Opera Warhorses

An appreciation and analysis of the 'Standard Repertory' of opera

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Selected Pre-Mozartean Operatic Performances Scheduled for February-July, 2012

January 10th, 2012

A half century ago, the only opera written earlier than Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” that was occasionally performed by American opera companies was Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice”. But since then the operas of Handel and Gluck have become much more familiar fare than anyone would have ever expected, and Monteverdi’s and sometimes even Vivaldi’s operas are also occasionally performed.

There are perhaps several reasons why pre-Mozartean works are now performed more regularly in North America. I believe three reasons predominate. First, audiences have come to appreciate the waves of arresting melodies that abound in the 17th and especially 18th century operas. Second, there have developed performance traditions as how to present these works. Third, there are singers who have mastered the artistry required to perform the operas.

Over the next few weeks, in venues large and small, North American audiences will have the opportunity to experience two different productions of the French version of Gluck’s masterpiece about the story of Orpheus – one with a tenor Orpheus, the other sung by a mezzo soprano.

Audiences will also be able to view two 18th century settings of one of the most famous works of the 16th century – Italian poet Torquato Tasso’s “Jerusalem Delivered”. One version of Tasso’s exotically fanciful account of the strife between Muslims and Christians in the First Crusade  is Handel’s “Rinaldo”, to be performed in Chicago. The other is Lully’s “Armide”, which will be seen in Toronto and at the Glimmerglass Festival.


Orphee et Eurydice (Gluck), Seattle Opera, February 25, 29, March 3, 4(m), 7 and 10, 2012.

When Gluck first composed his operatic masterpiece on the Orpheus legend, it was in Italian and written for a mezzo-soprano playing a male role. But Parisian tastes persuaded Gluck to revise the opera for performance in French, with a tenor male as Orphee.

The opera has three characters and a chorus, but it is Orphee, sung in Seattle by the excellent lyric tenor William Burden, who dominates virtually every scene, a daunting task rewarded with some of the 18th century’s most beautiful melodies. He will be joined by Davinia Rodriguez as Eurydice and Julianne Gearhart as the God Amor.

[Below: Orphee (William Burden) uses his lyre to charm the Furies; edited image, based on an Elise Bakketun photograph, courtesy of the Seattle Opera.]

The production is conceived and staged by the brilliant Argentine director Jose Maria Condemi, with with sets designed by Phillip Lienau and costumes by Heidi Zamora. Gary Thor Wedow conducts.

[For my performance review, see: William Burden Triumphs in Gluck’s “Orphee et Eurydice” – Seattle Opera, February 29, 2012.]


Rinaldo (Handel), Lyric Opera of Chicago, February 29, March 4(m), 8, 12, 16, 20 and 24, 2012.

“Jerusalem Delivered” is the great work by the Italian poet Torquato Tasso (whose life was sufficiently dramatic to inspire an semi-biographical opera by Donizetti).

The list of Baroque, Rococo and Classical opera composers who created operas about its principal characters, Armide and Rinaldo, is a who’s who of great figures in 17th and 18th century vocal music. The Tassomania extended to the artworld as well, with several famous artists painting their own visions of the Deliverance of Jerusalem.

[Below: the Francisco Negrin production of “Rinaldo”; edited image, based on a Dan Rest photograph, courtesy of the Lyric Opera of Chicago.]

Lyric Opera has assembled a Dream Team for its “Rinaldo” production, conceived by the impressive Mexican concept director Francisco Negrin. Virtually every artist enlisted for this series of performances has been praised, often multiple times, by this website.

The pre-eminent counter-tenor of our day, the American David Daniels, returns to Lyric Opera as Rinaldo. He is joined by an international cast all making their Lyric debuts, but whose memorable performances in San Francisco, Santa Fe, Houston, and/or Dallas have been enthusiastically reviewed by me and are archived in this website.

These include South African soprano Elsa van den Heever (Armide), Italian mezzo Sonia Prina (Goffredo), Italian basso Luca Pisaroni (Argante) and British counter-tenor Iestyn Davies (Eustazio). Harry Bicket conducts.

 [For my performance review, see: Handel’s “Rinaldo” in Chicago: Francisco Negrin’s Finely Sung, Fun-filled Fantasy – Lyric Opera, March 16, 2012.]


Armide (Lully), Opera Atelier, Toronto, April 14, 15(m), 17, 18, 20 and 21, 2012, in a co-production with:

Glimmerglass Festival, Cooperstown, New York, July 21, 29(m), 31(m), August 5(m), 10, 13(m), 18 and 23, 2012.

France was the country in which the epic poem Chanson de Roland (The Song of Roland) first popularized the theme of heroic battles between Muslims and Christians. In this great poem and the similar works that followed it, the Knights Roland and Renaud (in Italian, Orlando and Rinaldo), are part of Charlemagne’s 8th century army defeated by the Saracens at Ronceveaux, but the warriors over the next half millenium become the subject of myriad story lines, especially by French and Italian story tellers.

Throughout much of that half millenium’s history, Christians are driving Muslims from Spain, while Muslims controlled most of North Africa, the Middle East and parts of the Balkans, continuously inspiring new spins on the old tales. The most significant literary works in this tradition for Baroque opera goers are Ariosto’s “Orlando Furioso” and, of course, Tasso’s “Jerusalem Delivered”.

Many operatic production designers wish to conceptualize ways to make unfamiliar baroque operas relevant to modern audiences. The Christian-Muslim interrelationships that inspired Tasso, however fancifully he dealt with the subject matter, can inspire new ideas about how production designers should present operas about Christians and Muslims written almost three centuries ago.

Canada’s Opera Atelier creates its first co-production of an opera, in conjunction with the Glimmerglass Festival, choosing Lully’s great operatic tragic drama, “Armide”.

[Below: Armide (Peggy Kriha Dye, above) unexpectedly finds that love prevents her from killing her enemy Renaud (Colin Ainsworth, prostrate on ground); edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]

Stage director Marshall Pynkoski, set designer Gerard Gauci and choreographer Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg are the creative team. Lighting designs are by Bonnie Beecher.  For Toronto, Peggy Kriha Dye is the enchantress Armide, Colin Ainsworth the Christian knight Renaud, with basso Joao Fernandes as the Hidraot. David Fallis (Opera Atelier’s music director) conducts.

Dye and Ainsworth are announced for the lead roles at Glimmerglass, with the team of Fallis, Pynkoski, Gauci, Zingg and Beecher joining them at the Festival.

[For my performance review, see: Elegant and Engaging, Lully’s “Armide” Glows at Glimmerglass Festival – July 21, 2012.]


Orphee et Eurydice (Gluck), Opera Santa Barbara, April 27 and 29, 2012.

Jose Maria Condemi, who has assumed the duties of artistic director of the Opera Santa Barbara, promises a different production and staging of “Orphee” from the one he directs for Seattle Opera in February and March. In Santa Barbara, the role Orphee is sung by mezzo-soprano Layna Chianakas.

[Below: Orphee (Layna Chianakas, right, holding lyre) subdues the forces of Hades with the lyre’s magic; edited image, based on a photograph, courtesy of the Opera Santa Barbara.]

Marnie Breckenridge is the Eurydice and Angela Cadelago is the Amor. Yannis Adoniu is the choreographer. Jose Luis Moscovich conducts.

[For my performance review, see: Orphee” at the Lobero – Jose Maria Condemi, Opera Santa Barbara, Mount Gluck’s Masterpiece in Intimate Venue – April 29, 2012.}



Tags: Quests and Anticipations