[Dixielandjazz] Audience Participation

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Mon Apr 19 11:06:24 PDT 2004

Now this is OPERA, not OKOM for everybody. But there is an interesting
thread here. The following review's "Siroe", a relative obscure Opera by
Handel. Yet in this performance, it is oddly compelling seemingy because
of the "visual presentation"

Hmmmm.  Is this one reason why bands like Titan Hot Seven have become
popular? Is this one one way to make OKOM more relevent to the general,

By getting the audience involved?  And altering the "musical contours"?
Gosh, who'd have thunk it?

Steve Barbone

April 19, 2004 - NY Times


For Handel: Fascists, Camp and Audience Participation

         Whenever an 18th-century opera set in the Middle East rolls
around these days, it is tempting to try to tease out some contemporary
political relevance. But you would be hard put to find it in Handel's
"Siroe," with its haystack of a plot.

Cosroe, the king of Persia, loves Laodice, who loves Siroe, Cosroe's
older son, who loves Emira, who (disguised as a male courtier, Idapse)
wants to kill Cosroe to avenge his wartime slaying of her father, the
king of Cambaia (India). Medarse, Cosroe's younger son, seems infatuated
mainly with himself.

The cluttered libretto, an early effort by the soon to be famous
Metastasio, may be one reason "Siroe" remains obscure even amid a boom
in Handel opera. The uniformity of Handel's score, with its almost
unrelieved alternation of recitatives and da capo arias, is undoubtedly

A concert version, conducted by Rudolph Palmer at Merkin Concert Hall in
1990, served as the basis for a recording by Newport Classic, and
Harmonia Mundi France is soon to release an account led by Andreas
Spering. But the Brooklyn Academy of Music claims that the version it
opened at the Harvey Theater on Saturday (running through next Saturday)
is the first fully staged modern production.

A dubious firstness aside, it seems both less and more than fully
staged. With virtually no scenery, inscrutable costumes and a few props,
it proves less ambitious than any number of semistagings of recent

Yet it also makes a bold attempt to pull the audience and the orchestra
into the action. In its odd way it is often compelling.

And that way, under the direction of Jorge Lavelli, is distinctly odd.
The costumes vaguely suggest Fascist Italy or, in combination with pasty
whitemakeup, just as plausibly another time, another planet. The action,
laced with camp, looks for laughs where surely neither Metastasio nor
Handel intended them.

But the concept also connects. Characters address the audience directly
and wander up the aisle or through the ranks of the orchestra, which
occupies half of the stage. Orchestra members and even the conductor,
Andrea Marcon, also intermingle with the characters. It all adds up to a
fluid kind of theatricality in which an audience member feels as much a
part of the show as anyone onstage.

And the musical performance, featuring the period-instrument Venice
Baroque Orchestra, is even more gripping at times. The singers often
transform the repeats of those da capo arias, venturing far beyond
polite melodic embellishment, lustily altering contours and traversing
registers to display a fire virtuosic and expressive.

The cast is generally strong, led by the commanding Katerina Beranova, a
soprano as Emira, and the sturdy Vito Priante, a bass-baritone as
Cosroe. In Mr. Lavelli's direction, Mr. Priante delivers much of his big
number, a lament for the dead Siroe (well, not really dead; thank you,
Metastasio) while rolling on the floor.

Simone Kermes, a soprano as Laodice, shows remarkable agility, though
her tone, usually attractive, tends to harden at the top. Liliana
Rugiero, a mezzo-soprano, is strong as Siroe, despite a slight
cloudiness in her lower register. Roberto Balconi, a countertenor as
Medarse, seemed a bit outclassed even before he ran out of steam over
the three-and-a-quarter hour evening (with cuts) on Saturday.

But Mr. Marcon infused a consistent vitality and intensity into an all
too predictable musical structure. And Mr. Lavelli kept the audience
offbalance enough to accept Metastasio's every improbable dramatic turn
and Handel's every improbably beautiful melodic and harmonic turn.

It's an exhilarating evening, in an odd way.

More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list