Opera Boston’s Tancredi

Even though it was rainy and cold and a weekday I made it out to the last performance of Opera Boston’s production of Rossini’s melodrama Tancredi last Tuesday. The opera, his first serious opera and written at the ripe old age of 19, isn’t one of his greatest works: the plot is extremely far-fetched even by opera standards and the music oftentimes has an oratorio-like stiffness. The main draw for me and I’m sure many others was the Polish contralto Ewa Podles in the title “pants” role as an exiled soldier. Tancredi has become a signature role for Podles for good reason: her immediately distinctive, rich voice enables her to give the character a convincingly masculine portrayal, yet her voice is pliable enough to tackle Rossini’s coloratura with ease. I was familiar with her recording of the opera on Naxos (with the great Sumi Jo, who I’m a big fan of but who alas doesn’t perform in the US much), so I was looking forward to her live performance.

From her first appearance Podles commands the stage. She has a stage presence that no one else in the cast quite matched, and showed off not only her extensive vocal range (which, annoyingly, prompted the two men in front of me to wink and nudge at each other every time she hit a high or a low note) but her acting as well: her opening aria “Oh, patria” had a touching tenderness and her death scene was also surprisingly moving. At times her performance was more subtle than the orchestra’s (conducted by Gil Rose), although in general both were in full Rossini mode where little subtlety is required and instead in Tancredi we get a full dose of pageantry to substitute.

As you’d expect the various news rags around town disagreed about the performances of the singers. I agree with Jeremy Eichler’s opinion in The Globe that “Amanda Forsythe was a lovely, agile, and affecting Amenaide, even if her featherweight soprano naturally made for a lopsided pairing with Podles’s vast contralto.” Although Forsythe wasn’t able to keep the interactions between the two leads completely balanced, for the most part she did an admirable job and her prison scene was also affecting.

Although he sang well, I agree with Heidi Waleson at The Wall Street Journal and the reviewer for the MIT Tech that the tenor Yeghishe Manucharyan as Argirio, Amenaide’s father, had a nasal, pinched sound that was off-putting. Everyone seemed to agree that the baritone DongWon Kim, in the thankless role of Tancredi’s rival, was fantastic, and no one seemed to care for the production much, which was directed by Kristine McIntyre and featured a mostly bare set. I agree with Mark Kroll at the The Boston Musical Intelligencer, that the direction was too static and there was too much “park and bark” staging. Despite the dull production, two fine leads and two strong supporting singers made this one well worth seeing.

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