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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Opera Review: Le Magnifique Lives Up to its Name

Karim Sulayman and Jeffrey Thompson
in the preview performance of La Magnifique.
Photo by Louis Forget © 2011 Opera Lafayette
On Wednesday night, Washington D.C.'s acclaimed Opera Lafayette company visited the Rose Theater, the off-campus Lincoln Center venue used primarily for jazz. The occasion: the second modern performance of La Magnifique, an important (yet obscure) opera-comique from obscure (yet important) composer André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry.

Based on a story from Bocaccio's Decameron, La Magnifique is the tale of two men's return from being sold into slavery--and the title character's attempt to win the hand of Clémentine away from the dastardly fellows who did the deed. The work has never been performed in North America before this week, which is a shame since Grétry is a "missing link" between the rococo music of Rameau and Lully and the modern, operatic reforms of Gluck and Mozart.

The vocal writing in this work is extraordinary, with melodious arias written in the galant 18th century French style. But the way forward is in Grètry's ensembles, which provide a blueprint for what Mozart was to do in Idomeneo and Le Nozze di Figaro. As the characters assemble and attempt to gain understanding of what has occured, they engage in whizzing vocal pyrotechnics, arpeggiating up and down the scale over the orchestra as the act builds to its climax.

The performance featured an enthusiastic cast, led by the resonant bass Emiliano Gonzales Toro in the title role. As the heroine Clémentine, soprano Elizabeth Calleo displayed a pleasing soprano with an unusual, woody timbre. She sounded best in the ensembles, paired with mezzo Marguerite Krull or the paired villains, played by Jeffrey Thompson and Karim Sulayman. Mr. Sulayman's comic mugging and dance-based performance made Fabio the most memorable character in the opera.

Conductor Ryan Brown led a simple staging, on a bare stage in front of the orchestra. The excellent young cast did the work in modern evening dress. There is no chorus, and there are no recitatives. An English-language narration (by bass Randall Scarlata, who doubled in the role of Horace) explained the plot of the opera as it went along, stopping so the characters can react with arias and ensembles. He was working from a new version of the text, by Nick Olcott.

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