|Kristen Sollek, David Trudgen, Amanda Forsythe, Andrew Garland and Owen Willetts let rip.|
I'm late with my thoughts on Partenope, from Boston Baroque - when I would generally have run for the keyboard before the show closed, as it was so wonderful. But alas, the opera only ran for two nights - and to houses only two-thirds full, too! (I tell you, this town is nuts.)
But if Boston Baroque keeps turning them out like Partenope (and last spring's Orfeo), surely the houses will begin to fill up. This time perhaps patrons were scared away by the opera's obscurity. But now you know - Partenope is a gorgeous opera - it's mid-flight Handel, but close to his coloratura peak (and reportedly penned for a virtuosic soprano named Anna Strada). Still, it's not all dazzling ornament; indeed, ravishingly lyrical lines unfurl in various arias up until the final curtain (there's a theme for theorbo in the last act, for instance, that you could feel send a shudder of rapture through the house). Alas, it does feel a bit long (and I understand conductor Pearlman cut it slightly), largely because its Italian libretto, written some thirty years before Handel's music, is an amusing mix of stock elements (a warrior queen and her competing swains, triangles upon triangles, and of course a betrayed heroine in male attire), but depends on a single comic complication, and so can't quite sustain its epic length.
Handel's music makes you forget all about that, however, as did the exquisite warbling of the talented cast at Boston Baroque. Just as it once showcased Anna Strada, Partenope this time around proved the perfect frame for one of our most sparkling local stars, the great Amanda Forsythe (at left), who seemed in her best voice ever last Saturday night. Ms. Forsythe's control and intonation were superb in even the most challenging coloratura passages, and she dared to ornament her arias with notes at the very top of the vocal stratosphere. And I cannot help but note that this singer is simply one of the best comic actresses in the city; indeed, the lovely Ms. Forsythe balanced with droll grace a tricky blend of romance, wry intelligence and camp that many comediennes would have been hard-pressed to pull off.
What's more, she was surrounded by a superb supporting cast (who all faced their own vocal challenges, too). We were last dazzled by countertenor Owen Willetts in Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice last spring; here, as Partenope's main squeeze, he was perhaps even more impressive, as the part pushed him down into alto-ish territory where countertenors often fear to tread. But incredibly, this is where Mr. Willetts seems at his strongest, projecting rich, lustrous color where many of his peers can project little at all.
But you know, this review is going to get boring, because it's all praise - the production also featured strong turns from contralto Kirsten Sollek, countertenor David Trudgen, tenor Aaron Sheehan, and particularly baritone Andrew Garland. All these folks likewise had a keen sense of humor, and put over director David Gately's witty - sometimes even naughty - staging with confident panache.
I must also add that the Boston Baroque orchestra, under the baton of Martin Pearlman (the true begetter of this triumph), has rarely sounded better. The strings were clean and vibrant; the flutes and even the horns were agile; Victor Coelho was a standout on theorbo; and Robinson Pyle demonstrated again why he's the best period trumpet player in town. The clever modern costumes were by Adrienne Carlile - although frankly, as fun as these were, if there were a God in heaven, we'd get to see Partenope again in fuller dress. Leaving the theatre, my partner and I could only wonder, how could this marvel have ever been forgotten? Certainly we'll remember it, and this production, forever.