July 22, 2008

Superb Arias in ‘Radamisto’

By D.S. Crafts For the Journal

It was the toughest ticket in London. Scalpers were charging ludicrously inflated prices. And if one could get in, the theater was so crowded that pushing and shoving led to several injuries. The Beatles? Rolling Stones? Sex Pistols? Pet Shop Boys?

The year was 1720, and it was Handel's opera "Radamisto" that was the talk of the social season. A German composer, residing in England, writing Italian opera for the most sophisticated audience in Europe. What could be more cosmopolitan?

But at opening night of the Santa Fe Opera's new production of "Radamisto," tickets were selling at usual prices, and there was a distinct lack of rowdiness inside the theater. What remained from the original premiere, however, was the exquisite beauty of the music.

If you're looking for the histrionics of 19th century Italian opera, you won't find it here. Instead you will hear a continual string of superb arias written by one of the great masters of vocal music and sung by those who can truly do justice to the work.

The cast is uniformly superb, led by countertenor David Daniels in the title role. Given some of Handel's most exquisite music, Daniels presents marvels of breath control and beauty of tone. "Ombra cara," his lament for his wife who he believes dead, is weepingly pathetic, and "Qual nave" (When ship is tempest-tossed) is filled with arresting chromaticism.

A late change to the cast, Deborah Domanski as Radamisto's wife, Xenobia, exudes sensuality both in voice and stage presence. Her clear, focused and radiant mezzo-soprano illuminates both her enthusiastic acceptance of death "Son contenta di morire" and her tender plea "Quando mai" (When cruel destiny). She and Daniels are later reunited in a sparkling duet.

Soprano Heidi Stober, who thrilled us all last year as the voluptuous Folly in that outrageous staging of "Platee," returns here ironically as the pot-bellied Prince Pontus. Stober's amazingly flexible voice hurtles effortlessly through the most demanding passages.

Doing double duty in the title role of "The Marriage of Figaro" as well as King Tiridate here, Venezuelan bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni brings the same force of character to this role as he does to Figaro -- there the clever barber, here the warmongering tyrant. He is a most welcome presence on any stage.

As the betrayed wife of Tiridate, Laura Claycomb laments her condition in heart-rending tones from the very outset as she prays to the gods in "Sommi Dei." There follows some rather lascivious rolling about the stage with Tiridate as he makes his disgust for her quite apparent.

Visually the production looks like a page out of "The Arabian Nights," as the story has a historical basis in the Middle East around A.D. 50. Each character (except Tigrane) has several costume changes, many of which look as outrageously ornate as those that would have been worn in the original 18th century production.

(c) 2008 Albuquerque Journal. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.