Odyssey's "Zanetto" & "Susanna's Secret": Double Will

Eve Gigliotti & Eleni Calenos in "Zanetto"

Inna Dukach in "Susanna's Secret"
(photos: Kathy Wittman)

Odyssey Opera has done it again, assembling a troupe of singers and orchestra members for another evening of memorable musicianship in the space of twenty-four hours. Conductor Gil Rose, the company’s Artistic and General Director, chose to produce three fully staged operas for their June Opera Festival; on the first night, it was Verdi’s “Un giorno di regno” (“King for a Day”), and, for the finale, a double bill of one-act works. “Zanetto”, the first production of the evening, was composed by Mascagni (better known of course for his “Cavalleria Rusticana“). The second was “Il segreto di Susanna”, or “Susanna’s Secret”, created by Wolf-Ferrari. Rose previously stated that the name “Odyssey” was chosen for the company to portray a musical journey to a place most opera goers haven’t ever been before. This was true of the Verdi work, as well as both of these shorter works, which happen to have a couple of elements in common. Both halves of this twosome are conducted by Rose, are directed by Daniel Gidron, and sung in Italian with English supertitles. More significantly perhaps, both are about will power, or the lack thereof.

The first one-acter was described by its composer as a “scena lyrica” (literally, a lyric scene). Premiered in 1886 in Pesaro, it was well received until two weeks later when it failed at La Scala, perhaps due to the size of the theatre. It is based on the play “Le passant” (“The Passer-by”) by François Coppée, with a libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci. The simple story concerns a wandering minstrel and poet, Zanetto, a “pants” role for a mezzo-soprano, here sung by Eve Gigliotti (in her Boston debut), and the aging and rich courtesan Silvia, a soprano role, sung by Eleni Calenos. It takes place during the Renaissance near Florence, where Sylvia has resigned herself to her destiny of living alone. As she laments, “to live without a lover is not to live”. The minstrel arrives, playing on his mandolin (the sound quite beautifully simulated by harpist Amanda Romano). After he falls asleep on the ground she recognizes him as her ideal mate, awakens him, and is seen by him to be his ideal. She summons the will to resist his advances. He tells her he has heard of a certain Silvia, and she tells him to search for her in the direction of the dawning sun. Watching him until he’s out of sight, she exclaims that she can now weep again. Cursed with a rather dedicated melancholia, hers is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Both singers performed the music extraordinarily well, even though as directed by Gidron there was little chemistry between them. It’s a dramatically static piece, so this may be the fault of its librettists.

The second one-acter about that mysterious secret, takes place in the Piedmont region of Italy in the early twentieth century. With a libretto by Enrico Golisciani, it’s the slight story of Countess Susanna, sung by soprano Inna Dukach (in her Boston debut) and Count Gil, sung by bass-baritone Kristopher Irmiter. Gil suspects his wife of having a secret lover when he smells smoke in their home (where, as far as he knows, no one smokes). He eventually notices the smell comes from her clothes. He leaves, then soon returns, hoping to catch a suspected lover. After he leaves again, she lights up a cigarette, her little secret with her mute servant Santé (Steven Goldstein). Gil again returns and, in looking for the source of the smoke, burns himself on her cigarette. Forgiving each other, they swear their love forever, as they smoke together. It’s obviously an inconsequential plot, but the music is bright and effervescent (one felt a longing not for a smoke but for some Pops punch). There is some hearty humor in the husband’s mistaking his wife’s statements (about her undisclosed habit) for a romantic affair. She asks “what if it’s stronger than my will?”. The intended humor in Susanna’s aria in praise of smoking with its “cerulean swirls” is probably best appreciated by those who are now or have ever been smokers, rather than an ode to a nasty habit. The piece is a bit too broadly directed, given its inherent silliness. There’s also the husband’s illogical resolution to take up smoking with her since he detests the smell. Still, Dukach and Irmiter are a treat to listen to, and Goldstein is hilarious in his miming and mining a lot of variety as the faithful servant. The last gasp is appropriate: “true love smolders without end.”

With both productions, the technical crew doubles as well. The Scenic Design is by Stephen Dobay, which works fine in the first work, but is a jarring mix of abstraction and realism in the second. (Though it must be said that a poster on the wall for Massenet’s “Le Cendrillon” makes a very clever statement, as does the almost-smashing of a Beethoven bust). The Costume Design is by Amanda Mujica, suitably pastoral in the first opera, more modern (and very appealing) in the second. The fine Lighting Design is by Christopher Ostrom. Most importantly, Rose and his orchestra were again at the top of their game in both the serious composition and the lighter romp.

The Opera Festival by Odyssey Opera has been a memorable success for the company. One can truly look forward now to their next work on September 13, a concert performance of the Boston premiere of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s 1920 masterpiece “Die tote Stadt” (“Dead City”), at Jordan Hall, with Jay Hunter Morris and Meagan Miller both making their Boston debuts. The company continues on its odyssey toward potential greatness.

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