Cher Public

The not so great outdoors

Allegra De Vita, a full ruby-rich mezzo.

Washington DC’s ever-adventurous Opera Lafayette has been coming to New York City regularly for a number of years and its latest program was performed Friday night at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College and brought together two rare works adapted from La Gerusalemme liberata: Alessandro Scarlatti’s Erminia and Francesco Geminiani’s La forêt enchantée. For all the company’s good intentions this opera-dance combo was not one of its happiest outings. 

Tasso’s epic of the crusades has birthed countless musical works but these two would not rank among the finest. The Geminiani is an oddity, a half-hour dance- pantomime which Opera Lafayette entrusted to choreographer Anuradha Nehru and the Kalanidhi Dance company with which it collaborated several years ago in an entrancing production of Rameau’s Les Fêtes de l’Hymen et de l’Amour.

The tale surrounding the enchantment of Rinaldo and his troops by the sorceress Armida was transposed to India in the 17th century and the conflict became that of the Mughals versus the Marathas.

Geminiani’s 1754 score which sometimes resembles a much-extended concerto grosso accompanied a swiftly moving scenario and Nehru’s work most often tended toward pantomime rather than dance. Her thirteen performers capered delightfully and allowed the sprawling, non-linear five-act scenario to unfold seemlessly.

Opera Lafayette’s conductor Ryan Brown also played the solo first-violin part and led a vivacious if bumpy reading of the sporadically revived score. Fabio Biondi, also a great Scarlatti proponent, recently toured a staging by Davide Livermore of Forêt throughout Europe, and back in the day I owned an LP of the score (which I’ve always known as La foresta incantata although it premiered in Paris hence the French title) but I was happy to become reacquainted with the grand score on Friday.

The DC and New York performances of the Scarlatti were its first in the US and it was an odd choice perhaps as only the first act of the serenata survives. 1723’s Erminia is the composer’s final vocal composition after a remarkable career that included nearly 70 operas as well as scads of oratorios, cantatas, etc.

Some, particularly Donald Jay Grout, have argued strenuously for the importance of Scarlatti in the evolution of Italian opera, but I’ve yet to fully succumb to his works although René Jacobs’s recording makes a convincing case for La Griselda, the composer’s final opera. Perhaps the Paris Opéra’s upcoming production of Il Primo Omicidio will finally prove Alessandro’s big 21st century break.

Erminia may be seen as an adjunct to the story of Tancredi and Clorinda best known from Monteverdi’s Combattimento. The escaped princess Erminia absconds with Clorinda’s armor and is taken in by a shepherd (Pastore).

While tending the garden where the calla lilies certainly were in bloom in Richard Ouellette’s stage design she is spotted by Tancredi who mistakes her for his beloved while another soldier Polidoro too falls under her spell. These romantic entanglements are set in motion but nothing is resolved as act two no longer exists!

Richard Gammon’s simple production kept the complications of the 75-minute piece easy enough to follow but the small cast had enough trouble keeping up with the fierce vocal demands to lend much dramatic punch to the flimsy abbreviated plot. Scarlatti’s demanding music requires virtuosi but alas Opera Lafayette’s cast ranged from only adequate to very good.

Bass André Courville had a pleasant enough voice, grainy but solid throughout its range, but he was impossibly bland particularly in the extensive recitatives. Unfortunately he also struggled to keep up with Julia Dawson, the Erminia, in their impressive duet that is one of the score’s gems.

She had been impressive in Opera Lafayette’s recent production of Vivaldi’s Catone in Utica,  but here was several times nearly defeated by Erminia’s impossible coloratura particularly during the extravagant aria which ended the act. Otherwise she showed a promising, shining high mezzo that while adept at the high baroque style never sounded completely comfortable in it.

Asitha Tennekoon as the tenor Polidoro displayed some nice dynamic shading but his bravura entrance aria with trumpet obbligato (a favorite Scarlatti device, witness Su le sponde del Tebro, probably his best-known vocal piece) found him struggling to keep up. He also lacked the musical-dramatic imagination to keep the listener involved throughout his very long (and beautiful) second da capo aria.

The most arresting and effective performer was Allegra De Vita in the castrato role of Tancredi. She was most at home in both recitative and aria revealing a full ruby-rich mezzo. Although her music wasn’t quite as florid as Erminia’s she showed a fine command of the fiery roulades of her jealousy aria. Her brusque stride and startlingly convincing makeup and beard momentarily led some in the audience to assume she might be an accomplished countertenor.

