|Kelli Butler and Dorian Bandy|
We love learning new things about opera and last night's presentation at Casa Italiana was as informative as it was entertaining. Musical Director and baroque violinist par excellence Dorian Bandy provided both instruction and musical entertainment whilst soprano Kelli Butler provided eye candy as well as some gorgeous singing.
According to Mr. Bandy, the young Händel, barely out of his teens, arrived in Rome to collaborate with Arcangelo Corelli. At the time, the church opposed the new art form of opera and the ever practical Händel turned to writing what was acceptable--oratorios.
He honed his craft by writing psychologically astute and musically satisfying numbers, a skill which he would put to good use when he moved to Venice. Many of his operatic arias are recycled from these oratorios. Truth to tell, although we loved the arias we heard last night we were unable to recognize them as parts of any future Händel operas.
Nonetheless it was a satisfying but brief evening comprising two short works in which Ms. Butler commanded the stage portraying two unfortunate women. These arias would surely come in handy later since opera is replete with abandoned, scorned, and rejected women.
The first piece was Armida abbandonata in which the heroine sits on a rock by the side of the sea, lamenting her lost love. Händel's music gives the soprano an opportunity to cycle through all the possible emotions with his music showing great psychological insight. Poor Armida is melancholy and angry in turn. She hates her lover but wants him back. She summons monsters from the sea to torment him
The second piece, Agrippina condotta a morire, involves the mother of the cruel Nero who has sent her off to die. She is in a rage and feeling, of course, the "sharpness of a serpent's tooth" as she contemplates her ungrateful son. She call on Jove to punish him, questions how she could dare to destroy her own son, but later turns her anger against herself. She will martyr herself and torment him from the grave.
The vocal writing in both pieces is beautifully florid with notable melismatic passages. The lovely Ms. Butler handled both roles with nobility and fine vocalism. The support from the baroque musicians was equally fine. Mr. Bandy was joined by Marika Holmqvist playing baroque violins and Cora Swenson Lee playing baroque cello with Dylan Sauerwald at the harpsichord.
Gina Crusco staged the scenes effectively with minimal resources--a rock, some blue fabric representing the sea, and projected images of monsters. Julian Sachs' lighting offered flashes of lightning and changes of color to reflect the moods.
There were also some instrumental selections to fill out the evening--the NY premiere of an overture and a sonata, neither of which had as much interest for us as the operatic selections.
© meche kroop