Odyssey Opera's "Paride ed Elena": The Farce That Lunched a Thousand Chips?

The Cast of "Paride ed Elena"
(photo: Kathy Wittman)

Paride ed Elena, Odyssey Opera's production of the 1770 opera by Christoph Willibald Gluck, with libretto by Ranieri de' Calzabigi, was performed over this past weekend, in its Boston premiere. The third of his “reform” operas, after Alceste and Orfeo ed Euridice, rarely performed (in part due to the requirement of a trio of superb sopranos), is the composer's attempt to replace the overly complex music and abstruse plots of opera seria with what was referred to as “noble simplicity” in both drama and music. Once again, this adventurous company presented an overlooked work by an acknowledged master composer. In the case of such operas, one should bear in mind the possible reasons for their relative obscurity.

Meghan Lindsay as Paris in "Paride ed Elena"
(photo: Kathy Wittman)

This is a relatively short opera with a familiar backstory, as Christopher Marlowe described Helen as the “face that launched a thousand ships”. It's an easy work to detail in a synopsis, because very little actually happens. The opera takes us from the first meeting of the two titular lovers, to their eventual flight, five acts later, taking place on an ancient Spartan shore. The other venues are the palace of Elena (Mireille Asselin), an arena, her bedroom, and the shore once again. The Scenic Design by Lindsay Fuori was (one should excuse the expression) appropriately Spartan, as were the Costume Design by Brooke Stanton, Lighting Design by Russell Champa and Direction by Crystal Manich,

Mireille Asselin as Helen in "Paride ed Elena"
(photo: Kathy Wittman)

We first learn that the heroic Paride (Meghan Lindsay) has chosen Aphrodite over Hera and Athena and, with encouragement from Erasto (Erica Schuller), seeks the love of the famous Helen of Troy. Paris and Helen meet at her royal palace and instantly are taken with one another's beauty. She asks him to be the judge of an athletic contest, where, when asked to sing, he does so about her beauty, admitting that the reason he has come is to win her love. She first dismisses him, but as he persists in despair she begins to give in to his entreaties. Eventually, through the intervention of Erasto (who admits he is really Cupid or Amore), they are on the same wave length, though Pallas Athene (Dana Lynne Varga) warns them of sorrow to come. In the final scene, the lovers prepare for their journey to Troy.

Erica Schuller as Amore, Meghan Lindsay as Paris
 & Mireille Asselin as Helen in "Paride ed Elena"
(photo: Kathy Wittman)

The opera was a mixed bag. It soared where it mattered, namely in the exquisite vocal contributions of Lindsay, Asselin and Schuller, as well as a brief appearance by Varga. Fortunately, each was in fine voice, especially in the very demanding role of Paris which Lindsay tossed off seemingly effortlessly. It was such a lovely score that it seemed a shame to burden it with the all too frequent (and all too lengthy) dance sections that were intrusive, repetitive and endless. Would that this had been a concert rather than fully staged, with the more significant arias, recitatives and choruses (the last under the direction of Mariah Wilson) intact. The extremely stylized Choreography by Melinda Sullivan may have been historically accurate (and very well rehearsed), but this sort of thing went out with the tongue-in-cheek depictions in such treatments as that found in the musical The Music Man (think “one Grecian urn, two Grecian urns...”), providing farcical elements more suited to later opera comique. At intermission, audience members appeared divided between those in favor of this staged version and those who pined for it in concert form. One wag even complained there had been ample time to finish an entire jumbo bag of potato chips during the first three acts (out of five).

As always, the production was Conducted by Gil Rose, with his usual effectiveness, if a bit lugubrious at times, finally ending on an upbeat note (despite Athene's dire prophecy). It was an afternoon for true lovers of early music, especially the works of Gluck (too long interred) to treasure.

No comments:

Post a Comment