Monday, October 29, 2012

Bene! Bravi! Benedetti! Olivo e Pasquale at Amore Opera

Amore Opera's cousins
What's the best way to spend your last hours out and about before an advancing hurricane shuts down the NYC transit system? Attending a rarely-performed opera by Donizetti, obviously. The intrepid souls of Amore Opera played to a full house in the second performance of a run which marks the U.S. premiere of Olivo e Pasquale, an insouciant comedic confection from 1827. The numerous references to metaphorical and hypothetical storms in the libretto drew chuckles, but the final ensemble exults that sternness has vanished like fog on the wind, and peace may shine as the sun on the young lovers (Isabella and Camillo) and their friends and relations. The complications of the action include a trio where a housekeeper tries to persuade the melancholy lovers to sensible scheming rather than sighing, a duet where cousins Olivo and Pasquale mutually accuse each other of stupidity ("Siete un asino calzato"), and what the program note called "an inexplicable epidemic of eavesdropping." The vivacious soprano, daughter to domestic tyrant Olivo (bass), has no fewer than three suitors: the drunken hanger-on Columella, the meek bookkeeper Camillo (mezzo), and Le Bross, the dashing foreign suitor chosen by her father (mezzo.) Pasquale is the phlegmatic baritone constantly seeking to spread sweetness and light. ("Eat more pastries!" he tells the heroine. "Don't wear yourself out with working!" he tells her lover.) Everyone runs about proclaiming their feelings and dispensing disregarded advice in bel canto ensembles until a feigned double-suicide forces Olivo into softening and the plot into resolution; it's all quite charming.

Gregory Buchalter led the orchestra with visible enthusiasm, and kept the ensemble laudably tight and action briskly-paced; the gleeful escalations of strings, tongue-in-cheek fanfares, and woodwind laughter of the score were all very winsome. (As a matter of possible interest to those more gadget-oriented than I, Buchalter led using an score on a tablet. The future!) Fr. John Sheehan and Victor Ziccardi ably filled the roles of the loyal Diego and the obnoxiously obsequious Columella, respectively. As the indispensable housekeeper Matilde, Deborah Surdi had a tendency to drift flat, but excellent diction, and she exuded an air of exasperated competence. The gallant Le Bross was embodied with considerable vocal and dramatic flair by Hayden DeWitt. The philosophical merchant's opening aria was sung with both agility and charisma, sparking audible murmurs of appreciation around me. Le Bross is a man of gallantry and good humor, seeking an intelligent and attractive wife (and, in this production, also seeking a decent cup of coffee.) Both quests are vain: Le Bross' insistence on mutual affection leads him to discovering Isabella's previous attachment, which he then helps her to bring to a happy conclusion. DeWitt used phrasing and tonal color expressively throughout.

Camillo, the timid suitor chosen by Isabella, was well sung and charmingly acted by Erika Beth Hennings, who shaped her phrases nicely whether despairing over the accounts or the prospect of a loveless future. Sheena Ramirez sang the role of the much-courted Isabella with impressive agility and brilliance of tone, as well as considerable Soprano Spunk. I found some of her mannerisms distracting, but this is a quibble. Duncan Hartman and Jacopo Buora had good vocal and dramatic chemistry as the temperamentally opposed brothers Olivo and Pasquale. Hartman, imposingly tall and austere of countenance, sang with dark, focused tone; the role does not allow for much dramatic nuance, but Hartman resisted caricature in his portrait of the would-be autocrat. Jacopo Buora has a warm and supple baritone, and Italian diction which made his frequent patter expressive; he was a winsome presence as the amiable Pasquale. If you can make it to one of the remaining performances, I recommend it; if you can persuade an opera company near you that it really needs a delightfully silly opera with two trouser roles and dramatically significant pastries, so much the better.

Curtain call photos:

Columella (Ziccardi)

Matilde (Surdi)

Le Bross (DeWitt)

Camillo and Isabella (Hennings and Ramirez)

Olivo e Pasquale (Hartman, Buora)

Cast and conductor... and orchestra!


  1. The mezzo gets the girl? Sign me up. Off to Amazon, to see if there are any recordings...

    [a minute later]
    Not too many, but two or three exist.

    1. Exciting, isn't it? If considering a purchase, inspect closely. Donizetti rewrote one of the mezzo parts for tenor to accommodate a different cast, and at least one of the recordings uses this revised version.

  2. Thanks for coming and taking the time to review! The mezzo (Camillo) does indeed get the girl (but doesn't get to sing a lick of music in the finale.) Waaaah!

    1. My pleasure! Camillo's neglect in the finale is of course a crying shame! Congrats on looking celebratory anyway. :)


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