Cross my heart: L'inganno felice OFC 2022.VII.08
Updated: Jul 20
A Rossinian entanglement zestily performed by Chicago's opera festival
featuring Tarver, Beck, Ciuffitelli
Athenaeum Center, Chicago
Tarabotto • Alexander Adams-Leyte
«Nisa» / Isabella • Katherine Beck
Bertrando • Kenneth Tarver
Ormondo • Frank DeVincentis
Batone • Matthew Ciuffitelli
continuo • Laurann Gilley
conductor • Emanuele Andrizzi
Opera Festival of Chicago
Tempo alla breve report upon Rossini's 210-years-young L'inganno felice parading its charms and flaws to the Windy City public. Reasons for the piece's current relative obscurity are not difficult to surmise: its eclipse by the composer's later successes, in particular Il barbiere di Siviglia; the ongoing lack of an editorially sound, easily accessible modern score edition; and the various plot nastinesses which contradict the piece's label of farsa.
(What an impulse is unrequited adulterous lust: it has driven the nefarious Ormondo to not only scandalize the name of the virtuous Duchess Isabella to her gullible husband Duke Bertrando but to also bribe the cowardly Batone into exiling her by sea.
Yet an even stronger impulse is loyalty: even after being rescued ashore by the miner Tarabotto and spending a decade in peasant camouflage as his niece «Nisa», Isabella remains unswervingly in love with Bertrando—poverina!
Bertrando's visit to the land is the perfect opportunity for the couple to reunite, were it not for Ormondo and Batone's stratagem to abduct «Nisa».
Discovering that Isabella had remained faithful all along, a forlorn Bertrando attempts suicide
Ma Basta Because In the End Love Conquers All…?!)
A felicitous combination of spirited vocalism and jovial orchestral playing under OFC music director Emanuele Andrizzi's vigilance were flattered by the Athenaeum's intimate dimensions, which lent the occasion the air of a jewel box European opera house performance. Likewise spirited in their theatrical play, the cast even pulled off the gauche prelude pantomime imposed upon them by their production authority, whether that be original production director Ella Marchment (conspicuous by her absence) or attending assistant director Gregory Keng Strasser. (They would have been better served by keen guidance on how to intently use their hands and eyes as agents of communication.)
Dastardly Ormondo was Frank DeVincentis, robust of tone and saturnine of presence: a Méphistophélès on the sly.
Tarabotto, the opera's closest thing to a buffo, was delivered with relish and projection by Alexander Adams-Leyte. One would like to see this vigorous performer vary his physical vocabulary, curtailing his reliance on a default pose of shrugged shoulders plus outfaced palms, and to hear him acquire the idiomatic Italian enunciation necessary for Tarabotto's spoken reading of Isabella's letter.
Armed by an open throat and limber physicality, Matthew Ciuffitelli conquered Baton's scenic and vocal rigors, unflagging through the now-legato, now-coloratura, now-patter writing of his marathon bravura aria «Una voce m'ha colpito».
That seemingly effortless nonchalance known as sprezzatura was embodied by Kenneth Tarver: honest of pitch, rhythmically alert, extending into the vicinity of high C with nary a flinch.
As his consort, Katherine Beck tantalized the ear with a creamy mezzo-soprano extensive enough to inhabit Isabella's unambiguously soprano tessitura. (Her «Al più dolce e caro oggetto» was performed in D major instead of C, following the lower versions of the vocal line where available.)
Individual praise to Laurann Gilley's deft recitative accompaniment, ever in sync with the cast's phrasing impulses, never exaggerated in fleshing out harmonies, and tasteful enough to (almost) make us forget we were listening to an electronic instrument!