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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.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Opera Preview: What Goes On in the Capital

Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble's Standard Repertoire Project goes to Rome.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Roman emperors Nero (left) and Titus (right) are the stars of the
summer Standard Repertory Project as Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble
celebrates its tenth anniversary season.
For the past decade, Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble has provided a home for young singers, and its Standard Repertoire Project has gotten those singers opportunities on the stage. For its tenth anniversary season music director Christopher Fecteau has put together a formidable one-two combination of operas: Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito and Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea.

If you've never heard of Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble, you're missing out. This company is a mid-sized, cutting-edge ensemble that provides a training ground for singers who are finished with their education but looking to break into the business. Mr. Fecteau provides coaching, movement classes and language work to his singers, and they become part of this small company's growing artistic legacy.

Although they stand 200 years apart, there are a number of commonalities between Poppea and Tito. Both shows  are set in Imperial Rome. Each opera is set in the court, dealing (in very different ways) with the backstabbing, conspiracies and assassination attempts that infested Roman politics at the very highest level. Finally each work will be presented at the "black box" 13th St. Theater, an intimate space that suits this company's simple approach to staging opera.

La Clemenza di Tito ("The Clemency of Titus")  is one of Mozart's last works, composed to fulfill a commission while the composer was in the middle of writing The Magic Flute. Mozart, who struggled to earn a living as a composer despite his great popularity, jumped at the chance to write an opera commemorating the coronation of the Austrian Emperor as King of Bohemia.

Despite being dashed off in ten days, this opera contains some of Mozart's best and final thoughts in the then almost-obsolete genre of opera seria. (All the music, arias and choruses are by Mozart, but the recitatives were the work of other hands). The libretto, based on a well-traveled story by the playwright Metistasio tells of a failed assassination attempt on the Emperor Titus, and its political and judicial aftermath The opera provides ample opportunity for fine tenor singing in the role of Tito. However, the most memorable character is the would-be assassin Sesto, who faces the Emperor's wrath after the plot fails.

L'incoronazione di Poppea ("The Coronation of Poppaea") is the third and maybe the greatest of the surviving operas by Claudio Monteverdi. Written in 1642, it was also the first opera to eschew mythology and present a story featuring real, flesh-and-blood human beings on the stage. In other words, Monteverdi's drama is the founding stone for everything that followed in the next five centurites.

Despite being couched in allegory (the drama is presented as a conflict between the Classical deities Venus and Athena) Poppea is a red-blooded thriller, chronicling the ruthless rise of the Emperor Nero and the power-hungry title character who will stop at nothing to become his Empress. Nero's sadism is toned down considerably, and Poppea becomes a scrappy heroine determined to rise to the top. Hey, it's opera.

La Clemenza di Tito opens August 10. L'incoronazione di Poppea opens August 13.
Both operas will run in repertory at the 13th St. Theater until August 25. Visit the company's official website for more information and to purchase tickets.

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