Opera Warhorses

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

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Review: Sarasota Opera’s Affectionate Mounting of “Love for Three Kings [L’Amore dei Tre Re]” – March 11, 2017

March 13th, 2017

The Sarasota Opera, as part of its 2017 four production Winter Opera Festival, has created a new production of Montemezzi’s lyrical opera “L’Amore dei Tre Re (The Love of Three Kings)”.

The  opera was a staple of the repertory of European and North American opera houses in the 50 years after its 1913 premiere. Yet, despite its rich orchestration and sweeping melodies in the Romantic tradition, it has rarely been performed in the past half-century.

The plot is centered in a metaphorical medieval Italian world called Altura (suggesting an historical era – the tenth century – when the German Holy Roman Emperor Otto I conquered Italy).

Archibaldo (who may be thought of as representing the elderly Otto I) and his son Manfredo are occupiers of the Italian people, and Manfredo is constantly away from home at war to defend the family’s conquests. For political and dynastic reasons, Manfredo has married an Alturan (Italian) wife, whom he has fallen in love with; but she, herself, is in love with the Alturan prince, Avito, deposed heir to the throne that Archibaldo has seized.

The blind Archibaldo lives in a castle with his daughter-in-law Fiora, but suspects (correctly) that she is unfaithful to his son, Manfredo. Archibaldo is determined to uncover Fiora’s infidelities and to do what needs to be done to protect the family’s honor (and his dynasty’s power).

Kevin Short’s Archibaldo

District of Columbia bass-baritone portrayed the murderous Archibaldo, one of the iconic bass-baritone roles of Italian opera.

Kevin Short’s bravura performance is, in itself, a reason to see this production. His first act aria Italia! Italia e tutto il mio ricordo! received an audience ovation.

[Below: Kevin Short as Archibaldo; edited image, based on a Rod Millington photograph, courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]

Obviously comfortable in a role he also sang in the Sarasota Opera’s 2003 production of the work, he was a menacing presence in every scene.

Elizabeth Tredent’s Fiora

Ohio soprano Elizabeth Tredent sang the role of Fiora, to whom the three kings (the former king Archibaldo, the present king Manfredo, and the deposed prince Avito) are attracted.

The artist who plays Fiora must convey her reaction to each of these royal men – her desire for Avito, her respect for her husband Manfredo, her justified fear and disgust of Archibaldo. This Tredent did elegantly.

[Below Fiora (Elizabeth Tredent, right) reacts with horror to the suspicions of her father-in-law Archibaldo (Kevin Short, left); edited image, based on a Rod Millington photograph, courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]

Matthew Vickers’ Avito

Pennsylvania tenor Matthew Vickers was an ardent Avito. Vickers possesses the requisite spinto voice and command of the role’s high tessitura.

[Below: Avito (Matthew Vickers, standing) mourns the death of Fiora (Elizabeth Trident (lying on bier); edited image, based on a Rod Millington photograph, courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]

Marco Nisticò’s Manfredo

The role of Manfredo is one of the shorter of  Italian opera’s principal baritone roles, but its lyrical music requires a major voice. Italian baritone Marco Nisticò was enlisted for the task and performed the role with distinction.

[Below: Marco Nisticò as Manfredo; edited image, based on a Rod Millington photograph, courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]

Victor DeRenzi’s Conducting and the Musical Performance

New York conductor Victor DeRenzi, who is artistic director of the Sarasota Opera, led the Sarasota Opera Orchestra in a persuasive performance of the lushly romantic work.

DeRenzi, who last year was knighted by the Italian Government for his contributions to Italian opera, art and culture, has presented the opera in a production and musical performance that I believe Montemezzi himself would have appreciated.

The chorus is under the direction of the chorus master Roger L. Bingaman. The chorus appears as mourners in the final scene.

The major comprimario role is that of Flaminio, Archibaldo’s Alturan servant, nicely performed by Sarasota Opera Studio artist, Illinois tenor Dane Suarez.

Sarasota Opera Apprentice Artists sing several small roles – Massachusetts tenor Mark Tempesta (A Young Man), Missouri soprano Anna Bridgman (A Handmaiden), Ohio soprano Caitlin Crabill (A Young Woman) and Georgia mezzo-soprano Molly Burke (An Old Woman).

Stephanie Sundine’s Direction, David P. Gordon’s Sets and Howard Tsvi Kaplan’s Costumes

For the opera’s revival, an authoritative staging was sought, informed by Montemezzi’s original stage directions. The artists’ movements are stylized and will seem to some as melodramatic or “operatic”.

Although a 21st century British production combined all three acts of the relatively short work into a single act, the Sarasota Opera separated the three acts with two intermissions. Sarasota Opera retains the convention, abandoned elsewhere, of curtain calls after each act.

The attractive sets were the work of New York designer David P. Gordon, defining two different spaces within the castle walls for the first two acts, and a crypt for the final scene. The costumes evoked the work’s medieval setting.

[Below: David P. Gordon’s Act II sets on which Elizabeth Tredent (center on staircase landing) is Fiora and Matthew Vickers (right, on lower floor) is Avito; edited image, based on a Rod Millington photograph, courtesy of the Sarasota Opera.]

Personal Observations

Montemezzi is one of the major composers associated with the verismo movement in Italian opera. Verismo operas are strongly influenced by Wagnerian music drama in which the opera’s thematic structure and orchestration are crucial to the story-telling. Except for the works of Puccini, the number of performances of verismo operas has been in sharp decline in recent years.

It is my argument that the verismo operas that had great success in the early part of the 20th century are ripe for re-examination by a new generation of opera-goers. These operas deserve greater appreciation for both their musical content and their inherent theatricality.

As a college student, I saw a San Francisco Opera production of “Love for Three Kings” with the Fiora of American soprano Dorothy Kirsten, whom Montemezzi mentored and admired, and the Avito of Italian tenor Giuseppe Campora. Even before that performance, I had been familiar with the music of the opera at a much younger age. I would not have believed that it would be a half-century before I was to see the opera again.

Earlier I wrote an essay on the influence of Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” on the opera “Manon Lescaut”, the first great success of Giacomo Puccini [see Echoes of Tristan – Thoughts on Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut”.] “Love for Three Kings” is written two decades after “Manon Lescaut” but the “Tristan” influence on Montemezzi’s “Three Kings”  is as clear to me as it was on “Manon Lescaut”.

Sarasota Opera plays the “Love of Three Kings” straight, which at once highlights the opera’s strengths and exposes some features that might seem to some as weaknesses.

In the latter category might be the content of librettist Sam Benelli’s now unfashionably florid words one might associate with a Burgundian troubadour, that Montemezzi has set to music for Avito to sing. (For those who are attending later performances in Sarasota and reading the English translation in the supertitles that Maestro deRenzi has accurately translated, my suggestion is to give the character’s over the top expressions of ardor a pass – after all, he’s madly in love and risking his life to have this time with Fiora).

Recommendation

The Sarasota Opera Winter Festival has scheduled six performances of “The Love of Three Kings’ – what is now an operatic rarity – in rotation with Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly”, Rossini’s “Italian Girl in Algiers” and Poulenc’ “Dialogues of the Carmelites”.

I recommend “Love of Three Kings” for the veteran opera-goer and for all those who are attracted to highly romantic, intensely melodic musical theater.

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