Wolf-Ferrari comedy fares best in Odyssey Opera’s mixed double bill

June 13, 2014 at 12:12 pm

By Angelo Mao

Inna Dukach in Wolf-Ferrari’s “Il segreto di Susanna” presented by Odyssey Opera. Photo: Kathy Wittman

The second show of Odyssey Opera’s June festival offered a double bill: Mascagni’s dreamy Zanetto and Wolf-Ferrari’s slapstick Il segreto di Susanna. Though well-intentioned and well-sung, the Mascagni ultimately proved a misfire, whereas the Wolf-Ferrari was a complete and roaring success Thursday night at the Boston University Theatre.

Zanetto revolves around the beautiful and jaded courtesan, Silvia, who has forsworn love and is living alone in the Florentine countryside. She chances on the young wandering minstrel, Zanetto, and the two have an instant connection. Zanetto is actually searching for Silvia, having heard of her legendary beauty. Although Silvia has fallen in love with Zanetto, she does not wish to taint him with her disreputable past. To save him, she conceals from him her identity and convinces him to abandon his quest.

Zanetto is a far cry from the blood-and-guts intensity of Mascagni’s most famous work, Cavalleria rusticana. It needs subtlety and attention to the unspoken emotions, especially in the character of Silvia, who is world-weary, wise, and vulnerable. What both operas have in common is Mascagni’s artful use of music, especially in the chorus, to create a dream landscape of Italy.

Odyssey Opera’s production wasn’t particularly successful with either subtlety nor dreaminess. The melodic chorus that opens Zanetto needs to be rich with the Tuscan night; the offstage chorus on opening night sounded hesitant and a bit anemic.

Soprano Eleni Calenos sang beautifully in the role of Silvia, with confidently soaring high notes and dusky middle tones. Lines were shapely and tapered, and the delivery was emotive. But the characterization felt incomplete. Silvia’s anguish was generic, and her vacillations simply puzzling.

Eve Gigliotti in the trousers role of Zanetto fared better. Her Zanetto was open and ardent, as was her bright and sizable mezzo. Interestingly, this Zanetto seemed rather unaffected by his encounter with Silvia; one can readily believe Silvia’s lament that Zanetto would forget her in the time it takes a flower to wilt. A nice touch was the lighting—unexceptional for most of the opera, it beamed earthy tones on a grieving Silvia as the curtain fell.

Where the Mascagni was all ambivalence and unrequited romance, Wolf-Ferrari’s Il segreto di Susanna was straightforward comic energy—and a resounding success. Count Gil is recently married and is already suspecting that his wife Susanna, is cheating on him. He suspects this because he smells cigarette smoke on her, and he knows that Susanna certainly doesn’t smoke. Unbeknownst to him, Susanna actually does partake in the pleasures of nicotine, but just can’t bring herself to admit it.

Starting with the overture, which sparkled under Gil Rose’s conducting, the opera took off with energy and verve. Kristopher Irmiter was a fine Count Gil, easily filling the house with his ringing baritone. His characterization combined upper-class swagger with a youthful confoundment at his wife’s supposed infidelity. His imposing presence brought another facet to the role, namely the genuine threat of physical violence: the comic stakes are higher when there’s risk of the whole thing collapsing into tragedy.

Inna Dukach was a vivid Susanna, somewhat afraid of her newlywed husband and petulant at his suspicions, and completely seduced by the joys of smoking. Her diction was not entirely clear at the beginning of the opera, but once warmed up after a hefty shouting match with her husband, her singing soared. Of note was her luxuriantly ecstatic aria in praise of smoking, which showcased her ample and crystalline soprano. Steven Goldstein was a riot in the mute role of the servant, Sante.

Zanetto and Il segreto di Susanna will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Boston University Theatre. odysseyopera.org

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