GEORGINA BENISON –
Last weekend saw the World Premiere of a new ROHM production, in collaboration with the ‘Centre Perfeccionament Placido Domingo’ and ‘Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia of Valencia’ in Spain, and the Prodea group from Turin, Italy, in a superb hybrid feast of styles and media at The Royal Opera House, Muscat, simply called “The Opera!”.
The show was described as a cross between Opera and Broadway Musical forms, using advanced stage techniques such as 3D visual projections at the front and back of the stage, acrobats inspired by circus technique seen in New York using aerobatic suspensions and harnesses, sound effects including some electronic and synthetic, stylised actors for narrators together with the more orthodox ingredients of superb classically trained young singers from the ‘Centre’ and the celebrated Prague Philharmonie orchestra- the PKF. Such ambition and mixture of unlikely bedfellows could have been a recipe for disaster in less capable hands, but under the visionary and experienced supervision of renowned Italian born Artistic Director, Davide Livermore and Creative Director and Show Designer, Paolo Gep Cucco, the production was a huge success and won wide-spread critical acclaim.
The aim of the project was to combine some of the best-loved arias from the Italian opera repertoire drawn from a 400-year tradition in a sort composite opera using the story from the ancient Greek myth, “Orfeo and Euridice”, in which love triumphs over evil and death. The evening opened with two narrators briefly introducing the drama, and quickly the curtain rose to reveal a wedding feast being arranged to the familiar sound of Mendelssohn’s famous Wedding March played by the PKF under the comparatively young internationally-acclaimed American conductor and composer, Steven Mercurio – another deity in the cast?
The two Acts each use Gluck’s 18th century opera, ‘Orfeo ed Euridice’ at the beginning, and here an amazing scene, the kidnapping of Euridice is portrayed in the “Dance of the Furies” using flying trapezes, 3-dimensional motion visual projections and a wedding table with conveyor belt to allow Orfeo to run like a hamster in a cage! We are transported into the Hades of the myth which is represented so cleverly in this modern interpretation as the lobby of an Art-Deco Grand Hades Hotel. Orfeo must now pursue Euridice and strive to reclaim her; Love must succeed over Fate using the vehicles of glorious Italian arias instead of a long, dark tunnel.
The lead roles were taken by two young singers with film-star good-looks and charisma. Orfeo was ably sung, acted, danced and run by handsome 29-year-old Italian tenor, Valentino Buzza opposite sylph-like Ethiopian-born soprano, Mariam Battistelli, and in their first meeting, Puccini’s aria, “Sono andati fingevo di domire” from “La Boheme” left little doubt that Ms Battistelli is a soprano of the very highest calibre and Mr. Buzza a talented actor and singer with great potential in the opera world.
Plutone, ruler of Hades, is transformed into the wicked hotel manager, played brilliantly by Spanish baritone, Jorge Alvarez and becomes an impressive co-star and anti-hero in the show. His first aria from Boito’s “Mefistofele”, ‘Son lo Spirito’ was impressively executed and convincing in its dramatic persuasion.
There were 22 numbers in the whole production, each one (with subtitles provided happily) a perfect vignette of an operatic story with incredible effects and sets. It would be tiresome to describe each one but the first Act concluded with a memorable Japanese scene, complete with a montage of delicate butterflies, from Puccini’s, “Madama Butterfly”, the impossibly beautiful and plaintive ‘Un Bel di Vedremo’, in which the abandoned Butterfly expresses waiting for the ship which will bring her lover back. It was sung exquisitely in the upper register by Mexican soprano, Karen Gardeazbal as Euridice’s Guide, in a poignant climax of the narrative before the comic finale, ‘Nella testa ho un Campanello’, the spoof ensemble number on bell sounds, sung here by the entire Conciergerie from Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri”.
Two waitresses in the hotel were sung delightfully by Portuguese soprano, Rita Marques and Bulgarian mezzo-soprano, Elisa Barbero in some amusing parodies in comic songs while the Italian mezzo, Chiara Osella was a powerful, dramatic presence in ensemble arias as Queen Persephone, Pluto’s wife. The Spanish tenor, Pablo Garcia Lopez played an agile and cunning Caronte from Dante’s Divine Comedy with appropriate guile.
Other famous arias included La Donna e Mobile from Verdi’s “Rigoletto”, Gluck’s ‘What will I do without Euridice’, the evocative ‘E lucevan le stelle’ (light up the stars) from Puccini’s “Tosca” and Handel’s, ‘Leave me to Cry’ from “Rinaldo”, creating an awe-inspired silence in the auditorium by Mariam Battistelli.
The Finale began with the evocative ‘Intermezzo’ from Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” as projections of corn fields produced a sense rural euphoria which melted back into Mendelssohn’s Wedding March as hasty preparations allowed the victorious couple to be reunited in nuptial bliss.
Rossini’s William Tell Finale brought the house to its feet as encore after encore richly rewarded this stunning achievement in the future of The Opera!