Sunday, December 09, 2018

Ifigenia in Aulide

Last weekend at ODC in the Mission District, the Ars Minerva troupe presented their fourth annual early music opera, the 1738 Ifigenia in Aulide by Giovanni Porta. The bare-bones production was yet another surprising success, and if you don't believe me, click here for Lisa Hirsch's index of rave reviews. The cast of mostly local singers was strong enough that three-and-a-half hours went by without the tedium that can accompany a Baroque opera production. From left to right above, they were Teucro: Matheus Coura, Arcade: Spencer Dodd, Ifigenia: Aura Veruni, Achille: Céline Ricci, Elisena: Cara Gabrielson, Ulisse: Kevin Gino, Clitennestra: Shawnette Sulker. (Not pictured is the fabulous Agamennone: Nikola Printz.)

The three previous Ars Minerva productions have focused on modern premieres of 17th century Italian operas, which in the style of Monteverdi are closer to spoken theater with a lot of dialogue sung in recitative, and quick, bouncy narratives. 18th century opera became more the province of songbirds with fairly rigid formulas stretched out over long evenings. Céline Ricci, artistic director, stage director, and singer kept the staging lively and the various personal complications clear, starting with the sadsack Teucro sung by countertenor Matheus Coura whose expressive eyebrows were a performance in themselves.

Poor Teucro is in love with Elisena, a political prisoner from Lesbos, who is not who she claims to be. It's the juiciest part in the opera, sort of like Elettra in Mozart's Idomeneo, and Cara Gabrielson took advantage of every one of her lamentation, revenge, and seduction arias.

The libretto is a mashup of Euripides and the French playwright Racine. The story of Ifigenia's sacrifice to the god Artemis so her father Agammemnon can sack Troy has a number of variations on its tragic ending. Pictured are the very sweet-sounding Ifigenia of Aura Veruni with her betrothed, Achille, sung by Art Minerva director Céline Ricci.

Nikola Printz kicked ass as the conflicted Agamennone, playing patriarchal tyrant with his daughter and wife Clitennestra, who was sung and acted brilliantly by Shawnette Sulker. Their trio in Act 3 was not only gorgeous, but it carried serious emotional heft.

By the second act, you actually started caring about these mythological characters, and the theatrical spell was cast.

In this version of the story, Ifigenia is not spared at the last second by the goddess Artemis and replaced with a sacrificial deer, but instead it turns out that Elisena's real name is ALSO Ifigenia so she is sacrificed instead. Since she has caused so much mayhem throughout the opera, this feels very much like a happy ending. It was also fun seeing Ulysses being writen and portrayed as a conniving asshole, sung well by a strutting Kevin Gino.

The most exciting element of the evening was the chamber orchestra conducted from the harpsichord by Derek Tam. They were so good, relaxed, and tireless they deserve to be named individually. Violin 1: Cynthia Black, concertmistress, Anna Wasburn, Toma Iliev, Violin 2: Laura Rubinstein-Salzedo, Tyler Lewis, Viola: Aaron Westman, Cello: Gretchen Claassen, continuo: Erik Andersen, Theorbo: Paul Psarras.

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