|Michael Anderson, Christine Price, Justin Austin (photo by Brian Hatton)
|Lyndon England, Hannah Dishman (photo by Brian Hatton)
|Juan del Bosco, Caroline Braga (photo by Brian Hatton)
A rewarding and highly entertaining production of Cavalli's La Doriclea was presented by the Manhattan School of Music Senior Opera Theater. Baroque opera can be tedious but, in the right hands, it can be a lot of fun. The hands belong to Dona D. Vaughn and Jorge Parodi. Ms. Vaughn directed with a sureness born of experience--experience in telling a story and experience in pulling meaningful performances out of the singers, most of whom were seniors with a few graduate students thrown in for good measure.
Maestro Parodi's hands are another thing altogether, and if you could tear your eyes away from the riveting stage action you would be entranced by the balletic moves as he pulled superb performances from his musicians, most of whom were graduate students. The talented theorboist was guest artist Carlos Cuestas.
This 1645 opera, with libretto by Giovanni Faustini (who collaborated with Francesco Cavalli on nine operas) is one of about a dozen surviving Venetian operas from the first half of the 17th c. The influence of Monteverdi is evident. It suffered a delay in performance due to censorship. Why? Probably it had something to do with the gender hijinks.
The heroine Doriclea (Christine Price) in male military garb fights alongside her husband Tigrane, King of Armenia (Michael Anderson). Arsacian King Artabano (Juan del Bosco), whose soldier Surena (Nicholas Smith) has taken her captive, has a sister Eurinda (Caroline Braga), who falls in love with Doriclea (disguised as "Cyrus") and is ready to forsake her fiancé Farnace (Megan Mikailovna Samarin in a pants role).
Adding delightful comic relief are Eurinda's maid Melloe (Hannah Dishman) who, at one point tried to attack someone with a cucumber, and Farnace's page Orindo (Lyndon England) who doesn't have to do much but cross the stage to evoke laughter. The two have a cute duet together in which Melloe expresses the wish to experience love and Orindo expresses his cynical view of women.
On a more severe note, Sabari (Justin Austin in fine voice) a man who knows that "Cyrus" is really a woman, tries to seduce her. When rejected he accuses her of adultery as revenge. Confusing? Only on paper. Ms. Vaughn made everything clear onstage.
To complicate matters still further, Act I has a prologue in which character traits are anthropomorphized. Ambition (Margaret Woolums) is depicted wearing a blindfold. (Get it?) Virtue (Sara Hope Ptachik) despairs over losing out to Vice. (In nearly four centuries, has anything changed?) Ignorance (Marina Lombardi) disguises herself in Virtue's garments. In some lovely melismatic singing, Glory (Sheila Houlahan) introduces the story.
Before Act I ends, Venus (Amanda Grafton) rouses her clan of cupids, clad in pink undies with hot pink wigs, with a stirring battle cry and then promises her favors to Mercury (Mark Zhaoming Seah) whose celestial home is the balcony of the Ades performing space. At the end of Act II, she has a charming duet with the virile Mars (Cameron Johnson) after threatening to attack his palace with her troop of "Amorini".
We have probably omitted a few characters in this wonderful piece and for this we apologize. Everyone sang well and acted their parts with gusto. A few performances were outstanding. There was a touching duet between Mr. Anderson and Ms. Price at the opening of the opera when she is too wounded to move on and begs him to kill her. Ms. Price also has a lovely lament at the beginning of Act III.
The simple set and effective lighting were by Kate Ashton. There were some jagged mountains in the rear and some clouds overhead and a fine tent for the Arsacian king. During the garden scene some arches interlaced with flowers sufficed.
Costumes by Summer Lee Jack were apt and well executed. Gods and goddesses looked very Roman with lots of draping. Mars looked exactly the way one would imagine and Mercury had a winged helmet. The Arsacians looked vaguely Middle-Eastern with Eurinda and her brother Artabano appearing very royal.
We have no evidence that La Doriclea has been performed since it's opening in Venice but if anyone else had discovered it and performed it we doubt that it could have been done any better. What a privilege to have seen a work that survived nearly 400 years. Mankind is still struggling with gender ambiguity, fickle lovers and senseless wars. We don't need modern dress to appreciate the contemporary relevance.
© meche kroop