|Italo Marchini, Aaron Blake, Angela Meade, Eve Queler, Yunpeng Wang, Sava Vemic, and Mia Pafumi
We gave away the plot to Donizetti's rarely performed 1833 opera Parisina d'Este in last months's archived review (COVERS UNCOVERED) when the cover cast for Opera Orchestra of New York treated us to excerpts from the opera. We were enthralled and bursting with anticipation for Maestro Eve Queler's conducting of the entire opera. Last night at the Rose Theater, our hopes were completely fulfilled.
As a matter of fact, this opera goes on our wish list as one we'd love to see tackled by The Metropolitan Opera. During this concert version, we saw the entire opera in our head--sets and costumes included.
The flow of the music and the complete involvement of the singers succeeded admirably in evoking the story--a typical 19th c. melodrama which librettist Felice Romani adapted from a poem by Lord Byron.
The tale moves forward without any distracting side plots. The characters are sympathetic and victims of their time (15th c.), place (Ferrara) and culture (arranged marriages). Duke Azzo and his wife Parisina are both miserable and political triumphs cannot relieve the gloom of the court.
Yunpeng Wang established his character (Duke Azzo) from the very start. He is madly in love with his wife who does not love him. Although it is difficult to forgive his behavior at the end of the opera, Mr. Wang's gorgeous baritone and warmth let us feel Azzo's pain. His duet with his minister Ernesto was nothing short of sumptuous. And to hear him change vocal coloration when he sang about battles was most impressive.
Sava Vemić's youthful appearance did not prevent him from creating a believable character who is both a loyal minister and a loving father trying to save his son from danger. Mr. Vemić's rich bass filled the theater and thrilled the ear. His character has the big "reveal" at the climax of the opera.
As the son Ugo, tenor Aaron Blake overcame some early problems with intonation to deliver a beautifully sung and well-phrased performance. Ugo is a man so obsessed with his childhood sweetheart, who now belongs to another, that he cannot preserve his own life.
Soprano Angela Meade gave a riveting performance as the eponymous Parisina, married to the Duke but in love with Ugo. In this opera, Donizetti eschewed lavish fioritura, but what embellishments there were to the vocal line were beautifully negotiated.
As Imelda, Parisina's confidant, soprano Mia Pafumi looked and sounded beautiful. Her duet with Ms. Meade was movingly tender.
Under Maestro Queler's baton, The Opera Orchestra of New York played Donizetti's profusion of melody with the excellence we have come to expect of them-- minus a recalcitrant trumpet. We heard foreshadowing of music from Lucia di Lammermoor, which he would write two years later, and echoes of "The Senator Song" from L'Elisir d'Amore, which he had written the year before.
In Parisina, Donizetti relied heavily on the wind sections and Maestro Queler brought out every line. Perhaps (dare we say it??) the Rose Theater offers some acoustic advantage over Carnegie Hall. (Gulp!)
The New York Choral Ensemble, under the leadership of Italo Marchini, commented on the action and filled in the narrative. As all good choruses must, they made their words count.
With such high quality conducting, playing, and singing, we would count this as one of the highlights of the season.
Maestro Queler conducted this once before with Montserrat Caballé, James Morris, and Luis Quilico over 40 years ago. It is difficult to believe that this energetic youthful conductor has been around that long. We hope we won't have to wait that long to hear this wonderful opera again!
(c) meche kroop