It is not hard to understand why the
artistic leadership of Central City Opera decided to take a chance on
the virtually unknown opera "Amadigi di Gaula": The music is simply
Especially memorable are its succession of lovelorn arias — slow,
deeply poignant expressions of the heartbreak that each of the opera's
four main characters feels at different points in this story of
intertwined, sometimes jealous romantic passions.
"Amadigi," which premiered in London in 1715 but later fell out of favor, is one of 49 operas written by George Frideric Handel , who is best known as the composer of the celebrated Christmas-Easter oratorio, "Messiah."
Handel was not just one of the leading voices of the baroque era —
roughly 1600 to 1750 — but he also stands as one of the greatest
composers of all time.
But because of the vagaries of musical tastes and fashion, his operas
fell into obscurity until the middle of the 20th century, and it was
not until the 1980s and '90s that companies began reviving his works in
Central City's production of "Amadigi," which opened Saturday, is the
work's American stage premiere — a significant milestone both in
Handel's continuing operatic comeback and the company's rich history of
It is worth attending this production just to hear the score. It is
brought vividly and organically to life by conductor Matthew Halls, who
outdoes himself in his third appearance with the company, and a
first-rate pit orchestra supplemented by four baroque specialists.
Many fine individual performers stand out, including Patrick Jones,
harpsichord; Madeleine Owen and Matthew Wads- worth, theorbo and baroque
guitar; and Jeffrey Stephenson, oboe.
If the appealing music makes clear why Central City is debuting
"Amadigi," the work's scant plot explains why other companies probably
did not do it sooner.
Like many baroque operas, the emphasis in "Amadigi" is on arias and
not action, and, at least in this version, it becomes repetitive at
The plot is a kind of love square. The sorceress, Melissa, does
everything in her power to keep Amadigi and Oriana apart in a failed
attempt to take him for herself. Meanwhile, Amadigi's best friend,
Dardano, pines for Oriana.
In an understandable attempt to enliven the narrative, stage director
Alessandro Talevi has set the story in a kind of Renaissance cabinet of
curiosities (designed by Madeleine Boyd), with Oriana's fantastical
appearance in Act 1 clearly inspired by Sandro Botticelli's painting "The Birth of Venus."
While this approach does provide provocative visuals, the complex
scenery goes too far and winds up overpowering and overburdening the
story, with the often packed stage seeming claustrophobic at times.
Talevi does, however, succeed in drawing strong, compelling
performances from the principal singers, with the exception of
countertenor David Trudgen. Though effective vocally, he appears ill at
ease on stage and is underwhelming in the role of Dardano.
The production's clear standout is soprano Katherine Manley, who is making her American debut in the role of Oriana.
She has all the makings of a star, including a commanding stage
presence and a fresh, spellbinding voice. Caressing every word and
digging into its deepest emotions, she assures that Oriana's Act 1 love
aria is one of the opera's highlights.
Nicely balancing her is countertenor Christopher Ainslie, who is also
making his American debut. He brings dramatic weight to the title role
and skillfully and expressively handles its complex vocal demands.
Rounding out the main cast is soprano Kathleen Kim as Melissa.
Capitalizing on her big, gleaming voice, she makes the most of her role
as the opera's villainess.