|The Cast of Meyerbeer's Dinorah onstage at The Riverside Theater
Amore Opera's tenth anniversary season has been a raging success with a super delightful Così fan tutte-- and now the sold out production of Meyerbeer's pastoral opéra comique--Dinorah. Artistic and Stage Director Nathan Hull has fleshed out this silly story with talent so outstanding that we readily forgot the trivial story. Happily, it was treated respectfully, as it deserves. No irony here!
How trivial is this story you might ask? The individuals in a small community in Brittany seem happy with their shepherding and goatherding although they are held in bondage by their occult superstitions vying for attention with their religious superstitions. It is the one year anniversary of poor Dinorah's abandonment at the altar by her lover Hoël. She has gone mad.
Mr. Hull wisely presented the backstory in mime during the Overture. Hoël had been seized by the evil spirit Tonyk, a character impressively danced by Nina Deacon in a wild costume befitting a sorceress. Hoël has been absent the entire year whilst Dinorah has been wandering around in a daze searching for her pet goat Bella.
The slim storyline concerns Hoël's search for a treasure that he cannot touch. The first person to touch it must die and so the manipulative fellow tries to get the innocent timid bagpiper Corentin to accompany him and touch the treasure first.
Whilst they are approaching the treasure, Dinorah falls into the ravine and must be rescued. Hoël realizes that she herself is the treasure he wants, convinces her that her madness was just a dream, and weds her with full blessing of the community on their annual pilgrimage.
Meyerbeer initially intended a one-act opera and chose as his librettists the well-known Jules Barbier and Michel Carré. It was decided to expand the opera to three acts and he wrote the text himself. For this production, Mr. Hull wrote the dialogue in English, most of which was rather clearly spoken by the cast.
The opera premiered in 1859 and was a raging success until about a century ago when it disappeared from the repertory. Perhaps Richard Wagner's disparagement and anti-Semitism played their parts; perhaps opera goers lost interest in pastoral themed entertainment. In today's anxious and hi-tech environment, a pastoral comedy seemed just about perfect, witness the wide smiles on audience members exiting the theater.
Meyerbeer, largely responsible for creating French Grand Opera, must have enjoyed composing this playful work and lavished upon it endless melodic invention and unusual orchestral effects. One which particularly dazzled us was the music occurring around the dream revelation. Hannah Murphy's harp joined the string section for a tapestry of ethereal sound that would have been right at home in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream.
Standing out by virtue of her onstage charm and stratospherical extension was coloratura soprano Holly Flack. One could not have cast a better Dinorah than Ms. Flack whose instrument is gorgeous and judiciously employed to serve the character. Her performance of "Ombre légère", known as "The Shadow Song", took our breath away with such vocal fireworks that she made to appear easy.
As her off-again-on-again suitor, baritone Suchan Kim sang with full round tone and flowing French line; his remorse in "Ah! Mon remords te venge" was convincing and we were able to forgive his character for his prior distasteful behavior.
Tenor Juan Hernández provided comic relief as the bagpiper Corentin. He has a sweet sound and portrayed his character's timidity with success.
We enjoyed the scene in Act III in which we got to meet some of the countryfolk. Bass Kofi Hayford made a fine Hunter; tenor Daniel Foltz-Morrison sharpened and wielded his scythe in a manner that convinced us that he knew how to harvest. Sopranos Christa Dalmazio and Alyson Spina made a lovely pair of shepherdesses.
Maestro Richard Cordova worked hard to bring together the occasionally ragged orchestra and succeeded rather well, especially when illuminating some of Meyerbeer's special moments. Although a quarter century had transpired since Donizetti wrote Lucia's mad scene with glass harmonica, Meyerbeer made such duets sound fresh and original.
Corentin's bagpipe was imitated by clarinet in duet with Ms. Flack's vocal line. Mr. Kim's duet took place with trombone. The "Shadow Song" paired Ms. Flack's line with the flute. There was also a sensational duet between the two men in which syllables were bounced back and forth between the two of them. We don't think we have ever heard the like! We also enjoyed the brass chorale at the opening of Act III.
Thanks to French language coach Danielle Feaster, the French sounded just fine and easily understandable. Props to Susan Morton who provided a marvelous chorus. We never take that for granted!
Richard Cerullo's sets were simple and two-dimensional, suiting the storybook character of the plot. We wished that Duane Pagano's lighting had been up to its usual high standards. The lightning in the storm scene could have been better coordinated with the thunder in the pit! When characters mention how dark it is, we'd like the lighting to dim preceding the observation. Just one of our tiny quibbles!
The bottom line is that we had a marvelous time. We feel grateful to Amore Opera for their choice of this musical masterpiece. It's a great idea to switch between beloved favorites and neglected works that deserve a hearing. This earns Amore Opera a very special place in our heart and a special place on Planet Opera.
Coming up is Un Ballo in Maschera, opening May 24th. We don't often get to hear Verdi outside of The Metropolitan Opera. New York must be filled with young singers in the process of developing a larger instrument who can fill out the cast and get the roles under their belts. Can't wait!
(c) meche kroop