Minnesota Opera makes a burlesque return to the stage with “The Anonymous Lover”
Ornamentation was very popular in Baroque and Classical times. Musicians not only had to play what a composer had written on the page, but add their own notes and phrases, embellish, improve, and improvise.
Violin virtuoso Joseph Bologne probably did this all the time when he played concertos and sonatas in the late 18th century. So maybe it’s fitting that Minnesota Opera takes the concept to another level with Bologna Opera “The Anonymous Lover.”
For its first opera fully staged for live audiences since the start of 2020, the company took a fairly minimal script and score and ornately adorned it. It features the composer and novelist whose work it adapted as characters, stretches out the dance sequences, and throws in slapstick, pratfalls, and a host of other old-school comedic devices.
However, the whole represents only 82 minutes of rather inconsistent opera. While Bologna wrote charming and lively music for “The Anonymous Lover” – particularly in the female tunes – there is such a lack of plot and character development that future productions should probably pair it with something. anything so brief and not trying so hard to fill in the little material. .
Certainly, Minnesota Opera deserves a hearty kudos for being the first major American company to offer a fully staged production of the only surviving opera by this fascinating figure, the son of a slave who became a cause celebre in France. He certainly deserves the homage given to him by setting this production in his native Caribbean and casting the composer himself as a statue coming to life watching the action from a balcony.
And the music of Bologna is treated with tenderness. As music director of two hugely popular Parisian orchestras, it’s no surprise that orchestral writing has been his forte, and conductor Christopher Franklin and the Minnesota Opera Orchestra bring out all the liveliness and beauty.
But Bologna also had a talent for vocal music, and the arias of the soprano Symone Harcum constitute a powerful argument in favor of her artistic talent. She has a voice of strength and subtlety, her tender attacks ideal for the repertoire of the classical era. Mezzo Zoie Reams’ full-bodied voice also shines, as Leah Brzyski seizes her opportunities to soar vocally and steal scenes as the lusty bride.
Alas, tenor Carlos Enrique Santelli is too quiet for the orchestra as a love friend, while Aaron Keeney doesn’t get many opportunities to shine except in a peppy duet with Harcum.
What intrigue there is around the close friend of a widow who has sent her admiring letters and is trying to muster the courage to suggest that they take their friendship to a different level. She’s been on him since the opening scene, so no real twists ahead, just lots of kvetching, shouting and visual comedy.
So you won’t miss much if your eye wanders around the production’s stunning design, from Stephan Moravski’s pastel-hued tiered set to Ari Fulton’s flamboyant costumes to Mary Shabatura’s beautiful lighting.
But comedy never really picks up. Some vintage vaudeville gags make it seem like director Maria Todaro is looking for a goofy, goofy spirit. But this kind of comedy is usually driven by pace, fast action, sharp repartee. This production has little of that, managing to make a much longer 82-minute opera feel.
“The Anonymous Lover”
When: 7:30 p.m. Thu. and Sat., 2 p.m. Sun.
Where: Ordway Music Theatre, 345 Washington St., St. Paul.
Tickets: $25 to $225, available at 612-333-6669 or www.mnopera.org
Rob Hubbard is a classical music writer from Twin Cities. email@example.com