Wednesday, June 19, 2013

La hija de Rappaccini: Opera in the Garden of Good and Evil

Elaine Alvarez as Rappacini's Daughter
(c) Gotham Chamber Opera/Richard Termine
Gotham Chamber Opera has made a specialty of presenting unusual opera in unconventional spaces. Their production of Daniel Catán's early work, La hija de Rappaccini, creatively uses modest resources in the luxurious setting of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. The libretto is both more profound and more enigmatic than the Hawthorne story that forms its original source material. Juan Tovar, working from material by Octavio Paz, crafts an elliptical parable about humanity and nature, about humanity and the divine, which asks at least as many questions as it answers. The biblical imagery in which it is steeped was not always reflected in the surtitles. The last thing we need may be one more operatic heroine whose "tragedy is also her transcendence," to quote Gregory Moomjy's program note, but the eponymous Beatriz possesses a dignity and clear-eyed wisdom which are at least some consolation. This run of performances is given in a reduced orchestration by the composer of his 1988 opera.. Two pianos, timpani, and harp create an eerie soundscape, their knowledge of events and emotions often preceding that of the characters. The characterization through the score is also very strong, and as the passions of the principals set them on a collision course, the orchestra expresses their doom and sympathy with their doom. Gotham's musicians (including Andrea Puente Catán on the harp) were led by Neal Goren in a strongly atmospheric performance.

Poison and antidote: a scene from Act II, (c) Gotham Chamber Opera/Richard Termine
Rebecca Taichman's production was simple in elements but thoughtful, juxtaposing the student Giovanni's white bed with Doctor Rappacini's obscenely lush rose garden, the glowing tree of knowledge and death in its center. Flowers, fantastically clad, are made silent participants, a sort of classical chorus even when not singing; it would be too much to call them a moral voice, but they do disapprove of Beatriz' exploitation by the men of the piece, and participate movingly in the postlude. I was impressed by Anita Yavich's costumes, which struck me as unusually well-crafted. The cautious Professor Baglioni gets professional black, Rappaccini a coat that looks dandyish and daringly modern in contrast. Giovanni gradually sheds his sober coat, vest, and cravat as he is drawn further into Rappaccini's world. Beatriz herself has a dress simple in style but with layers recalling petals: white draperies create a maidenly hue of dull, dusty pink, but there's a vivid, almost lurid magenta beneath.

The singers gave fine performances as an ensemble and individually. Ariana Wyatt, Cassandra Zoe Velasco, and Nora Graham-Smith acquitted themselves well in the challenging, dissonant music of the sinister flowers. Jessica Grigg showed good stage presence and a fine mezzo as the landlady Isabel. Her expressive phrasing caught the moral ambivalence of her agency nicely, notably when she tells the student, "Los sognos parlan a gridos." Brian Downen, with a slightly metallic tenor, brought incisive diction and thoughtful characterization to the role of Baglioni. Eric Dubin's pleasing warm, light baritone--as well as, incidentally, his youth--made his Rappaccini surprisingly disarming. As the naive Giovanni, Daniel Montenegro was at his best once doubts beset him, with musical motifs warring for his adherence. He sang with a sweet lyric tenor, and showed convincing ardor in "Beatriz, puerta del mundo," as well as the duet ("Y debo creer todo lo que mis ojos vean") which grows from exchanged fragmentary phrases to ecstatically intertwining vocal lines. Elaine Alvarez, singing the title role, proved to have an exciting and generous soprano of unusual timbre. It's a sizable instrument and she used it well, showing a genuine sweetness that was devoid of simpering, and a dignified resignation in her final scene--"Tus palabras me laceran todavia"--which carried its own pathos. She refuses her father's engineering of life, sensing that something vital is thereby lost. In denying the doctor's creed, she asserts that human community is a higher good than the abstract idea of (scientific) progress.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Start a conversation!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...