The off-stage choruses at the beginning of Erminia swerved painfully off-track—not a hopeful sign. Brown’s orchestra which did a good job in the Geminiani here sounded scattered and scrawny which surprised me as it had performed Vivaldi’s opera well several years ago. Scarlatti’s constantly inventive wind writing revealed the ensemble at its best but more often than not the strings lacked the attack and vigor that would have helped to bring the problematic piece to life

While applauding the impulse to explore a small corner of Scarlatti’s vast and unfamiliar vocal output, Erminia end up a frustrating choice. One hopes next time its meritorious search for neglected gems of the 17th and 18th centuries may produce more satisfying results.

Photos © 2018 Louis Forget

  • Camille

    Pity. This only confirms a very deeply felt hunch I’d had about this program and one truly regrettable, for this group is highly estimable and I’m grateful for their outreach up here in New York. At least, now I feel a bit better for not having schlepped over to the inspiration-challenging Gerald Lynch Theatre, another factor which counted against it.

    On a lighter side, I absolutely adore the name Allegra de Vita, which I’d previously noted in some WNO production. That name, along with Mlle Anaïs Constant, are my two current favourites. She was a discovery when I chanced a hearing of that franco-monegasque Tannhäuser, starring the incurable José Cura and co-joined at the hip by the Venus of Aude Extrémo, one of Mr Christopher’s faves. An Extreme-Cure duo.

    Grout can be an old fuddy-duddy. There has to be some reason why Scarlatti’s works were done so much, why there are so many of them, and I, for one, am looking forward to hearing from NPW Paris about this Il Primo Omicidio coming up next season in Paris.

    Grazie.

    • It had better be good. The orchestra is called “B’Rock Orchestra”. New to me.

      A name I like very much is Alvis Hermanis. Imagine being called Alvis.

      • Camille

        I’ve been called a lot worse. Actually if you say it with the right intonation it sort of passes for Elvis. Imagine being called that!

        A-Rach should be the featured soloist for the B’Rock Orchestra.

        Oh, this all reminds me to slog over to your blog to catch up on the latest. For all I know Offenbach may be back on the Boulevard.

        • It’s been a slow season so far, nothing new since Jephtha. On Friday I have those dreary nuns banging on in Dialogues des Carmelites.

          • But all’s well that ends well, of course.

            • Camille

              One has to be in just the right sort of mauve mood for those guillotinings. Maybe okay for the winter? Jeptha is also a rather wan sounding offering but I’ve kept myself from that type of repertory and only rather gingerly approach it and with lace gloves on.

              At least the Don Carlos was a pretty satisfying blowout for all concerned. I would have given my entire Met season(s) to have been there, even if at the Bastille.

              The nuns get guillotined at the Bastille don’t they? Optimum co-incidence!

            • In this case they get the chop at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées. I just noticed Jérémie Rhorer will be in the pit…

            • Camille

              I do not know this conductor(?), but have heard the name. Is this good news or bad?

              My, les sœurs are branching out in all directions. What it must be like to see this opera in Paris, I imagine…it’s like the time I saw the movie of Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing”, while staying at a friend’s in a scuzzy part of Brooklyn. When walking outside the movie theatre it was like entering an imaginary porthole back inside to the movie. Very mind-boggling.

            • Seeing it in Paris doesn’t really make it much more fascinating. Paris or not, they drone on until silenced.

              Rhorer’s fame is a bit of a mystery to me. But the cast is very fancy, and I’m told it’s one of Py’s better shows (though I see, once again, there’s chalk writing on the wall…):

              Patricia Petibon Blanche de la Force
              Sophie Koch Mère Marie de l’Incarnation
              Véronique Gens Madame Lidoine
              Sabine Devieilhe Sœur Constance de Saint Denis
              Anne Sofie von Otter Madame de Croissy
              Stanislas de Barbeyrac Le Chevalier de la Force
              Nicolas Cavallier Le Marquis de la Force
              Sarah Jouffroy Mère Jeanne de l’Enfant Jésus
              Lucie Roche Sœur Mathilde
              François Piolino Le Père confesseur du couvent
              Enguerrand de Hys Le premier commissaire
              Arnaud Richard Le second commissaire, un officier
              Matthieu Lécroart Thierry, le médecin, le geôlier

            • Camille

              Oh please, it would be for me!
              It does seem a good cast, but possibly five years back for Gens and von Beaver? I don’t know what either sounds like now and isn’t Gens mysteriously listed as Hécubenin the upcoming Troyens exposition? Mystères!

