Saturday, February 9, 2008
Understudy Sharin Apostolou saves Portland Opera's Rodelinda
Sharin Apostolou, a soprano in the Portland Opera Studio Artist program, rescued Portland Opera from a potential opening night disaster with steely nerves and artistic chutzpah, delivering an outstanding performance in the title of role of "Rodelinda." It was a night to be remembered for Apostolou who filled in for headliner Jennifer Aylmer, who was suffering from a bronchial infection and advised by her doctors to avoid singing. Apostolou, who I heard a few weeks ago in the Oregon Symphony's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream", sang with intelligence and passion. Her voice was clear, supple, and had plenty of warmth and fire when needed. Apostolou's acting was also very inspired, revealing the character of a heroine who outfoxed her enemies with cunning and a double dog dare attitude.
The cast of principals in this production were strong but uneven. As Rodelinda's husband, Bertarido, contralto Jennifer Hines did remarkably well, yet her beautiful darkened tone seemed was underpowered in the lower register. Tenor Robert Breault, aptly created the role of Grimoaldo who usurped the throne and sought the hand of Rodelinda, but his voice seemed to want to break free of the ornamentation that is required in Baroque opera. Whenever Breault got to the upper register, he let it ring out as if he were in an Verdi opera.
In the role of Garibaldo, a close friend of Grimoaldo, bass Valerian Ruminski has a big sound and a fair amount of agility to negotiate most of his passages. Apparently, contralto Emma Curtis was also subject to bronchial problems, but she recovered enough to perform as Eduige, Bertarido's sister. Yet her condition seemed to affect her lowest notes - which were sustained and powerful - but disconnected from the beautiful tone that she normally displayed.
Countertenor Gerald Thompson was superb as Unulfo, the nobleman who befriended Bertarido and helped Rodelinda to save him. Thompson whipped through some devlishly tricky arias with panache, completely winning over the audience en route.
George Manahan did an admirable job of conducting while seated at the harpsichord. Yet he could have pushed the chamber orchestra much further in expressing the music. During the escape scene in the third act, when the drama became heightened, the violins especially became louder, but they lost that crisp and darting quality that would've made the music more engaging.
Helena Binder provided a fine touch with the stage directions. The modicum of movement served to enhance the arias rather than detract from them. The lighting by Thomas Munn also was excellent.
The sumptuous costumes (harkening back to Handel's era) were exquisite, but the scenery, provided by Dallas Opera, lacked imagination. The backdrop consisted of large frames trimmed in gold, so that the characters looked as if they were walking into a painting. Inside the frames were white-on-white themes that depicted a forests and buildings like white silhouettes, but they were bland. Fortunately, the servants brought in ornate furniture that provided more texture.
Overall, the night belonged to Apostolou, a dynamic young talent who rose to the occasion and hopefully will have many opportunities to hone her artistry in the world of opera.
Additional Note: Aposolou will appear in the Portland Opera Studio Artists production of Albert Herring (March 14-30).