|Cupid and His Playmates|
New Camerata Opera put another feather in their cap with an interesting double bill at the Flea Theater downtown, a comfortable venue just right for the adventuresome program attended by an equally adventuresome audience.
There was an interesting resonance between the two operas--John Blow's 1683 Venus and Adonis and Gustav Holst's 1916 Savitri--that of a woman grieving for the death of her beloved. Strangely enough, the joyful Venus and Adonis ends in tragedy and the somber Savitri has a happy ending.
Blow's opera is considered the earliest English opera and was commissioned for the court of Charles II. The libretto was definitely written by a woman and current thought is that it was the work of Anne Kingsmill Finch.
The joyful aspect was largely created by Director Jennifer Williams' favoring of frolic and fun; Costume Designer Asa Benally's punk/Baroque costumes were filled with whimsy and sparkle. We had a wide smile throughout the entire one-act opera and were hit by a wave of sadness at the tragic ending.
Cupid has accidentally wounded his mother Venus with one of his darts; she promptly falls in love with the handsome youth Adonis. He declines to hunt because he has "already caught the noblest prey". Unlike the myth, in the opera Venus urges him to go on the hunt and he gets gored by a wild boar and dies in her arms.
This simple story has been decked out with very amusing scenes, the best of which involves Cupid giving lessons on love to his students in a classroom setting. We don't always enjoy the current trend for gilding Baroque operas with such fancies but in this case it worked extraordinarily well and we now consider ourself a fan of Ms. Williams and Ms. Benally.
All of this delightful folderol was accompanied by superb musical values. Conducting from the harpsichord was Music Director Stephan Fillare; the chamber orchestra comprised a string quartet augmented by a pair of flutes who added a great deal to the hunt scene.
Baritone Scott Lindroth made a heroic Adonis with just the right texture to his voice and elegant phrasing; he was particularly effective in his death scene. Lovely soprano Barbara Porto made a perfect Venus, expressing her love through Blow's turns and trills. As Cupid, Julia Cavallaro excelled by means of humor and superb diction. As a Shepherdess, Emily Hughes contributed a sparkly onstage presence and some lovely singing. Biraj Barkakaty performed the role of the Huntsman.
The superb chorus comprised Brian Alvarado, Angky Budiardjono, Ryan Chavis, Heather Jones, and Mithuna Sivaraman. We loved the way they became a wild boar with a few simple props.
Our quibbles are few. The titles could not be seen due to the lighting and the projections were just distracting and added nothing. The simple staging utilized three ascending and staggered platforms. School desks were brought on for the lesson scene. All the props were clever and colorful.
Although the audience applauded wildly for Savitri, we found it of less interest. Holst's instrumental music was evocative and beautifully played by the chamber orchestra with some excellent lines given to the English Horn.
But his awkward libretto amounted to Hindu theological rhetoric (derived from an episode in The Mahabharata) and failed to produce a vocal line of any interest. The awkwardness came from trying to shoehorn the text into the vocal line. This seemed strange since Holst himself wrote the libretto.
Nonetheless, Samina Aslam as the loving wife sang with deep feeling and commitment as she argued with Death (an excellent Angky Budiardjono) for the life of her husband Satyavān (Daniel Ambe).
The vocal lines were declamatory but an evocative atmosphere was created by the orchestra and chorus of death spirits, clad in black (Julia Cavallaro, Emily Hughes, Heather Jones, and Mithuna Sivaraman) creating interesting and lovely harmonies.
Again, the only quibbles were the illegible titles and the distracting projections.
There are repeat performances Saturday night at 7:30 and Sunday at 2:00. We highly recommend this opportunity to hear two rarely produced works.
(c) meche kroop