              Couldn’t the PetitBonBon and La DeVieilhe alternate roles? Seems as either one would do in whichever role.

              Look here, I’d much rather this cast than the one I last saw at the Met although Racette was fine as Blanche,
              Pre-wobbly daze.

            • We don’t have guillotines on every street corner any more, you know.

            • Camille

              I know, but a girl can dream!

              Also, I forgot to say how much I love the name of the cast member named Stanislas de Barbeyrac! Very ancien régime seemingly!

            • Even more ancien régime. Like something from the crusades.

            • Barbeyrac is excellent by the way. I don’t think I’ve ever read a word against him.

            • Camille

              Who of these tenor/barytons would you recommend to Christian and fletcher? I just heard a French fellow sing Pelléas very well with Maestro Langrée ladt weekend but didn’t catch his name. I am becoming in reasjngly interested in PetM over the years and now am more actively trying to know it. Looking at the score is difficult as it so much pp! Mo. Langrée played it in an agressive manner ehich was very novel to me. I would like to hear again and again as it was no more fairytale Allemonde but suddenly very contemporary and dramatic in startling fashion.

            • Isn’t the great Pelléas of the day still Degout? Or is he now considered past it?

              I prefer Pelléas roughed up a bit. Otherwise, as I said recently, I find Debussy very grim, like a month of wet Sunday afternoons in the suburbs. No wonder his wife shot herself.

            • Camille

              Um, I heard him a few years ago with the Rattles and I was not impressed and know not why. I knew his reputation, which preceded him, but it just did not add up. Do not know why. Maybe it was Rattle’s tempi?

            • Or maybe an off day for Degout. He’s usually very, very good.

            • Camille

              Or an off day for me. I had a very bad day the night I heard Giulini’s Falstaff, e.g., and was further ignorant of the score, so never valued the experience. It’s many things.

            • I think we probably have more off nights, as audience members, than singers, whose work begins an hour or two after ours finishes.

            • fletcher

              He was a very good Pelléas here with Tilling, Naouri, Palmer, White, & Salonen here a bit back. One I’d like to hear more from is Marc Mauillon. Looks like he’s sung it in Malmö. I prefer a lighter voice in the role.

            • Heheh, the last thing I saw him in was a new work called Robert le cochon et les Kidnappeurs. I noted: “The only really sound voice in this production was that of Marc Mauillon, most recently seen as Cithéron in Robert Carsen’s production of Platée and here projecting the same engaging personality.”

            • fletcher

              Great minds, &c. Christie brought Renato Dolcini here for his D&A, also a very engaging voice.

            • August

              Speaking of barytones, your opinion of Holzmair’s DSM is?

            • Camille

              I have had no time to listen. Just night before last I heard Matthias Goerne give a very significant program which included Dichterliebe, among other Berg, Wolf, and Shostakovich offerings. A seriously beautiful evening for a change.

            • August

              When you do, please tell. That Goerne/Trifonov evening must have been mammoth, based on the NYT’s review. Lucky you to have been there. About the serious part, yes those are welcome when they happen which is rarely. The recent tour by Barbara Hannigan was all seriousness and no smiles. And that’s all good.

            • Perhaps you heard Jean-Sébastien Bou?

            • Camille

              Here is the cast list for Cincinnati: Phillip Addis was the Pelléas

              http://www.cincinnatisymphony.org/program-notes/17-18/pelléas/

            • Ah, OK. Saw him twice in the same role, e.g. in 2010: “Phillip Addis so bright a baritone he’s more like a clarion tenor, loud and almost piercingly metallic at the top.” And then in 2014: “Addis still has the smiling charm that makes him the only reasonably likeable, near-normal character in the otherwise exasperating, unsympathetic bunch; Vourc’h is now a woman and could no longer be taken for a mere girl. Their vocal performances have simply matured with them. I don’t think anyone could fault them.”

            • Camille

              LOUD, yes! They all were. It was the loudest Pelléas I’ve heard but it kind of worked and woke up the dramatic crisis.

              Well, isn’t it a baryton martin role par excellence? I heard Dwayne Croft a few times here and I know he started study as a tenor and later worked himself down the scale. Better to look at the score.

            • Woke up the dramatic crisis, or at least stopped the audience dozing off.

              It was in fact a performance of Pelléas that gave my blog its name. A friend who saw me on my way out said “You should call your blog We Left At The interval” so I did.

            • Camille

              Don’t think he barked below even if Elvira was a bit of a dog. Woof! There was once something called “l’urlo francese” which was significantly changed after Rossini’s advent in Paris. I should read up on it — it stemmed from the declamatory style of the plays and had something to do with the Gluck style of singing. Can’t remember more at present.

