'Ormindo': Stellar staging

April 15, 1991|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

The masterpieces of early opera are essentially sung plays that must be brought to life by words and the accouterments of staging rather than by beautiful singing.

Saturday's cast for Francesco Cavalli's "Ormindo" (1644) at the Peabody Conservatory of Music was not generally outstanding in vocal terms but the performance was an unqualified success.

In less than discerning hands, this opera -- which recounts the adventures of Ormindo, the Prince of Tunis, who loves Erisbe, the wife of the elderly Ariadeno, King of Fez -- can seem pretty light stuff. But the staging of Roger Brunyate, who also created the sets, was sure and sensitive. In the comic first act, he made the audience aware of the ways in which Cavalli's drama parodies itself, and in the initially tragic second act, he was able to make his young singing actors plumb the depths.

There are two absolutely tremendous numbers in "Ormindo's" second act: Ariadeno's fit of temper when he realizes he has been cuckolded, which has a Shakespearean fury comparable to Leontes' mad scene in "The Winter's Tale"; and the "love death" of Ormindo and Erisbe, which is as fine in its way as that of the lovers in Wagner's "Tristan." Both were affectingly realized in Brunyate's staging.

In major parts, the cast (Timothy Bentch as Ormindo, Randa Rouweyha as Erisbe, Gregg Geiger as Amida, Julie Kurzava as Nerillo, Laura Vicari as Sicle, Kyle Engler as Mirinda and Derek Anthony as Ariadeno) was solid. (There was a different cast Friday.) The most beautiful singing came from Robert Cantrell as Osmano. Thomas Dunn conducted Raymond Leppard's edition of the music expertly, though the student orchestra did not always respond smoothly. The superb costumes were by John Lehmeyer.

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