Magazine article Opera Canada

Santa Fe Opera Festival

Magazine article Opera Canada

Santa Fe Opera Festival

Article excerpt

Nestled in the magical landscape of northern New Mexico, the Santa Fe Opera Festival has always been Canadian-friendly, with many giving memorable performances in the past. There were four singing leading roles this summer, plus one stage director and three young artists.

Vancouver native Daniel Okulitch returned for Don Giouatwi (seen Aug. 1), his lyric instrument having just the right balance of brilliance and robust tone. A fine actor, he was a very attractive Don, with a seductively sung "Serenade" and a "Champagne Aria" of requisite lightness. His sidekick was bass-baritone Kyle Ketelson as an excellent Leporello. Leah Crocetto, a notable Anna in Maometto II in Toronto last season, was a fine Donna Anna, with extra, interpolated high notes in "Or sai chi l'onore." Keri Alkema (Elvira) showed off her impressively long breath-line in "Mi tradi." Conductor John Nelson gave a middle-of-the-road reading of the score, with generally well-judged tempi. The production by Ron Daniels with sets by Riccardo Hernandez was darkly opulent if a touch idiosyncratic, dominated by the shiny, black, gigantic head and upper torso of a female, which in the denouement turned into some sort of skull.

The requisite contemporary opera at SFO this season was Samuel Barbers Vanessa, never mind this piece is now 58 years old. The production by James Robinson and Tobias Hoheisel wouldn't be out-of-place as a 1940s film noir. The story is a bit dated in post-feminist 2016, but the music remains wonderful. The set is beautiful yet unsettling, dominated by an opulent, if monochromatic, silver-grey. Set in some unknown northern country, Vanessa lives with her mother, the bitter and silent Old Baroness and her beautiful young niece, Erika. It's a joyless household, where Vanessa, dressed in black, mourns her fate after lover, Anatol, left her at the altar 20 years earlier. The opera opens with his unexpected return, though he is actually the son of the original lover. The young Anatol is a penniless opportunist, who proceeds to seduce and impregnate Erika. Deciding that she cannot stand in the way of her aunt's happiness, Erika rejects Anatol and Vanessa marries the young imposter and leaves with him for Paris. The opera ends with Erika assuming the mande of the mourner, wearing black, sitting in Vanessa's chair across from her silent grandmother.

Canadian soprano Erin Wall fully embodied the role of Vanessa, singing with dramatic power and vocal nuance, her high ethereal pianissimos much in evidence. American Zach Borichevsky looked terrific as the cad Anatol and his tenor, with its easy top, was impressive. Mezzo Virginie Verrez (Erika) showed great promise. Mezzo Helene Schneiderman didn't have the contralto timbre as the Old Baroness, but her characterization was suitably chilling. Veteran bass James Morris did a star turn as the Doctor, sounding years younger, bringing much-needed humour to a very gloomy opera. Conductor Leonard Slatkin gave an expert reading of the score.

Surprisingly, SFO had never staged Gounod's Romeo et Juliette until this year, but made up for it with a grand show co-produced with Barcelona's Gran Teatre del Liceu. Austere best describes the set by Ashley Martin-Davis, a mausoleum complete with crypts bearing names of the deceased. The action was relocated from Renaissance Italy to the United States during the Civil War, which created problems with the storyline that one had to overlook. …

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