              Do men not wear socks with their shoes à Paris? Does every production have a clump of chairs? What is it about chairs? All those chairs the other night in a piazza in Sicilia in Cavalleria!! Not happening IRL!

            • In the last few hours I’ve seen DSM, D&A and now IRL. I have to keep Googling, but Google tells me DSM is “the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the U.S.”

            • Camille

              Oh, I am so sorry to employ those internet quickies. Just once in a while I think of one and speed things up. That is one of the only ones I know anyway.

              Yes, I assumed that stockingless shoes was a French thing and not so much Italian. Some occasional slick types sport that effect too, here, and usually seen on Madison Avenue in one of those cramped little pseudo french or italian bistro things. It’s a look. I guess.
              D’accord et à bientôt!

            • MDR…

            • fletcher

              I’d say he was merely adequate as Ottavio in a disappointing DG in SF last summer, with Minkowski. In context, though, he was one of the better things about that show.

            • fletcher

              What a cast!

            • Camille

              Aha, it was presented as opera? I’d agree on that unless there is an extraordinary director a couple participating artists. Händel probably knew what he was about, after all.

              A couple years ago I heard that serenata of his (I can’t recall its name but it’s a long one and the one which Emanuelle Haïm has dragged around
              with) and it was presented concert style but stylishly so. One of the sopranos had the cutest little shoes, e.g., which added to her characterisation. Sorry, but I love shoes!

            • I did say, on my blog, “If oratorio were opera, we wouldn’t need a different word for it.”

              I think you probably mean that one with the long title involving time and disillusion… You know, I like Händel VERY much but admit I left that one at half time.

            • Camille

              It was Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, and I liked it very much indeed.

              Mr Naouri has possible the longest feet of any performer I’ve ever seen.

              For some reason I was focussing upon shoes at that concert ………

            • grimoaldo2

              That delightful piece, Aci, Galatea e Polifemo,totally different from the later Acis and Galatea, is, as you say, a serentata, which means it is fairly short and written to be performed at an outdoors party, probably at night with artificial light, and probably semi-staged.

            • Camille

              Yes, it was ever so slightly semi-staged, if I recall at all correctly, but only slightly, and I felt just a touch was enough. It was delightful and was so very happy to hurdle my Händel hump with this work. I was going to another one some time later and had the ticket and even showed up but felt unwell so donated it and went home. It was a famous one, too. I don’t know what Harry Bicket has up next at CH but I may go if I feel the inclination. I succeeded at liking Vivaldi for the first time last year with the magisterial Venediana production of “Juditha Triumphans”, so there is hope for me yet. I think. Well maybe a little.

            • CCorwinNYC

              Juditha was performed by the Venice Baroque Orchestra; La Venexiana generally does only 17th century music and earlier.

            • Camille

              That was a stab in the dark and the only thing I could remember so you’ll forgive me, I hope.

            • A year ago already…

            • grimoaldo2

              “Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno”.
              Handel’s first oratorio, written for Rome where the Pope forbade operas.
              “Jephtha” was written for London where the Bishop of London forbade Biblical stories being staged.
              So they were written for specific situations and specific circumstances, what Handel would have done with these subjects had he had total freedom we cannot know.
              “Jephtha” is quite contemplative and philosophical at the beginning, no, not much action, However I welcome the trend to stage these works as they bring them to wider audiences.

            • Camille

              And shan’t have to “Leave at the Interval”!

              Last night at the magnificent Goerne/Trifonov recital there was NO intermission and NO interruption between groupings of songs for applause nor even a breathing space. I swear I’ve not seen that done or cannot absolutely recall having experinced this m. o. before. It worked but it took incredible resources on his part to pull it off. I had respected him for what I’d see before of him in the Vienna Phil Wozzeck but this was an outstandingly formidable performance. Bravo to both.

          • grimoaldo2

            Just read your write-up on Jephtha. Glad you enjoyed it. I share your opinion about “those dreary nuns banging on in Dialogues des Carmelites.” although I would not have been brave enough to say so.

            • I didn’t realize it was a matter for bravery. I’m not usually brave at all here on Parterre -- too dangerous. I’ve kept very quiet about Parsifal and been careful not to wonder in public why Adriana Lecouvreur is played at all.

            • Camille

              Hahahahaha! What have you to say about Parsifal? Did you see it when originally given in Lyon? Whisper à voix bas!

            • Like the Governess in Screw, I will say nothing.

