Tuesday, May 24, 2016
The Amazons in the Fortunate Isles
The 1679 Italian opera Le Amazzoni nelle Isole Fortunate (The Amazons in the Fortunate Isles), written by Carlo Pallavicino for a Venetian nobleman's outdoor estate, was performed at the Marines' Memorial Theater over the weekend. The "modern world premiere" on Sunday afternoon by the fledgling Ars Minerva ensemble turned out to be a funny, musically gorgeous, triumphant delight.
Ars Minerva started last year with a production of an obscure 17th century opera written by Daniele da Castrovillari for the Venetian Carnival season, La Cleopatra, which received glowing reviews. The company is helmed by director and mezzo-soprano Céline Ricci who is in the center of the above photo, flanked by Kindra Scharich, stylist Zanetta from Metamorphosis Salon, dancer Casey Lee Thorne, and tenor Ryan Matos.
It seems the myth of Amazon warrior women, living without men, was once a popular theme for theatrical spectacles, usually ending with the "natural order" restoring itself when they are defeated by masculine outsiders. It certainly allowed for lots of beautiful soprano singing, and the young voices were all top-notch and unforced, headed by Aurélie Veruni as Princess Pulcheria (above right) and Kindra Scharich as Florinda, her "favorite."
The opera begins after a prologue between Genius, Difficulty & Fear, with a storm that washes Numidio (Ryan Matos) ashore. The goofy, pleased-with-himself tenor turns out to be a duplicitous agent of an African Sultan intent on conquering the Amazons.
Numidio narrowly escapes execution repeatedly, especially after stealing away the heart of Florinda from her lesbian warrior friend Auralba (Tonia D'Amelio).
The Sultan (Spencer Dodd above), thanks to the perfidious maneuverings of his henchman Numidio, manages to conquer the Amazons on their Fortunate Isles, but is magnanimous in victory, allowing Pulcheria to continue ruling at his side.
Cara Gabrielson played Princess Pulcheria's adopted daughter Jocasta and Molly Mahoney was a silly young madwoman throwing various wrinkles into the plot.
Not only was the singing first rate but the small orchestra was excellent, led by Derek Tam on harpsichord, with Adam Cockerham above on theorbo, Gretchen Claassen on cello, Addi Liu and Laura Rubinstein-Salzedo on violins, Henry Reed on timpani, tambourine and various percussion, along with Amanda Cienfuegos and Jose Sanchez on ridiculously difficult valveless trumpets.
The wonderful dreadlock extensions and makeup by the Metamorphosis Salon (at 1841 Market Street) were characters in their own right, and the black-and-white still projections by Patrícia Nardi setting the various scenes were evocative and understated. Two dancers, including Coral Martin (below) and Casey Lee Thorne, provided the illusion of an Amazon Warrior Army with lovely choreography by former SF Ballet dancer Muriel Maffre.
Ars Minerva has promised a rediscovered Venetian Carnival opera on an annual basis in San Francisco. I can hardly wait to see what they come up with next.