|Katherine Doe, Mithuna Sivaraman, Alaina Logee, Mary Kathryn Monday, Rachel Duval, and Joyce Yin|
Cantanti Project is one of our favorite boutique opera companies. They just presented Händel's 1713 opera seria Teseo (renamed Teseo:Medea), replete with sorceress, flying dragons, apparitions, potions, spells, and a deus ex machina in the person of Minerva. Nicola Haym's libretto was based on a Lully opera of 1674 which was, in turn, based on a story in Ovid's Metamorphosis. Händel surely had his finger on the pulse of his London audience which thronged to see his earlier Rinaldo (another opera involving sorcery) but gave short shrift to his pastoral opera Il pastor fido. Teseo had a decent run, marred only by technical difficulties, but the opera was forgotten and lay dormant until 1947. We are glad it was resurrected.
As in so many operas of the period, the story is complicated. King Egeo (Mary Kathryn Monday) has been successful at battle and decides that his betrothal to Medea should be replaced by marriage with Agilea (Joyce Yin), his ward. She is in love with Egeo's military commander Teseo (Rachel Duval). Agilea's companion Clizia (Mithuna Sivaraman) is in love with Arcane (Katherine Doe).
The sorceress Medea (Alaina Logee), incensed at being rejected, does her best to spoil everyone's happiness and create mistrust and dissension. It takes the intervention of Minerva to set things right. A poisoning of Teseo by Egeo is thwarted when the King recognizes the warrior as his long-lost son! His sword was the give-away!
Although Händel's instrumental music doesn't light our fire, his operas set us ablaze. Contemporary composers should study a page from his book. He really knew how to write for the voice with the vocal line emphasizing the words, more so in his Italian operas than in his English ones, of course. His arias, as I recall, are fun to sing! There is ample fioritura with almost ostentatious ornamentation which never detracts from his illumination of the character.
Our favorite scene was in Act IV when Medea blackmails the sweet and lovely Agilea to give up Teseo, whom Medea also wants. With tearful aspect Agilea renounces him to save his life. Her singing would melt an iceberg and it melted Medea's rage--but only temporarily. There was still one more act to fill in this unique five act opera--still more reverses and complications!
Musical Director Dylan Sauerwald led the Dorian Baroque Orchestra from the harpsichord. We particularly enjoyed the sound of the baroque oboe; the mournful sound often echoes the vocal line and sometimes "sings" in harmony with it. We sat there for three hours entranced by the glorious singing and playing. Not only are the arias magnificent but the duets thrill the ear.
What did not entrance us was trying to figure out who was whom and what they were singing about. Had we not read a summary beforehand we would have been completely lost. There was no program and no synopsis. There were titles projected off to the side but they could not be read with the stagelights on.
There was no set to speak of and costumes (Alexandria Hoffman) were as basic as one would expect with a minimal budget. We would far prefer the money be spent on musical values! And that we got in spades. Wonderful singing, wonderful music!
We realize that the female-centric Cantanti Project had an axe to grind about female power; much was written on their website and Facebook page about gender. That is all well and good; we are glad that castration of male singers ended long ago and are happy to see women fulfill the roles. But for our purposes, it is the music making that counts.
(c) meche kroop