Culture Magazine

Opera Review: Bright Stars on a Dark Horse

By Superconductor @ppelkonen
The Collegiate Chorale mounts Beatrice di Tenda.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Opera Review: Bright Stars on a Dark Horse

The soprano Angela Meade. Photo by Dario Acosta © the artist.

On Wednesday night, the Collegiate Chorale overcame a surprisingly early start time (6pm?!) and a misbehaving supertitle screen to deliver their first opera of the season: Vincenzo Bellini's Beatrice di Tenda. Written between the twin peaks of Norma and I puritani this is the dark horse in the composer's canon. First presented in a famous 1961 concert performance with Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne, Beatrice hasn't been mounted in New York (in any form) since 1988.
But who are we kidding? The real story hear is Angela Meade, the homegrown bel canto sensation who sang the title role in this underperformed Bellini chestnut, a work that has to struggle against the difficulties of its own libretto in performance. Conductor James Bagwell compounded matters, cutting seventeen minutes from an opera that is already obscure, unfamiliar, and poorly plotted. (It's sort of a rewrite of Anna Bolena without the fussy Tudor setting.)
As Beatrice, Ms. Meade faced the challenge of having no love interest to play against and a husband who was out to have her whacked from the end of the overture. But such obstacles did not faze this inimitable singer, who delivered a stunning performance that focused squarely on the music. Felice Romani's minimal, underwritten libretto forces the singer to develop the character purely through vocal display. Ms. Meade rose readily to the challenge.
That voice! A sweet, silvery sound, it rises to float gracefully above the stave, sending opera lovers into recollections of divas past. Bellini's coloratura land-mines were navigated with apparent ease as Ms. Meade reached for both ends of the stave with dulcet tone. When the explosions of fioratura came, they sent the audience into orbit, misty-eyed with recollection of divas past. The biggest thrill came in the big choral ensemble at the end of Act I. As Beatrice received her (first) death sentence, that huge voice rose majestically over the swell of choristers and cast members in a formidable display of power and breath control.
She was joined by Jamie Barton as Agnese, Beatrice's rival at court and the cause of her downfall. This promising young mezzo-soprano (last heard in this year's Tucker Gala) was almost an opening act, singing a gorgeous offstage romanza before making a grand entrance of her own. The two singers looked almost like a sister act on the stage--in similar concert gowns as they sung together in the opera's closing scenes, their voices intertwining with tender beauty.
Michael Spyres is another one of those young bel canto talents who gets heard in concert settings but not nearly enough on the big stage. Here, he sang Orombello with just the right amount of "push" in his instrument, producing pleasing tone and nailing the ornamentation. There was enough volume to sound heroic, but more importantly the tonal column was beautiful and pure.
In addition to being the cause of her death, Beatrice's husband Filippo is one of this opera's biggest problems. He is a prototype for the early Verdi villains, who seems to have wandered in from a much later opera. The anachronism is complete when this despicable fellow gets beautiful music to sing.  Even the Act II monologue (where he condemns his wife to death, forgives her, and then condemns her a second time--whew!) requires lyric singing instead of villainous snarls. Luckily, Nicholas Pallesen (Storch in the City Opera's 2010 Intermezzo) was strong in the role, displaying a flexible instrument and stomping on and off the stage when required.
About those exits and entrances: A concert setting with music stands places the emphasis squarely on the singers and on the musical experience for the audience. Having the cast members clip-clop on and off the stage repeatedly distracting, adding unnecessary sound effect to certain scenes. That, and some balance issues (caused by the orchestra's place behind the singers) are the only real complaints.


You Might Also Like :

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog

These articles might interest you :

  • Opera Review: La Plaisanterie Polonaise

    Opera Review: Plaisanterie Polonaise

    Le roi malgré-lui at Bard SummerScape. by Paul J. Pelkonen Motel hobbies: The Act III set for Le roi maigre-lui at Bard SummerScape. Read more

    By  Superconductor
    CULTURE, THEATRE & OPERA
  • Opera Review: Divorce, English Style

    Opera Review: Divorce, English Style

    Read my review of Henry VIII on The Classical Review. Catherine of Aragon (left) and her lady-in-waiting (and successor) Anne Boleyn. The two Queens figure... Read more

    By  Superconductor
    CULTURE, THEATRE & OPERA
  • Opera Review: Einstein on the Beach

    Opera Review: Einstein Beach

    Reposted from The Classical Review. by Paul J. Pelkonen Helga Davis (left) and Kate Moran perform Knee Play No. 2 from Philip Glass and Robert Wilson's... Read more

    By  Superconductor
    CULTURE, THEATRE & OPERA
  • Opera Review: A Catalogue of Crime

    Opera Review: Catalogue Crime

    Ildar Abdrazakov dodges bullets in WNO's Don Giovanni. by Paul J. Pelkonen Super stud: Ildar Abdrazakov grapples with unearthly forces at the climax of Don... Read more

    By  Superconductor
    CULTURE, THEATRE & OPERA
  • Opera Review: The Conservative Ticket

    Opera Review: Conservative Ticket

    L'Elisir d'Amore opens the Metropolitan Opera's 2012-2013 Season. by Paul J. Pelkonen Opening night in Times Square. Photo by the author. Read more

    By  Superconductor
    CULTURE, THEATRE & OPERA
  • Opera Review: A Golden Turandot

    Opera Review: Golden Turandot

    Reposted from The Classical Review. by Paul J. Pelkonen Maria Guleghina as the Princess Turandot. Photo by Marty Sohl © 2012 The Metropolitan Opera. Read more

    By  Superconductor
    CULTURE, THEATRE & OPERA
  • Opera Review: The Met's Magnetic Carmen

    Opera Review: Met's Magnetic Carmen

    Reposted from The Classical Review. by Paul J. Pelkonen Don José (tenor Yonghoon Lee, with knife) menaces Anita Rachvelishvili's Carmen in Act IV of the Bizet... Read more

    By  Superconductor
    CULTURE, THEATRE & OPERA