Chicago Opera Review: AMADIGI DI GAULA (Haymarket Opera Company)

Post image for Chicago Opera Review: AMADIGI DI GAULA (Haymarket Opera Company)

by Barnaby Hughes on November 9, 2015

in Theater-Chicago

HURRAH FOR HAYMARKET’S HANDELIAN HERO

Appropriately enough, Haymarket Opera Company (HOC) is kicking off its fifth season with a Handel opera that premiered on London’s Haymarket Street 300 years ago. The fifth of the German composer’s operas written in England, Amadigi di Gaula is a delightfully magical drama set in the exuberant baroque style that Handel excelled at so well.

Amadigi di Gaula2960

Based on the medieval romance Amadis de Gaula by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo (the state of California is named for a fictional island in one of his later works), Amadigi di Gaula follows the exploits of its titular character as he defeats his rival Dardano, Prince of Thrace for the affection of his lover Oriana and vanquishes his would-be lover Melissa, a powerful sorceress.

Amadigi di Gaula3101

The minor character Orgando, Oriana’s uncle, also appears towards the end of the opera to bless the union of Amadigi and Oriana. HOC has wisely excised this unnecessary intrusion from the current production.

Amadigi di Gaula3349

One curiosity worth considering is why Handel wrote operas in Italian for his Anglophone London audience. After all, there were no supertitles then to aid comprehension, as today. And Italian was not commonly spoken at court either, where German was the second language. Henry Purcell had written acclaimed operas in English just a few decades earlier. Moreover, Handel’s first operas were composed in German. Italian opera, however, was just becoming established as the international style.

Amadigi di Gaula2601

In order to make the lyrics somewhat intelligible, the performers communicated through gesture during the instrumental interludes between sung lines what they are about to sing. And this is precisely the historically-informed strategy that HOC director Sarah Edgar has adopted; it works rather well. Perhaps in the future she will take this one step further and eliminate the supertitles that modern audiences have come to expect.

Amadigi di Gaula3376

The other remarkable feature of Amadigi di Gaula is the scoring of both male roles for countertenor, which is somewhat of an acquired taste nowadays. Fortunately, HOC has not opted for the increasingly common practice of casting women in these parts. Instead, it has secured the gifted countertenors José Lemos and Alexander Edgemon as Amadigi and Dardano, respectively. Both have beautiful voices and finely honed technique, commanding an impressive breadth of range and expression. By comparison with their female counterparts in this production, however, Lemos and Edgemon tend to sing just slightly too softly, though Lemos is rather more full-throated during his final celebratory aria “Sento la gioia.”

Amadigi di Gaula2326

Mezzo-soprano Suzanne Lommler galvanizes the production with her absurdly comical take on Melissa. Supported by her trio of furies, Lommler’s contorted facial expressions and wildly exaggerated gestures are not out of place in this opera seria, but suit the lightness and playfulness of Handel’s score. She has an amusingly mischievous way of spitting out words like “ingrato.” Absent for the first half hour or so of the opera, Oriana’s entrance comes as a breath of fresh air. Soprano Erica Schuller easily wins our hearts with her infectious goodness, winning smile, and gorgeous tone.

Amadigi di Gaula3409

The contrast between these two characters comes to a head at the end of the second act, inspiring some of Handel’s most memorable arias, including Oriana’s defiant “Affannami, tormentami” and Melissa’s indignant “Desterò dall’empia Dite ogni furia” with its repeated “Sì sì.” The addition of trumpeter Kathryn Adduci increases the momentum, as the music anticipates Handel’s celebrated Water Music, and when combined with a pair of oboes, a bassoon, harpsichord, and theorbo, greatly adds variety and texture.

Amadigi di Gaula2078

As always, Meriem Bahri’s sumptuous costumes are one of the chief delights of a HOC production. She manages to get everything so perfectly right, not just historically, but aesthetically, from the embroidered fringe of Oriana’s gown to the magical symbols on Melissa’s frock. They must be seen to be fully appreciated. Together with Zuleyka V. Benitez’s simple, yet beautifully painted scenery, Amadigi di Gaula is an absolute delight to behold.

Amadigi di Gaula3464

Without a doubt HOC has found its niche in the Chicago opera scene. Not only is the company sound financially and administratively, but it is expanding its program to include a Lenten oratorio series and a summer opera course.

photos by Charles Osgood

Amadigi di Gaula
Haymarket Opera Company
Mayne Stage, 1328 W Morse Ave
ends on November 9, 2015
for tickets, call 866.468.3401 or visit Haymarket Opera

for info on Chicago Theater, visit Theatre in Chicago

Comments on this entry are closed.