            • Camille

              Or it shall be “Off with his head” and you’ll be pushing poor little Blanche and Constance out of the way to get there first!

            • Camille

              Hahaha! I think I gotcha, thanks!

              Wagner was the biggest and most successful con artist ever. It’s all got to be approached as Holy Writ….mah!

            • Camille

              I went on a search for Parsifal+Lyon and netted zilch, so I guess you’ve banished it from chez NPW’s Paris.

            • I’ve never seen Parsifal in Lyon. When I said “I’ve kept very quiet about Parsifal,” I meant about the work, not a particular production!

            • Camille

              Oh oh, all right then. I had assumed that you had and how foolish.

              Oh, I hear you on that one. Fraught with all types of ideological fervent beliefs, all — I don’t know — and I won’t or can’t say, either. I enjoy it from a musical standpoint and dismiss most of the rest. In part based on a libretto he wrote previously, and can’t remember at present and mislaid that book. It got a lot of people in a lot of hot water.

            • I have been known to enjoy a production.

            • grimoaldo2

              “Poulenc himself preferred Les Mamelles and so do I”
              Me too, I have found those nuns very boring until the final scene when they line up for the chop.
              Had to keep my lips zipped not to express the same exact thought about Adriana L.
              I said my piece quite robustly re Parsifal when the Met production was new and it caused quite a kerfluffle, no point in going over it all again.
              I have found that music of the “transformation scenes” from the Met broadcast the other night really sticking in my head, I even listened to it in my sleep last night,

            • Camille

              Grimoaldo--I do not recall what you said about the Parsifal and I dast not ask you to restate it so if you send me in the general direction of it, I’ll read it.

              It’s okay if you don’t like Adriana, I can understand that. It is an old lady opera for the most part.

            • grimoaldo2

              I don’t even want to do that I’m afraid as it could bring these issues up again here and I don’t think it would be welcome.
              You may get a feel for what I mean if you look at my comments on the chat from the other night where I refer to the libretto’s “quasi-religious hokum” and Ivy brings up a topic that I respond to be saying “please note that I did not raise this subject”.

            • Hmm. Hokum. Would that be the same as claptrap?

            • grimoaldo2

              More or less except the “tradition” until recently was that the quasi-religious hokum in the second scene of the first act was so “holy” that clapping was forbidden.

            • Camille

              Okay. I get the drift.
              Pax vobiscum!

              Besides, I’ll just to get my archaeological boots on and dig.

            • Well, this is all very liberating isn’t it? Good thing there’s nobody else here to read it.

          • Camille

            NPW mon Ami,

            Well, indeed I did go slogging to your blog and was rather impressed by your current level of editorial prowess and content.

            First, I was most interested in your remarks on the MACBETH as I feel very similarly about Verdi. For me, the rhythmic pulse is ALL. That forward sense of propulsion is the critical thing with him. When Noseda comes back next year with I VESPRI, I will attend gladly even if that means putting up
            with la meade di centralia. Maybe she sounds okay in this…one never knows.

            There was a bunch of other topics as well but I’m going to take my sick old lady nap now so I shall return. Anyway, maybe I shall try to be more diligent with your blog, as it IS a great boon to me to hear of this musical activity especially now that the knowledgeable Monsieur œdipe is only very seldom here anymore.

            Merci bien!

            • I’m always nervous when knowledgeable people look at my blog. Bear in mind it’s just meant to be a record of one ordinary subscriber’s impressions!

            • Camille

              Well, sir, you do state that caveat right up front, don’t you?

              You have nothing whatsoever to be nervous about as your thoughts are intelligent and comprehensively mulled over. Music is an endless ocean to
              discover and we are all, as Birgit Nilsson rightfully said, “Like little children sitting on a school bench”
              ALL our lives. Those who think they are learnèd or have arrived at some point of a summa of knowledge are just fooling themselves, and not others. You voice yourself earnestly and in forthright manner and that is the most important thing. Carry on.

              I shall return, and maybe I’ll figure out a way to “comment” (I never could on mrs clagghie’s blog and she was vexed at me for that). I’m just Dora Dummkopf when it comes to ‘puters. Au revoir!

            • You did note, though, that some people just found Noseda “too fast”.

            • Camille

              Yes but—

              I think most people have their favourite recording in their heads. What may have been “fast” to them would have actually been more correct. I usually have always listened to Sinopoli in this. Fast is better than levinesque letargico, which distorts the life pulse out of things.

            • In any case I like fast in general: I have dinner after the opera, not before.