Entertainment » Music

Odyssey Opera Scores with Bel Canto Rarity

by Ed Tapper
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Nov 4, 2019
Alisa Jordheim and Leroy Davis in Odyssey Opera's "Maria, Regina d'Inghilterra." (Photo by Kathy Wittman)
Alisa Jordheim and Leroy Davis in Odyssey Opera's "Maria, Regina d'Inghilterra." (Photo by Kathy Wittman)  

When one refers to the early 19th century Bel Canto style in opera, the composers Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti come immediately to mind. However, the "school" included several lesser luminaries whose works, enormously popular in their day, have fallen into relative obscurity. One of these figures was Giovanni Pacini.

Like Vincenzo Bellini, Pacini was born in Catania, Sicily, five years earlier than his illustrious colleague. He is said to have exerted a great deal of influence on Bellini, though his operas have been criticized as lacking the melodic inspiration of those of his younger countryman. This may account for the fact that few of his nearly 75 operas are ever revived or recorded. Having established a tradition of uncovering worthwhile rarities of the operatic repertoire, Boston's Odyssey Opera felt strongly enough about Pacini's three-act, 1843 "Maria, Regina d'Inghilterra" to include the work in its current season devoted to England's historic ruling family, the Tudors. And their instincts were right on target.

The fanciful plot was adapted from a play by Victor Hugo. It concerns a love triangle between the Scotsman Fennimore, the imperious Queen Mary, and Clotilde, a commoner who is discovered to be the missing daughter of an English nobleman. Fennimore is betrayed by his adversary, Churchill, and is ultimately executed, while Clotilde is reunited with her former lover, Ernesto.

A number of the scenes in "Maria..."are prolix, bringing the total running time of the work to roughly three hours. This would not be a problem if the music was of a consistently inspired level, or if the storyline unfolded with continual, dramatic urgency. Yet, in spite of its faults, the score does contain a wealth of charming, Bel Canto melodies, as well as some thrilling solo arias and duets. By Act III, in itself nearly 90 minutes in length, the music was generally of a far higher level, culminating in Mary's expansive final "scena."

In addition to reviving this unusual Pacini stagework, Odyssey deserves the highest praise for casting it to perfection. Amy Shoremount-Obra sang the title role, and one could not imagine a more vocally regal Queen Mary. Her instrument is basically a large, dramatic soprano, with a rich, dark timbre. It plunges into an exciting chest voice in the lower register. With its wide range, it easily soared up to several sizable, high notes which proved electrifying. Despite the size of her voice, Shoremount-Obra possessed sufficient flexibility to negotiate all the elaborate coloratura passages. She also acted the role with style, and requisite dignity.

Soprano Alisa Jordheim was equally impressive in the role of Clotilde. Although she is petite in stature, her voice carried well over the orchestra, and penetrated even the largest ensembles. She produced a beautifully focused, silvery sound throughout, while acting the role with passion. Characterized by stratospheric high notes, and supple coloratura, her performance of Clotilde's Act III aria was one of the highlights of the performance.

Young tenor Kameron Lopreore made his Odyssey debut in the role of Fennimore. He displayed a fluid, tenor sound, a bit uneven in spots, but quite lovely overall. He sang with dynamic subtlety and was an attractive stage presence, handling a most unsympathetic role with polish. In time, he could prove to be a force in the lyric tenor repertoire. Another promising singer, baritone Leroy Davis excelled in the role of Ernesto. Undaunted by high tessitura, his lovely baritone become far better centered by Act II, and he sang with consistent warm, attractive tone.

As always Gil Rose led an idiomatic performance, choosing just the right tempi, and allowing his singers to float those lyrical, Bel Canto phrases. Switching stylistic gears so often in the course of his Odyssey Opera seasons, Rose has distinguished himself as one pf the most versatile conductors on the Boston scene.

The sets by Jeffrey Allen Petersen and the costumes of Brooke Stanton vaguely suggested the Tudor Age rather than attempting to recreate it. The drab earth tones served to set off Queen Mary, the only character clothed in vibrant red. Adhering to the Odyssey tradition, the stage direction of Steve Maler was fairly straightforward, and often inspired. To his credit, he underplayed the amusing clichés of the plot and libretto, allowing the audience to pick up on the unintentional humor. "Mara, Regina d'Inghilterra" may not be first-rate Bel Canto, but it certainly has its moments, and, if nothing else, is a fascinating curio of the Italian Bel Canto period.

"Maria, Regina d'Inghilterra" was performed on November 1 and 3 at the Huntington Avenue Theatre, 264 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA. For more information about upcoming Odyssey Opera productions, visit the Odyssey Opera website.

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