Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 25
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
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(Photo by David Newton-Dunn)
ALLS WELL THAT ENDS WELL: Dalinda (left, Marcy Richardson), finally realizes she loves Lurcanio, (James Allbritten), and he is able to forgive her even though she duped his brother, Ariodante, into believing that he had been betrayed by his lover, Ginevra.

Princeton Festival’s Stage Set on Fire With G. F. Handel’s Opera “Ariodante”

Nancy Plum

Both of Princeton’s major opera companies had the potential for major changes this year. Opera New Jersey, which opens its season in a few weeks, had a major change of leadership when its founders left New Jersey to conquer new operatic mountains. Princeton Festival’s founder and Artistic Director Richard Tang Yuk also left New Jersey (to join the choral faculty at Indiana University) but has maintained his leadership role with the Festival, returning to Princeton this month to oversee the Festival’s multi-faceted summer of programming. Dr. Tang Yuk took the podium Saturday night to conduct the Festival’s premiere operatic offering: George Frederic Handel’s Ariodante. Ariodante dates from 1735, at the height of Handel’s operatic eminence, just before the composer turned his attention to oratorio. 18th century opera audiences had different tastes and attention spans than today; composers turned out lengthy operas based on epic Greek stories in which the simplest thought might elicit an eight minute da capo aria full of vocal fireworks. Handel’s Ariodante might have the length and Greek roots of that time period, but is full of the delicacy and charm of his music.

Operas in the early 18th century were all about the individual singer, and Dr. Tang Yuk maintained this historical tradition with his choice of stars for the seven-person principal cast of Ariodante. Handel often composed for specific singers, and the cast of Saturday night’s production in the Matthews Auditorium of McCarter Theatre was true to the composer’s original intentions.

The opera storyline centers around the cavalier Ariodante, composed for the renowned castrati Carestini (who apparently had a phenomenal range) and these days performed as a “pants” role, sung by a woman dressed as a man. Mezzo-soprano Rebecca Ringle lists a performance repertory crossing both soprano and mezzo roles ranging from Mozart to Puccini to Wagner. With a lovely rich color to her voice, Ms. Ringle seemed perfectly at home in both the male costume and the extensive coloratura required by the role. She moved well across the lower register of the role, and being blessed with high cheekbones, she was able to maintain a unique and unusually clear forward sound. The audience was particularly mesmerized by “Cieca note,” her plaintive third act aria.

Soprano Caroline Worra also took over the stage as Ginevra, the daughter of the king and betrothed to Ariodante. Ms. Worra also sang with a voice full of color and runs came easily to her throughout the music. She also convinced the audience well of her despair as she was denounced by her father at the end of the second act. Ms. Worra had her work cut out for her in her “Furies” aria, and closed Act I with a glorious ending to the aria encouraging “Cupids to fly.”

Bass-baritone Andrew Nolan cut a smooth figure as Polinesso, the Duke who is also in love with Ginevra. His rhythm in his first act aria was perfectly timed with the strings in phrasing and was required to sing some of the more continuous series of runs in the opera. Soprano Marcy Richardson brought energy and control over the character to the soubrette role as Dalinda, Ginevra’s handmaiden, building on the delicious sauciness of the character as the opera went on. Bass Stephen Morscheck was clearly commanding and in charge when he was onstage as the King of Scotland, in a role which showed signs of the dramatic and authoritative bass roles of Mozart’s operas.

The orchestra compiled for this opera mixed the old and the new; a small ensemble of strings, winds and brass played the bulk of the opera (augmented by recorders), with an arch lute, theorbo, harpsichord, and cello providing period accompaniment for recitatives. Dr. Tang Yuk had clearly schooled the players in the art of Baroque performance practice, and from the opening overture, the ensemble had a lean sound fitting for the 18th century. Oboists Marc Schachman and Lani Spahr, along with bassoonist Andrew Schwartz provided very nice touches to some of the arias. Handel scored brass instruments very selectively in this opera (mostly to announce regal things) and the horn and trumpet sections provided appropriate ceremonial color when needed.

The sets, designed by Howard Jones for Ariodante, were simple but created the appropriate atmosphere, coming out from the sides of the stage to create a “royal garden” or a “place of ancient ruins.” Marie Miller’s costumes were elaborate in flourish, but subdued in color to reflect the simplicity of the sets.

Richard Tang Yuk’s choice of Ariodante for this year’s Princeton Festival was a good draw to bring in some amazing singers. This opera is not done frequently, and if singers can conquer the long arias and deceptively difficult coloratura lines, these roles would be both challenging and fun to sing. These arias are long, there is no doubt, but the ability of this cast to maneuver through 18th century vocal fire was well worth the wait.

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