|Robert Garner as Severo and Sara Beth Pearson as Paolina in Donizetti's Poliuto at Amore Opera|
We love Donizetti for his melodic bel canto writing and we love Amore Opera for unearthing one of his rarely performed tragic operas. Donizetti's music is always kind to our ears, whether it is underscoring a frothy comedy or a serious tragedy. If one doesn't care for the story, one can always revel in the music.
The libretto for his Poliuto was written by Salvatore Cammarano, loosely based on Pierre Corneille's tragic 1640 play Polyeucte. The birth of the opera was a difficult one: problems with censorship by the Catholic King of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, rewriting for the Opera Francaise, translating that into Italian, and the suicide of the tenor.
The story has significant resonances today. In third century Armenia, the ruling Romans saw Christianity as a threat to be eliminated. Christians met secretly in caves to hold their baptismal ceremonies. (Indeed, we once crawled into caves in Central Turkey where Christians lived and worshipped in secret.) Today Christianity is an accepted and prominent world religion with some members who would like to annhililate other religions. It seems like just another manifestation of "My God is the right one. Yours is the wrong one." Will mankind ever learn?
It would be fair to say that the story is distasteful to us. We don't understand martyrdom or the belief that all will be remedied in some mythical paradise after death. All we could think of was the current plague of suicide bombers. In Poliuto, at the end, the heroine joins her husband in just this sort of death without regard to the effect on her father.
Paolina was in love with the Roman Proconsul Severo. Believing him dead, she married Poliuto. He is jealous and mistrustful and a convert to Christianity without being aware that his jealousy and pride are "sinful" by their standards.
Severo shows up very much alive and she resists his blandishments. Misled by Callistene, the evil High Priest of Jupiter, Poliuto believes her to be unfaithful and pridefully resists all her claims of innocence.
Nearco, Poliuto's friend and leader of the growing Christian sect of Armenia, refuses to name him to the authorities but the "noble" Poliuto turns himself in, happily martyring himself, looking forward to his salvation in heaven.
Paolino insists on joining him although Severo does everything to prevent her. The martyrs get thrown to the lions. And that's that.
But what marvelous melodies we heard, conducted by Daniele Tirilli! This is Donizetti at the top of his game. Even the overture offers one beautiful theme after another--an opening mournful one, then an urgent propulsive one, then a lively martial one. The opening chorus of Christians filled the theater at the Sheen Center with harmonies.
Soprano Sara Beth Pearson made a splendid Paolina, singing with a substantial sound that was also flexible and just right for the fioritura. Her acting skills matched her singing, as she slowly became enchanted with Christianity. We loved her aria "Di quai soave lagrime, aspersa è la mia gota "
Baritone Robert Garner continues to impress us with his full-throated singing and convincing acting. He actually made us feel sympathy for Severo by showing many dimensions to his character. We liked his tender love aria "Di tua beltade imagine è questo sol ch'io miro ".
Tenor Lindell Carter seemed not quite comfortable in the title role, as evidenced by some mugging and wide-eyed staring.
Tenor Michael Celentano made a fine Nearco while tenor Douglas McDonnell handled the small role of Felice with fatherly grace.
Bass Jay Gould made a formidable Callistene, the man we love to hate.
Christians were portrayed by Daniel Kerr, James Stephen Longo, and Ruben Navarro.
The direction by Nathan Hull was straightforward, as we prefer. When the two major players of a company (Mr. Hull and Maestro Tirilli) have sung opera, you can rest assured that the singers will come first. No one was put in a physically or vocally threatening position. This is something we truly appreciate.
Costumes by Amy Leubke were elegant and colorful, appearing appropriate to the period. Simple painted sets by Richard Cerullo served their purpose.
Special mention must be made of the fine chorus who added so much to the proceedings, thanks to Chorus Manager Janet Johnson. The opera contains several choral pieces, often augmenting the ensemble writing at the conclusion of a scene.
We may never get to hear this wonderful piece again and were so happy to have had the opportunity. Thanks Amore Opera for unearthing this buried treasure.
(c) meche kroop
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