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High marks for 'Calais,' 'Xerxes' at Glimmerglass

High marks for 'Calais,' 'Xerxes' at Glimmerglass

Sets, singing splendid
High marks for 'Calais,' 'Xerxes' at Glimmerglass
A scene from the Glimmerglass Festival's production of the American premiere of Donizetti's "The Siege of Calais."
Photographer: Karli Cadel

COOPERSTOWN — Glimmerglass Opera gave two matinees in the last few days that riveted capacity crowds. On Sunday, it was the American premiere of Gaetano Donizetti’s “The Siege of Calais.”

Written in 1836 about an actual siege that took place in 1347, audience members could easily have substituted Mosul or Aleppo for Calais, especially since director Francesca Zambello updated the drama to modern times.

With James Noone’s bombed-out building and Mark McCullough’s spotlight and silhouette lighting, the cast in dark clothing easily re-created the intense drama of patriots defending their homeland against a king’s soldiers. All the singers were excellent and acting was at a high standard. They also blended well in the many ensembles. Sung in Italian with well translated English supertitles.

Baritone Adrian Timpau, who will shortly join the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, sang with great feeling with a richly textured voice; mezzo-soprano Aleks Romano in the pants role of Aurelio displayed long elegant coloratura lines in a darkly-hued voice; soprano Leah Crocetto as “his” wife had a huge voice that covered a wide range although her top notes tended to screech a bit. Baritone Michael Hewitt as the king was also convincing. Zambello was inventive with her blocking, which was very effective.

Conductor Joseph Colaneri led an exuberant orchestra with an expansive level of support. Other performances are July 22 and 24 and Aug. 4, 10, 12, 16 and 19.

For Handel’s “Xerxes” (1738) on Monday afternoon, countertenor John Holiday led an outstanding cast, who all sang well. But it was Holiday who transfixed the audience. His voice is unusually sweet for a countertenor with an easy flow throughout his range. His voice is so agile that he could float his top notes with a startling ease and always he suffused every note with the sheer joy he gets in singing. Resplendent in a red glittery caftan, he began the show with one of Handel’s most enchanting arias: “Ombra ma fu,” which is about his love for a plane tree that had become a symbol of the tree of life. In fact, the tree, a glittery affair that hung just above stage level, was present. This is one anecdote that is said to be true about the real Xerxes, who ruled Persia from 486 to 465 BCE.

The libretto had humor and Calvin Griffin disguised as a flower seller supplied many happy moments. Emily Pogorelc and Allegra De Vita in a pants role were splendid, as was Abigail Dock disguised as a man. Sara Jean Tosetti designed sumptuous costumes in vividly patterned and colored fabrics.

The set was a stylized modern visual with set designer John Conklin’s raked platforms painted with green grasses and with benches as the only props. Robert Wierzel’s exotic lighting was more spotlight in reds or whites. Nicole Paiement vigorously led an enthusiastic Baroque orchestra. Other perfomances are July 20 and Aug. 1, 6, 12 and 18.

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