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Split personality. Liking the arts, especially opera, and hockey and Los Toros. I know, I know THAT one is non pc currently. But I can't help it saw some in Spain and got hooked, but good. But on the other hand right now opera and hockey are in the forefront!


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Maria, Maria I just loved a girl named Maria

well, it was NOT the Maria from West Side Story!
But Maria Padilla by Donizetti, as performed by Opera Boston in GRAND style.
That theater, an old movie PALACE (literally) was so gilded it ..ah, well..  here is a snap shot, that may just give a hint of it's opulence.........

Ambling through the narrow misty alleys of Boston, wind blown and freezing I arrived at this gilded age palace. Anticipation running high.
My 'buddy' soprano Barbara Quintiliani IS Maria Padilla, the love interest (and so it is rumored actual spouse) of Spanish King Don Pedro de Castile (both are historic figures of the 14th century)...so this is not a made up story, embellished for sure, but based on a factual event.

Anyway to make the history line short and (hopefully) succinct:
Don Pedro falls for and marries (in secret) Maria Padilla.
Eventually, for dynastic reasons he is forced to marry (by wishes of his mother and supported by the scheming Don Ramiro) a French Princess, Bianca (Blanche de Bourbon).
Historically, that marital bliss did not last long,  he remained (more or less) faithful to Maria, his mistress, and perhaps first wife, until her death 9 years later after having borne him 4 children; two daughters are said to have married into royal English aristocracy.

In the opera the ending is similar except that JUST as Don Pedro is to make his vows to Bianca, Maria bursts onto the scene and reveals that she is the legal wife, and as Bianca falls to the ground (dead through shock, maybe?) Don, now King, Pedro acknowledges his eternal (ha) love for his legal wife Maria and crowns her Queen. Along the way we witness marriage by Maria's sister Inez to Don Luigi, the intrigues of Don Ramiro (so called friend and advisor to the Prince) and the misery through dishonor and final descent into madness by Maria and Ines' Papa, Don Ruiz de Padilla.
Of course, it being an opera, the emotions and passions run high, and are most definitely expressed by the music and singing.
The role of Maria feels like it was written for 3 or more voice types. It does require a soprano capable of doing it justice.She must be able to sing meltingly like an innocent maiden, lustfully like a bewitched woman in love, and finally the guilt ridden daughter watching her father turn mad, plus the deeply injured woman whose lover/husband seems to have scorned her. And not to forget, a misunderstood woman hurt by insidious and hateful display of dislike by so-called nobles at court!
In a reversal of 'normal -'if anything is normal in opera ;-)'- the role of the father was written for a TENOR!
While the love hero is a Baritone! In this opera Donizetti composed only 2  major female parts - and what parts! - for one soprano and one Mezzo (Ines).
All other are for 2 Tenors, one a major role (Papa Ruiz) the other a minor part (Son-in-law Luigi).
The Baritone, Don Pedro has probably the most demanding role, but two basses (Ramiro and Alfonso, a buddy to the prince) also feature in this. All accompanied by a male/female chorus.
Pedro's mother and his intended Bianca are non speakin/singing roles, and the only other female (a mezzo, too), an old nurse/attendant to Maria and Ines,  has so few lines one tends to overlook her.
It was truly easy to see why this dramatic opera albeit with a happpy ending, has been shelved for such many years. The vocal demands on the soprano, tenor and baritone are such that it is very difficult to cast.
To gather together 3 major singers who CAN do it justice equally - is apparently the reason.

Opera Boston had Barbara Quintiliani!
Who met the stupendous demands of this role with an incredible flexibility, purity, and passionate sound.
She indeed made this woman come alive simply by the quality of her vocal interpretation of the many facets of this character. Yes, she is a less than imposingly tall singer, but what she projected vocally was astoundingly big.  Starting out with a beautiful legato arioso to harp accompaniment with a floating but pianissimo high C in her opening aria and cabaletta. Going all out in her deeply - so it seemed - felt nuances in the development of Maria from the innocent dreamer, to loved, also scorned, woman to guilt driven daughter and finally acknowleged wife! Her costumes were opulent (like the theater-lol).

Dong Won Kim
The opera's and Maria's love interest Don Pedro was DongWon Kim,(left)
whose powerfully ringing and yet warmly rich baritone was used to great advantage in his passionate interpretation. He too, was dressed sumptuously.

The big surprise of the evening was the, in the USA unknown, Tenor Adriano Graziani, who showed off his clear diction, beauty of sound and emotional drama of the bereaved, and driven to insanity, father of Maria.

Tenor Yeghishe Manucharyan as Don Luigi sang with sincerity, his role was not as demanding.

His counterpart/wife, Maria's sister Ines, Mezzo Laura Vlasak Nolen, was sung with good stage presence. Her instrument is a big but not too flexible (IMO) voice. She did sing beautifully in the early sister duet with Quintiliani. Both voices soaring in their intensity.

Bass Youngbok Kim, filling the role of Don Ramiro' an intriguer'- as a precursor of the Verdian Iago -perhaps, employed  insinuating behaviour wedded to sinister deep sound.

Bass John Salvi, in the rather negligible role of Don Alfonso di Pardo did it justice.

Musically, Donizetti did this opera proud. He composed sounds that flatter the voices, albeit with great demands. He wrote lovely instrumental soli for flute, cello, clarinet, English horn and harp to just name a few that stood out. At times the music evoked Chopin's lush sounds.
There were counter melodies between the voices (Don Ruiz, Maria, etc.) and solo instruments as in Lucia). Several times the singers sang a capella,  with the orchestra strangely but effectively silent.
Gil Rose conducted with feeling.
The harpist was Tomina Parvanova, other soloists played their parts beautifully.
Staging and set was along clean lines, flexible and required little in moving scenery.
Lighting mostly bright. The costumes lavish and traditional.

There was however- ah that is LIVE opera after all -  an incident early on when all lights blacked out.
Not affecting the audience already in dark, but  the stage and surtitles went completely dark.
Bravely - in the tradition of the show must go on - the singers continued their arias and movements about the stage (since it was NOT cluttered- it was quite safe to do so ;-)!
Soon after, all lights came back on, and finally resumed how it should be, audience in the dark, stage bathed in bright spotlights and surtitles visible again...LOL!

Here another snippet to show off the music-not opera Boston's production:

As an interesting aside, seems to me at least,  Korean basses, bass baritones and baritones are usurping what used be mainly the domain of Russian, Bulgarian and other Eastern European singers.

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