Nature, Santa Fe Opera Take On Rossini 

                                              By D. Rane Danubian, the independent observer of San Francisco Bay Area music and dance 
                                                                 Week of Aug. 6-13,  2012
                                                                  Vol. 15, No. 5
             SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO---A ferocious lightning storm outside, with flashes bright enough to read by and set cattle stampeding, forging a counterpoint to the strobe lightning on stage for the Rossini opera. Such is the spectacle of Santa Fe Opera, where Nature produces some of the most extraordinary artistic interplays anywhere in the world, sometimes even twice the same night.

            The opera house here is roofed, but open on the sides, inviting the elements to create their show augmenting the staged work. The count after three nights here: Three storms, yet dry listeners (apart from a few on the outer aisle, caught by wind-driven rain drops).

            The challenges of the celestial pyrotechnics and proximity rain seemed  to inspire the vocalists more than distract them. In Rossini's florid “Maometto II” heard on Aug. 2, the singers---unperturbed by the thin oxygen at 7.000-ft. altitude----got better mostly as the night went on. This was one of Rossini’s better vehicles for coloratura casts, with enough vocal roulades (tropes) for the singers to feed the whole audience. It was also one of Rossini’s favorites, as he felt his tragedy never got its due in  1820s Italy. Thus there were myriad additions and emendations in each historic reprise. (He did better revising it as "The Siege of Corinth" for Paris.)

            Even though this one got one of the cleverest productions seen at the SFO all week (Jon Morrell's designs), with sliding wall panels that open up new scenes, this is an opera to hear more than see. Sliding panels also allow Maometto's triumphal horse-drawn chariot to enter the stage, with him at the reins, Charlton Heston-style.

There are no catchy tunes a la "Barber," but a profusion of florid arias for the four main principals. The ensembles included a colossal terzettone (super-trio) with chorus running 29 minutes as well as a quartet and duet work.

            The fast-rising soprano Leah Crocetto (Anna), who a couple of years ago was doing apprentice roles in San Francisco, brought down the house with her swan-song aria, where she floated tones that you wish they had produced all night long. A worthy match was basso  profundo  Luca Picaroni in the title role---tall, authoritative, nimble-voiced, as a military leader striking fear into all the protagonists around him. I'd love to see him as Don Giovanni.

            The third huge voice was the mezzo of Patrice Sheldon  in a trouser role of Calbo, who wants to marry Anna but is outmaneuvered by Maometto.

            Here Maometto wins the battles---his Turks vs. the Venetians, with Anna shuttled about as a pawn. Captured by Maometto, Anna secures release of both Calbo and her father Erisso (Bruce Sledge) in exchange for staying with the Turk. She betrays him and is recaptured, whereupon she commits suicide out of guilt. Not your every-day plot!!

            The new SFO Music Director Frederic Chaslin led the orchestra in efficient and never leisurely fashion, rarely leaving room for singers' cadenzas and floating tones. The robust SFO Chorus forming the soldiers' numerous ensembles was outstanding. The unwieldy two-act Neapolitan  opera was brought in at somewhat over three hours, with just one intermission.

            Veteran Director David Alden used dubious devices to enliven the stage, including somber soldiers in black doing dances; an allegorical War figure; and a witch-like personage symbolizing Death. He did however produce the best entrance I've ever seen---Maometto breaking through a solid wall as the invincible warrior.

            NOTED---This show used a new critical edition of the work by the Dutch musicologist Hans Schellevis....The summers-only SFO is in its 56th season…. This is what the locals refer to seriously as the “monsoon” season, making a small dent in the long-standing drought.

            Santa Fe Opera in Rossini's "Maometto II," in Italian, with English translations. Opera House, Santa Fe, through Aug. 16. For info: (505) 986-5900, or go online.
        ©D. Rane Danubian 2012
        D. Rane Danubian has been covering the dance and modern-music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area with relish -- and a certain amount of salsa -- for years.
    These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly) will focus on dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into books (by authors of the region), theater and recordings by local artists as well.
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