First Night Audience Roars Approval of Baroque Era Revival
By George B. Parous
Quantum Theatre has a long history of turning out unusual works – often at unusual venues – but last night the comfy Byham Theater was the stage for the premiere of the much-publicized opening of its revival of Idaspe. Anyone interested in things musical in this city surely has heard of this collaboration with Chatham Baroque. Our own site, as well as the Post-Gazette – every print medium, a couple of radio stations and online sites; the Facebook pages of the groups involved, have given great amounts of time, interviews, previews, podcasts and more, about how this long neglected work came to the attention of all involved, and the incredible amounts of time and devotion that have brought it to the stage again. There will be four more opportunities to hear and see Idaspe again – Sunday, Oct. 9, Tuesday, Oct. 11, Thursday, Oct. 13, and Saturday, Oct. 15 – the curtain going up at 7:30 p.m. for all.
First produced in 1730, Idaspe, with the exception of two arias that show up in very occasional concerts, has rested in oblivion for nearly three centuries. Chatham Baroque’s Andrew Fouts, Patricia Halverson and Scott Pauley have put much work, along with Claire van Kampen, into turning the 366-page hand-copied manuscript into a score adaptable to the modern stage. Pruning and enhancing the work with a software program, the four musicians filled countless pandemic hours toiling over the work, and in making arrangements to have players of period instruments and the right singers all together in the same place through some very uncertain times. Last night their incredible labors were heard and seen by a large and very enthusiastic audience. Many faces familiar from local musical organizations, and audience members who can be found at just about any classical music event in the city, made up the crowd last night. Whether the city turns out audiences of like size for the full run remains to be seen.
It came as no surprise that the orchestra, conducted by Daniel Nesta Curtis, sang beautifully from below, in exquisite tones quite unlike those of a modern orchestra. Chatham Baroque’s Andrew Fouts (concert master – violin), Patricia Halverson (viola da gamba) and Scott Pauley (theorbo) were the instrumentalists most familiar to the audience, though Justin Wallace (harpsichord) has been heard here before. Together with a group of violins, viola, cello, bass, oboes, recorder, horns and percussion, the instrumentation of the revived score was a perfectly balanced, truly Baroque experience; a sound that is better heard than described. The audience made it perfectly clear that the orchestra was a highlight of the evening; the Byham echoed with the roar of applause the conductor and players received at the final curtain.
The singers chosen for the seven roles made the most of their parts. In the title role, countertenor John Holiday gave an incredible demonstration of his remarkable range. He has an impressive and growing resume, and last night he scored as an audience favorite. From here he moves on to the Metropolitan Opera for the premiere of Kevin Puts’ The Hours. Zoie Reams, as Mandane, sang with deep, plush mezzo-soprano tones that were exquisitely delivered in a commanding display of technique. Her voice seemed to roll from the stage in waves of elegance.
Vivica Genaux, the mezzo-soprano taking the role of Dario, is a singer I fondly remembered as the Romeo in a Pittsburgh Opera production of Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi a number of years ago. She was an excellent singer then, and time seems to have refined and distinguished her method, and raised her to an even higher level of vocal art. Her warm, mellow tones were velvety, resonant and clear, and the florid pyrotechnics she fired off were quite astonishing. Pascale Beaudin, as Berenice, we last heard when Chatham Baroque presented Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater in April. Last night was a vivid reminder of how truly beautiful her soprano voice is, silvery and bell-like, focused and crystalline to a lovely extent, that the opera displays in abundance.
Grammy Award-winning tenor, Karim Sulayman, as Artaserse, was a swarthy “bad guy” with pleasingly full and rich tones at his disposal. Shannon Delijani, mezzo-soprano, in the role of Arbace, made the most of the role’s opportunities, and added even more listening pleasure to the admirers of the deeper hued female vocal range. Wei En Chan, the countertenor singing the role of Ircano, gave a fine display of his prize-winning voice, and acted the part with enthusiastic animation.
Of the rather futuristic, “urban” staging, the creators had free rein, with no predecessors to challenge comparison, and it works for the most part. Dazzling costumes and dancers, fun lighting effects and more, add much to Act II, after a mostly bleak and dark Act I, but something seemed amiss with two distracting acrobats at each side of the stage here, and these surely will be remedied for the remaining performances. Act III, while effective, reinforced the idea that most of the creative juice runs through the middle of the production. These are but small details, in view of the musical success of the work.
You can learn more about the production, if you’ve missed any of the advance information, and get TICKETS, by visiting Quantum Theatre.
The Artist Team for Idaspe –
Created by Claire van Kampen and Chatham Baroque, from Riccardo Broschi; Conductor, Daniel Nesta Curtis; Choreographer, Antonia Francheschi; Scenic Designer, Narelle Sissons; Lighting Designer, Mary Ellen Stebbins; Costume Designer, Ilona Somogyi; Stage Manager, Michelle Engleman; Technical Director, James “Cubbie” McCrory; Technical Specialist, Peter Brucker; Hair & Makeup Design, Anita Seitu; Assistant Stage Manager, Christine Annette Schott; Assistant to the Director, Lauren Wijanhco; 2nd Assistant Stage Manager, Corry Goddard; Costume Shop Manager, Jamie Miller; Production Assistant/Supertitles, Harper van Beek; Company Manager, Phill Madore; Lighting Consultant, C. Todd Brown; Assistant Lighting Designer, Jessica Winward; Programmer/Production Electrician, James Gallo; Scenic Assistant, Frank Blackmore
Photography by Jason Snyder