Monday, April 02, 2007

Flavio at Pocket Opera

I went Saturday afternoon to see Flavio at Pocket Opera in the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. I have been going to see Pocket Opera for 30 years and both Donald Pippin and myself are looking a little long in the tooth.

Pocket Opera does two types of performances: Handel operas in Italian and all other operas in Donald's unique style of English translation. Flavio is in the first category. Both types of opera performances include Donald's droll commentary between the numbers. In the Handel operas this entirely replaces the recitative and includes a complete description of the action.

Wikipedia contains this interesting Factoid: "The opera was first given at the King's Theatre in London on 14 May 1723 and revived on 18 April 1732. There were no further revivals until it was rediscovered and performed in Göttingen on 2 July 1969."

This hasn't been anyone's favorite Handel opera and isn't likely to become mine either. The cast consists of:

Roles Premiere 1723  Our Cast at Pocket Opera
Flavio: Gaetano Berenstadt, alto castrato  Geeta Novotny, mezzo 
Guido: Senesino, alto castrato Elspeth Franks, mezzo 
Emilia: Francesca Cuzzoni, soprano Erina Newkirk, soprano
Vitige (Victor): Margherita Durastanti, soprano Eileen Morris, soprano
Teodata(Thea): Anastasia Robinson, mezzo soprano Kindra Sharich, contralto
Lotario: Giuseppe Maria Boschi, bass Boyd Jarrell, bass
Ugone (Hugo): Alexander Gordon, tenor  Brian Thorsett, tenor

Aha! There is a lot of useful information in this list. The male alto roles transferred to women were originally sung by alto castrati, Guido by no less a figure than Senesino. The male soprano role of Victor was however originally sung by a female soprano. Very interesting. This verifies Rene Jacobs contention that castrati didn't normally rise to the soprano Fach.

Elspeth Franks, who appeared fully in drag, wasn't up to the demands of a role created for Senesino. She seemed to understand the music she was singing better than the other performers, but was simply not vocally strong enough for the part.

The most interesting voices were:

Geeta Novotny, a gorgeous woman with a beautiful, warm tone and only occasional glancing blows at good phrasing. Perhaps she would be more interesting as Carmen.

Erina Newkirk, a soprano with her own personal style, gave the strongest overall performance. Personal style is always good, though it occasionally resulted in some intonation problems.

Kindra Sharich was entertaining and lyrical in the role of Thea, a flirtatious air head if I ever saw one.

Brian Thorsett, tenor, was wasted in the Hugo role. Maybe he will get something bigger to sing next time.

Donald is not progressing with modern tastes in ornamentation of Handel. I hear upward extensions in the da capo sections but no sudden irrelevant outbursts of fioratura, as is increasingly the case around the world.

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