Friday, February 17, 2017

Radiant bel canto display revives a rarer Rossini treat: Tancredi at Opera Philadelphia

Tancredi was written when the early 19th century Italian composer nicknamed "Signor Crescendo", best-known for his effervescent comic opera Il barbiere di Siviglia and a prolific writer of around 40 operas, was just 20 years of age. Premiering in 1813, three years before Il barbiere di Siviglia, and moderately popular in its day, Rossini's compositional showmanship shines. A now uncommonly performed opera seria, Opera Philadelphia (in a coproduction with Opéra de Lausanne and Teatro Municipal de Santiago) have handsomely presented it with both visual elegance and descriptive vocal beauty by a radiant fine bel canto cast.

Stephanie Blythe as Tancredi
Originally set in Byzantine Syracuse and based on Voltaire’s play Tancrède, if the basis of its prescribed story of love, honour, duty and conflict doesn't thrill, director Emilio Sagi and his design team at least give flesh to it with well-paced drama while blending power and privilege successfully in an inspired, almost placeless World War I European setting with the protagonists sharply in focus. 

Act I begins as a centred single point perspective composition comprising a gathering of distinguished military and diplomatic types seated around a long banquet table within an imposing but mildly restrained neoclassical palatial room.

In the unfolding story, two rival noblemen, Argirio and Orbazzano, come together to fight the foreign invader Solamiro in a truce that hands over Argirio's daughter Amenaide in marriage to Orbazzano. Amenaide is, however, secretly in love with the exiled soldier Tancredi. When charged with treason for a letter written to Tancredi, who her father and betrothed believe to be Solamiro, she is condemned to death. In order to save her, Tancredi gallantly returns to Syracuse. 

During it all, after the initial rigidity melts away and a more pronounced human touch fires the drama, Daniel Bianco's sets undergo various soft transformations that magnify and shrink the space effectively. Eduardo Bravo's muted lighting and Pepa Ojanguren's dignified and vibrant costumes provide continuously appealing tableaux.

Three big roles with some devastatingly tricky arias form the opera's core, padded out with a chorus of male officers and three smaller solo roles. 

Brenda Rae as Amenaide
As a gobsmacking gourmet meat and gravy-voiced Tancredi, Stephanie Blythe gives a thunderous performance and takes sound ownership in this title role debut. Rossini wrote a taxing title role to fill and Blythe's solid experience fills it magnificently with unflinching assertiveness and depths of vocal shading. 

It was as if soprano Brenda Rae, though making her company debut, already appeared close to the local audience's heart. For good reason. As Amenaide, Rae let loose a showcase of vocal treats in a captivating display of desire and distress, giving it all vocal grace, gravitas and expressive power.

Also making his company debut, Michele Angelini pours a measure of diplomatic stiffness and heaps of vocal character into his role as Argirio. Angelini oozes with warmth and lyricism and pushes out some beautifully even skips through his coloratura. Daniel Mobbs' staunchly sung but somewhat repugnant Orbazzano, Allegra De Vita's poised and lusciously sung Isaura, and Anastasiia Sidorova's Roggiero all compliment the big three splendidly as do a radiant chorus of soldiers, nobles and citizens.

Michele Angelini, Brenda Rae and Stephanie Blythe
Overall, and especially so in the gentler, more spacious passages, Opera Philadelphia Music Director and conductor Corrado Rovaris gave Rossini's filigreed score affecting, well-modulated life and always remained alert to his singers. The Opera Philadelphia Orchestra made the distance with faultless musicianship among who the en pointe trumpeters and string players should take a deserved bow.

And if you're going to see Opera Philadelphia's Tancredi, and do try, don't dream of leaving before the orchestra delivers Tancredi's last breaths. It's an unexpected and moving end to opera you might expect to end with thunder.

Opera Philadelphia
Academy of Music
Until 19th February

Production photos: Kelly & Massa Photography

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