Inventive Performance of Handel’s Ariodante from Young Cincinnati Group

 United StatesUnited States Handel, Ariodante: Soloists, Cincinnati Chamber Opera. Asencion & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Cincinnati, OH. 27.2.2015 (RDA)

Soloists: Kate Tombaugh, Christina Kerstan, Barbara LeMay, Autumn West, Allan Palacios Chan, John Fitzwater and Alison Scherzer. Maribeth Crawford, stage director. Yael Front, music director.

In an opera-saturated city, the three-year-young and ceaselessly inventive Cincinnati Chamber Opera, led by artistic directors Autumn West and Shawn Mlinek, has begun to make its mark, exploring neglected areas of the canon and defining its brand as reliable, tasteful—and adventuresome.

Ariodante’s anonymous librettist pilfered the work of poetaster Antonio Salvi, who in turn had ransacked Lodovico Ariosto’s classic story about love and betrayal in a mythical, tartan-less Scotland. But this is Baroque opera, and who cares about the all but absent dramatic logic, not to mention plausibility? What matters are the music and the singing, and the good news is that the daring young people of the CCO are again up to the task at hand in this, their third Baroque outing.

In the youthful cast, the big-voiced and petite mezzo-soprano Kate Tombaugh was terrific in the title role, utterly convincing dramatically, and musically superlative. Her vocal coloration was dark enough for a role originally written for a male castrato, and bright and agile when needed to highlight the youthful ardor of the young heir to the throne of Scotland. In the role’s signature aria, “Scherza infida,” she lovingly spun out the long vocal line while inflecting the words with mixed emotions. For the dacapo return she soberly added just enough ornamentation to sustain interest throughout a ten-minute-plus scena.

All seven principals were committed singing actors, and each sang with aplomb and stylishness. Handel did not provide many important operatic roles for tenors, but he did here, and the admirable Allan Chan was a standout as Lurcanio, bringing musicality plus an attractive and flexible leggiero sound to his assignment.

The music flowed and drove forward the action in the three acts, thanks to the work of music director Yael Font, who sensitively helmed the small instrumental ensemble to create a satisfying evening.

Next up: Manuel de Falla’s wonderful slice-of-life, La Vida Breve, a gem rarely seen on American stages, which will open the company’s 2015-2016 season.

Rafael de Acha

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