindly provided a synopsis, which I will not duplicate (which may cause steam to erupt from my ears anyway), and which you can read here. Once the opera began, however, all became clear. This, in part, was through the clever use of color-coding with the costumes, which were gorgeously elaborate and baroque period-esque, and deliciously candy colored. Flavio's colors were green and white, with the courtier Vitige in lighter shades of green (and white), and all the servants in a darker emerald green (with, inexplicably, red hair). Lotario's family (Lotario and Emilia) colors were a beautiful vivid blue. Emilia shed her blue gown for a white wedding dress and then later a black mourning gown, but by that point it was well-established what the relationships between the characters were. Ugone's family (Ugone, Guido, and Teodata) colors were vivid orange and pink, with Ugone mainly in orange with pink accent and his children in pink with orange accent. Teodata got to change costumes as well, to a short (knee-length) gown in the second half of Act I, and then back again to her original gown in Act II, but maintaining her "family colors". Interestingly, Flavio's green shoes had pink or orange heels (it was hard to tell), a nice touch perhaps suggesting his amorous obssession with Teodata. Besides being gorgeous, I found this system of costuming (and I have to believe it was a system) to be extremely helpful in sorting out the characters. The colors were not identical, but quite similar. (As an aside, I found it amusing to hear quite a few people talking about how confused they were as to the characters, whose relationships were admittedly complex. By paying attention to the colors it was immediately and undeniably clear.) The sets were also in candy-like colors, with Lotario's house opening up like a dollhouse to reveal a yellow and blue interior, and the king's palace suggested by towering trellised garden walls and hedges, all of which slid backwards and forwards silently to form ever changing spaces as the opera progressed. Some of the sets were carried or rolled around charmingly and appropriately by the palace servants. At one point there is an elegant white garden table and chairs, another scene includes a white armchair with wide, angel-like wings, and in yet another flower beds full of pink topiaries and pink tulips (and one rogue yellow daisy).

Some of the singers made more of an impression on me than other, but this is *not* to suggest that they were inferior, simply that I have less specific comments about them. Teodata, Vitige, and Flavio comprise the more "comic" characters, while the rest make up the more "dramatic" characters, and this opera indeed delivers both comedy and tragedy. Kathryn Allyn (Teodata) had a beautiful lush mezzo tone that projected well. Katherine Rohrer, the other mezzo soprano in the cast, unfortunately did not do so well to my ears. Though she sang powerfully and convincingly as Vitige, she had a pronounced tendency to veer sharp. I'm not sure if it was a result of trying to put more power into the voice, to sound more "masculine", or if it was her normal singing tone. (She did portray a convincing man, though she was shorter than Allyn's Teodata (somebody call the height police).) This on it's own was not tremendously devastating (though it was distracting), but it destroyed any beauty there might have been in the opening duet between Teodata and Vitige, as the voices blended not at all and seemed to be fighting for supremacy. Luckily this was not an omen of things to come, as all the other players were extremely pitch accurate. Matthew Chellis (Ugone) and Jan Opalach (Lotario) had very pleasant tenor and bass-baritone voices, respectively. These two characters seem to be more minor (as in, have fewer arias to sing) but they both navigated some fairly difficult passages well.

Gerald Thompson (Guido), our first countertenor of the afternoon, was *fantastic*. He has very fast vibrato, which some might find distracting but I did not. His character was in no way effeminate. Though his voice seemed somewhat smaller than the rest of the singers, he could, when necessary, really belt it out, particularly at the ends of several of the arias. He sang with *extreme* deftness, refinement, and complete ease through the some amazing coloratura passages. One of his Act I arias is *extremely* rapid in tempo, and Thompson rivaled Rockwell Blake's epic and historic rendition of Jupiter's aria "I must with speed amuse her" (from the 1985 Carnegie Hall Semele) in terms of sheer speed and accuracy. It was, in a word, *amazing*. Additionally, the pathos with which he sung with while in the depths of despair and conflict was striking.

Marguerite Krull (Emilia) sang with beautiful clear tone, with a lovely clear top that was never shrill, and secure and accurate coloratura. Her voice floated, both at forte and piano, to the very top of the house. She also sang with extremely touching emotion, especially immediately after her father dies and again when she returns and confronts/is confronted by Guido (her betrothed but also her father's killer).

David Walker (Flavio) had a voice unlike any of the (four) other countertenors I had the pleasure of listening to this past week and a half. He sang with a good deal of power and volume, and had a ringing voice, almost mezzo-like in tone. His coloratura was also very secure. His Flavio was a bit of a dandy, but the characterization was perfect - what 17th century aristocrat wasn't? The character was perfect, not at all over the top, though extremely and successfully comedic.

(There are in fact some extremely funny scenes in the opera all surrounding Flavio, including two yellow birds, an episode with a butterfly net, and another episode involving Vitige, an apple, and a blindfolded monarch with bow and arrow in hand.) Props were used very effectively in this production, and there was none of the pacing that I found a little bit annoying in Giulio Cesare over at the Met the previous week. In fact, the acting on the parts of all of the singers was wonderful. The comic parts of the opera were extremely light and funny and the tragic parts appropriately tragic. These seemingly disparate elements were blended perfectly. I can't say much specifically about the orchestra, under the baton of William Lacey, except that there were again period instruments in the pit (which is a real treat) and that they were wonderful. It is a rather short one, clocking in at just under 2 1/2 hours with one short (~ 15 minute) intermission. Sadly, appallingly, the Fourth Ring for this matinee performance was about half empty.

This was a wonderful, enjoyable, delightful performance full of surprises and glorious singing. If you are in any way a fan of Handel, or baroque opera, or beautiful accomplished singing, or simply looking for something a little bit different, you owe it to yourself to run and get your ticket now. There is one more performance, Saturday, April 21st at 8pm. These artists deserve your support and you deserve the experience.


At 4:43 AM, Blogger peaknit said...

I'm so impressed by your passion for opera, I think it so wonderful to have something to be so devoted to! I never have much to add because of my lack of knowledge on the subject - but wanted you to know that I really admire your commitment to the art:) Hope all is well! I'm sure I'll have more to say when you talk knitting - I feel so shallow:) But wanted to check in...take care

At 5:53 AM, Blogger The_Add_Knitter said...

Love your opera updates! And yes, that cereal was discontinued...:(


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