IN: Reviews

Collaborative Finds Handel’s Essentials


bewigged-handelwRather like a ship in a bottle, Handel’s elaborate 1711 opera Rinaldo will gleam within a miniature architectural tribute to Symphony Hall thanks to the singer-run Boston Opera Collaborative. Beginning March 26th, the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology’s 160 seats will resound with sorcery, warriors, sirens and furies

Respectfully shorn of excrescences and longueurs, the production will convey Handel’s pleasures in “a fully staged, costumed and choreographed production, though there is no scenery in the traditional sense. We are using a forest of coat-racks in various ways. The costumes are gorgeous—rich in color and imagination—a suggestion of antiquity melded with Alexander McQueen-type high fashion,” according to co-artistic directors Patricia-Maria Weinmann and Greg Smucker.

“We’ve taken the most compelling parts of the narrative to distill the three-hour story into a compact 90 minutes. Some arias have been cut but all the characters have at least two arias (Rinaldo and Arminda more). There are also two duets in this opera, which is a bit unusual for Handel.

“Some of Handel’s most well-known and beloved arias are featured in Rinaldo, such as  ‘Lascia chi’io pianga’,  [here]. Handel considered with Cara Sposa the most beautiful aria he had composed. A number of others are incredibly exciting, notably Armida’s ‘Vo far Guerra’ [here], which features fireworks from both the Armida and the harpsichord; in our production the harpsichord will be played by conductor Michael Sakir.

“The instrumentalists, New Vintage Baroque of New York City, will bring their own brand of authenticity to this new take. The ensemble will strip Handel’s elaborate spectacle down to the essentials of human emotion and motivation, drawing the audience into a personal experience of this epic tale. Here’s what NVB sounds like (music starts at around 55 seconds)”.

LE: BOC may be unique in being a self-governing band of artists which encourages its membership to move on after a few years. How do you maintain institutional integrity, and how do the youngest artists get any mentoring in such an arrangement?

PW and GS: As new artistic directors to BOC, we are deeply committed as both directors and mentors for our young singers. Along with the experience of performing in BOC productions, we offer monthly group aria nights, one-on-one coachings, house concerts and outreach projects. On the administrative side, the new roster singers are usually given a smaller job in the organization structure, under the leadership of a staff member, who is more seasoned and has had previous experience with the department. The member then has the opportunity to become a staff member, or possibly managing director, and take on a more integral role in the running of the company. These are usually singers that have a deep interest in gaining administrative skills in their particular department. We find that the staff members tend to extend their two-year membership term, which gives our administration stability. It can be challenging at times, but the energy and excitement of our entrepreneurial singers are boundless, and by working together we’re able to effectively run and produce our season.

Are you developing administrators, stage directors and conductors as well as singers?

At this point, the focus is on our commitment to young singers and furthering their experience both onstage and off-. All of our stage directors, conductors and production staff are industry professionals who are hired on a per-show basis.

Kristen Connolly’s sketches
Kristen Connolly’s sketches

How many members of your corps have moved on to bigger things?

Our alumni list is more than 150 singers strong, and many have moved on to Young Artist Programs, contracts, distinguished teaching careers and even administrative leaders. Our alumna and current board member Natalie Polito went on to the Sarasota Opera and Opera New Jersey apprentice program and is currently singing across the country.

 Alumna Vanessa Isiguen has just made her Cio-cio-san debut with Florida Grand Opera, and in Glimmerglass Opera’s “An American Tragedy.” Brendan Buckley (Voice Instructor at Plymouth State University) and Heather Gallagher (current member and BLO Emergying Artist) are both Resident Teaching Artists at Boston Lyric Opera. Former Managing Director, Rebecca Teeters, is an Academic Advisor at New England Conservatory and is currently leading a class on the Entrepreneurial Musician. Former BOC Staff Member Emily Burr is the Development Officer at Aspen Music Festival in Colorado. Dana Varga, one of our first BOC members back in 2007, has gone on to form her own opera company, Metrowest Opera, along with a robust singing career.

Boston is not blessed with great Opera House or with affordable small theaters with pits and deep stages. How has BOC coped?

Finding centrally located venues in Boston has always been one of our biggest challenges; flexibility is key. This season, we produced Le Lettres de Werther in Pickman Hall at the Longy School/Bard College; Rinaldo will be performed at the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology; Our Town will be presented at the Modern, a state of the art theater in Boston’s theater district. Ultimately, we plan to find a permanent “home” and look forward to that day!

The BFIT Theater is an acoustically rich small space that looks a bit like Symphony Hall, but has only 8% (160) of the seats. How will you be using the space for Rinaldo? You refer to “the aid of sorceresses, warriors, mermaids and furies.”

The Institute’s theater offers both challenges and rewards. The spaciousness of the hall offers a unique venue in which to see and hear this opera. Rinaldo is a fantastic tale of battle and love and, indeed, features a powerful sorceress who has furies at her disposal. The excitement and beauty of Handel’s music is partnered with a fast-paced narrative.

You list a choreographer but no stage designer. What will the production look like?

Stephen Setterlun, the technical director of the American Repertory Theater, generously gave of his time and creativity to design (and help build) modular platforms that are used in imaginative configurations to define space and location.

Will your orchestra be playing in a Baroque style on early instruments? Will they be on stage or on the floor?

New Vintage Baroque will be playing on the stage and the floor of the hall will be used as the performance space for the singers.

How do we decide which of the two casts to hear?

Best of both worlds: Come to a performance of each cast! Both are fabulous!

Kristen Connolly’s sketches

Any powdered wigs?

No powdered wigs, but some amazing Fury masks. 

Handel’s Rinaldo
libretto by Giacomo Rossi

Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology
41 Berkeley Street, Boston, MA 02116

Thursday, March 26, 8:00 p.m. Friday, March 27, 8:00 p.m
Saturday, March 28, 8:00 p.m. Sunday, March 29, 4:00 p.m.

Conductor​: Michael Sakir
Directors​: Greg Smucker and Patricia­Maria Weinmann
Choreographer: ​Tommy Neblett

 Tickets here

General Admission: $25
Seniors: $20
Students: $15
Children 10 & Under: Free

 Thursday/Saturday Cast:  Rinaldo, Sophie Michaux; Almirena; Laura DellaFera; Armida, Jessica Jacobs; Goffredo, Garry McLinn; Argante, Luke Scott; Herald, Patrick McGill

Friday/Sunday Cast:  Rinaldo, Elizabeth Kinder; Almirena, Erin Merceruio; Armida Christina Pecce; Goffredo, Garry McLinn Argant, Patrick McNally; Herald, Patrick McGill

Furies (all nights): Hailey Fuqua, Shannon Grace, Beibei Guan, Krista Laskowski, Sarah Shechtman
Covers: Krista Laskowski (Rinaldo), Patrick McGill (Argante)

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