We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


John Holiday and Virginie Verrez (photo by Nan Melville)
Radamisto was the first opera composed by G. F. Handel for the Royal Academy of Music.  It was a great success in 1720 and was rewritten substantially to accommodate a different cast.  Then it lay dormant for two centuries.  No doubt it is being revived in present days due to the availability of so many superb countertenors.  (We would not be surprised if someone told us that The Department of Vocal Arts at Juilliard chose this opera as a vehicle for the brilliant countertenor John Holliday--but no one did.)  The vocal fireworks were evident from the start but it was Mr. Holiday's rapid fire fioritura that stole the show--and there was a lot of show to steal.  We will not neglect to mention how moving his singing was in the slow passages.  What a thrill to hear a young singer in a starring role, so gifted at presto and adagio both.

Radamisto is kind and good and devoted to his wife Zenobia, a role sung with grace and total commitment by the glamorous Virginie Verrez.  Offering a huge contrast to their devotion is the tyrannical Tiridate, King of Armenia, and his unhappy neglected wife Polissena.  Bass-baritone Aubrey Allicock made a splendid villain and utilized his large round sound to great advantage.  Polissena was stunningly portrayed by soprano Mary Feminear who was able to convince us that she so loved her cheating husband that she would stand by his side even when he was ready to kill her brother Radamisto and their father Farasmane, well-sung by bass Elliott Carlton Hines.

Tiridate's two commanders were likewise brilliantly sung by two superb sopranos in pants roles--Pureum Jo impressed with her magnificent coloratura and Elizabeth Sutphen with her sublime phrasing.  It would be fair to say that the casting and performance were perfect--and how often can one say that?

Handel's music was performed by Juilliard415, the school's principal period-instrument ensemble.  Conducted expressively by Julian Wachner with Patrick Jones at the harpsichord, the sound was magnificently enveloping.  The instruments would have appeared unfamiliar to those unexposed to baroque music, especially the winds.  We were tempted to spend more time watching Kevin Payne playing the exotic theorbo but we couldn't take our eyes and ears off the singers.

The story is loosely based on history and nothing much happens; the libretto is attributed to Nicola Francesco Haym.  It's mostly a case of off-again on-again murder because Tiridate would do anything to acquire Zenobia and threats are made and withdrawn many times.  Thinking of the piece as a character study is more useful, but even then Tiridate's last minute relenting seems psychologically invalid.  The absence of action was quite a challenge for Director James Darrah to deal with and we drew the same conclusion when we saw the opera in Santa Fe in 2008:  it's all about the singing.  Some of the invented movement was puzzling but the alternative would be to have the singers just stand there and sing.  There were several arias that we'd love to hear as "stand-alones"; chief among them were "Cara sposa" and "Ombra cara".  We do love love songs!

Sets and lighting were attributed to Emily Anne MacDonald and Cameron Jaye Mock.  Although the set was minimal--a few chairs against a wall--the lighting was effective.  When Zenobia throws herself into the river, blue ripples washed over the stage.  When splendor was called for the dominant lighting was golden.  Visual interest depended upon Costume Designer Sara Jean Tosetti's glamorous gowns and regal costumes for the men.  We are replete with ear and eye candy.

© meche kroop

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