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Subject: Washington Concert Opera commences season with superb La STRANIERA in DC premiere (11-19-17)
From: Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Alan Savada <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Tue, 21 Nov 2017 10:50:34 -0500

text/plain (64 lines)

Sunday night the Washington Concert Opera(WCO) began their 31st season with a Bellini rarity never performed before in the Washington, DC area. Indeed, it is one work, I have never heard having missed the several other rare US performances over the past several decades. An amazing cast was assembled and the performance was indeed truly memorable. Luckily the performance was taped by WETA-FM for later broadcast (last year's operas were aired earlier this month on our local PBS radio station):

Alaide(La Straniera)-Amanda Woodbury

Arturo-Gerard Schneider

Valdeburgo-Javier Arrey

Isoletta-Corrie Stallings

Il Priore-Timothy Bruno

Osburgo-Jonas Hacker

Montolino-Matthew Scollin

Antony Walker-Artistic Director/Conductor

Before the opera began, it was announced that Ms. Woodbury was indisposed, but would go on nonetheless. The odd and short prelude began with two sustained chords with unusually long rests in between; I thought something was wrong and they might start over, but the choral pastorale began beckoning the upcoming wedding between Isoletta & Arturo. Mr. Arrey has had numerous successes in DC as past WNO Young Artist and now with WCO and now his baritone sounds even more burnished, deeper and warmer. His opening duet with Ms. Stallings, "Agli atti..." offered some superb mezzo low notes as the chorus intoned "la straniera" as a witch. This poor girl is an innocent bystander who just gets "screwed" if you will excuse the term. The scene moves to a quartet/finale as they are joined by Messrs. Hacker & Scollin, who sang well, but unfortunately never got a chance to show off as they get no real arias.

Mr. Schneider in a DC debut offered up a sweet recit and he sure has a big enough tenor to handle this ungodly role which is all over the place. In the excellent pre-opera discussion by Peter Russell, Arturo was described as a stalker and this is indeed so true as he is obsessed with a woman he has never even really seen, let alone met. He is about to sing and aria and then we hear Straniera in an offstage vocalise to harp and strings with gorgeous glissades. Arturo (on  his wedding day to Isoletta) swears his love and allegiance to Alaide(which isn't even La Straniera's real name) as she basically tells him to get lost. Today, this would indeed be a case of unwelcome brashness and maybe even verbal assault. Their agitated duet, "Serba, serba..." finally got our tenor going with some amazing singing, high notes, glissades and more. Her response, "Taci, taci" sounded superb and I could not believe that Ms. Woodward was indisposed. The tenor goes all sweet and soft before the two join for a rousing finale.

Mr. hacker gets a chance to show off with the men's chorus a bit n the next scene where he urges them to a witch hunt against Alaide. Valdeburgo meets Arturo as Alaide enters and Arturo assumes the two are having an affair. Mr. Arrey starts off the trio, "No, non ti sion rivale..." with melting notes as Mr. Schneider joins and Ms. Woodbury is quieter in the background. The music rises to a sudden fortissimo and a thrilling ending which was marred by someone hitting a note that was so far out there, I don't think it could have even been written. It was odd, but the entire trio was so moving that the audience still applauded wildly.

The final scene of Act I has a suspicious tenor "Che mai penso..." hitting awesome high notes as the chorus led by Messrs. Hacker & Scollin join in and urge their witch hunt. 

As Valdeburgo and Alaide emerge from her "hut" a trio, "Addio fra poco..." ensues and Arturo thinks the two are running off together. He challenges Valdeburgo and after wounding him, the latter falls in the lake. Alaide tells her that it is her brother, and as he mouthed "fratello?" the audience indeed laughed quite a lot. Let's face it, this is pretty unbelievable!  Arturo declares he will save him and jumps in the lake. I assume this is one of the reasons the opera isn't staged much as a lake is a big endeavor, and let's face it, I would want to see the baritone and tenor all wet indeed. There is more action, but not much developed singing here and when the chorus witch hunt arrives they accuse her of murder seeing a bloody weapon. Alaide doesn't even bother to defend herself (how lame is that?) in a florid soprano exposition that ends the act with a final high note.

Act II gave Mr. hacker is biggest chance to show off his gorgeous tenor joined by WNO Young Artist Timothy Bruno whose bass always impresses. I couldn't help thinking "what about circumstantial evidence" as they accuse Alaide. Arturo rushes in saying he did it, and there at giggles when the Prior accuses him of being an accomplice to Valderburgo's murder. It was even funnier when the supposedly dead Valdeburgo enters mid-trial ("si, li sciogliete, o guidici....") with a melting plea to save his sister that was sheer perfection from Mr. Arrey, including a beyond brilliant final note that had the audience in a frenzy. 

Arturo returns to Alaide's hut professing his love for Alaide yet again to Valdeburgo in "Si...sulla salma del fratello..."  but the latter bars his access to his sister, telling him he must marry Isoletta.

Ms. Stallings returns with a gorgeous scena, "Ne alcun ritorna?...Oh crudel..." where she realizes Arturo is lost to her "Ah si non l'ami piu."  So I ask why does she still go through with the wedding? It's a superb piece and the deftly executed coloratura was amazing.  The wedding scene has a quartet where the two women blend magnificently.

Alaide alone "Ciel pietoso..." is hidden and we hear the chorus offstage "in the church" where the ceremony has begun. Arturo runs out and basically says this is not going to happen "over my dead body...." which was indeed funny and got some guffaws. The Prior enters to announcethat the present queen has died and Alaide (really Agnes, Queen of France") is now "la regina!" It's a long story, but apparently King Philippe-Auguste had first married Isemberga and then was divorced to allow him to marry Agnes. Alas, the Pope didn't go for that, so the king had to go back to Isemberga(who has now died) and Agnes went into hiding as Alaide!!! 

Before we can even try to figure out what's going on, Arturo has killed himself in despair as Agnes (or Alaide, or La Straniera) wishes for death in a dramatic glissando with every high note spot on in the huge moving finale.

Confusing and silly plot--YES! Great music--YES! Wonderful cast, chorus and orchestra--YES!YES!YES! It was a pleasure to see so many new artists excel in this rarity and while it may not have been perfection, it was definitely worth the night out and attention it got.

ALAN SAVADA of Washington, DC

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