|Cast and Production Team for Opera Lafayette's Double Feature|
We tend to eschew program notes, believing that a work of art should speak for itself. Last night we were dazzled by thrilling baroque singing and playing as well as spectacular costuming; but we could not figure out what was going on. We knew that Alessandro Scarlatti's Erminia was derived from Torquato Tasso's epic poem La Gerusalemme Liberata (as were so many other operas....think Händel, Lully, Gluck, and Rossini) and could not understand the costuming. We didn't see any knights or Saracens!
The best strategy, we decided, was to just sit back and enjoy the music and singing and not try to figure out the story. Upon arriving home we consulted the program notes and learned that the conflict between the Christians and the Saracens had been transmogrified into a conflict between the Mughals who invaded India and the indigenous Hindi.
This put Scarlatti's work on the same costuming plane as Francesco Geminiani's La forêt enchantée, a dance pantomime which was also inspired by Tasso's poem; the music was commissioned by Servandoni and consists of five short musical movements resembling a Concerto Grosso. This juxtaposition produced an evening comprising both opera and ballet with unity of time and place.
Of Erminia, only the first act survived, which is probably the reason we have not seen it before. It involves four characters--the lovely Erminia, a princess, is fleeing some conflict and seeks help from a shepherd. She exchanges her armor and aristocratic clothing for a simple shepherdess gown while the shepherd weaves a basket.
The role of Erminia was sung by the lovely young soprano Julia Dawson who effortlessly produced the requisite baroque ornamentation. Bass-baritone André Courville, another rising star, did a splendid job creating a sympathetic character with his rich full paternal tone quality.
Coming on the scene a bit later we met Tancredi, beautifully sung by yet another fine young artist, mezzo-soprano Allegra De Vita in travesti, complete with moustache, and Polidoro, finely sung by tenor Asitha Tennekoon. Mistaken identity and jealousy ensue.
Our favorite parts of this work were the kindly interaction between Erminia and the shepherd, and at the end of the act, when Erminia sang a most beautifully moving aria.
This act was directed by Richard Gammon. The rustic woodland set was created by Richard Ouelette and worked well for both opera and ballet. It is better seen (in the photo above) than described. The gorgeous costumes were designed by Meriem Bahri. Effective lighting was by Rob Siler.
The ballet which followed was not confusing due to the wondrous choreography of Anuradha Nehru, founder and artistic director of Kalanidhi Dance. The basis lay in a style known as kuchipudi but we saw many steps we have observed in baroque dance, steps which were originally based upon fencing moves, as we learned from Erica Gould at a Salon Sanctuary evening.
Layered upon the familiar steps was some elaborate and descriptive mime which left no doubt as to which warriors were thirsty and when that thirst was slaked. Every movement and motion was made clear, as were the quality of the interactions.
Our favorite scene in the ballet was that of the woodland spirits, clad in white and using their bodies to create unforgettable imagery.
For this ballet, Maestro Ryan Brown, founder and artistic director of Opera Lafayette, conducted while playing the violin! We have witnessed conducting from the harpsichord but this was something new for us.
The orchestra sounded superb. The strings were modern but the wind instruments belonged to the baroque period. We spotted a horn with no keys and a pair of recorders in different registers.
Every time Opera Lafayette makes it up here from Washington, D.C., they bring us something novel and valuable.