OPERA NEWS - Iolanta
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In Review > North America

Iolanta

NEW YORK CITY
Dicapo Opera Theatre
12/8/11

In Review DiCapo Iolanta lg 312
Iolanta at Dicapo, with Richardson and Winters
© James Martindale 2012

Iolanta, Tchaikovsky's last opera, received its premiere in 1892 in St. Petersburg, as part of a double bill with his last complete ballet, The Nutcracker. While no one expects that the opera could ever rival the ballet in popularity, Iolanta's neglect is somewhat baffling: it has wonderful melodies, colorful characters, luscious orchestration, metaphorical resonance and a grandly uplifting ending that operates on numerous levels. Along the way, the male romantic lead sings a splendid aria in which he tries to explain to the blind leading lady what it's like to be able to see. For her part, she declares that while this sight thing sounds nice, she doesn't really need it to be able to appreciate the glory of God and his wonders. Amid this musically and verbally eloquent exchange of ideas, they fall in love.

Dicapo Opera Theatre deserves acclaim, both for tackling this neglected gem (seen opening night, Dec. 8) and for pulling it off so successfully. In the title role, soprano Corinne Winters displayed a pliable and heartfelt tone that projected naturally without losing sweetness. As the action progressed, she heated up emotionally and dynamically, while maintaining velvety-smooth transitions between her registers. By the end, when she gained her sight, her demeanor became vibrant and alive, and she somehow looked like a different person.

Tenor Alex Richardson, as Count Vaudémont, brought resonance and sensitivity to his opening aria but — appropriately enough — came more vividly to life when Vaudémont saw the sleeping Iolanta for the first time. Once they were together onstage, Winters and Richardson were quite endearing. "You just met me — why do you praise me so?" asks Iolanta, who of course doesn't understand love at first sight. (This is one of many compelling moments in the underrated libretto by the composer's brother Modest Tchaikovsky, based on a play by Henrik Hertz.) Richardson summoned forth vocal luminescence with his subsequent big tune (adapted from the composer's Fifth Symphony), and Winters blossomed in return, singing with passionate lyricism and a deep burgundy coloring. At this point, the stage (with lighting by Susan Roth) and the orchestra started glowing commensurately.

Bass-baritone Seth Mease Carico, possessed of a natural authority and commanding vocal strength, was terrific as the suffering King René, who adores his daughter but does her more harm than good by withholding knowledge of her own blindness from her. As Ibn-Hakia, the Moorish physician brought in by the king to cure Iolanta, Brandon Coleman revealed an exotic vocal coloring well suited to the foreign doctor's mysticism. Coleman's delivery of Ibn-Hakia's aria — another high point of the opera — was gripping and well paced. As Robert, Vaudémont's traveling companion and the reluctant fiancé of Iolanta (whom he has never met), Gustavo Feulien was a little bellowy in his first aria but much better later on in a manly confrontation with Carico's King René. Rachel Selan (Iolanta's nurse) blended beautifully with Roza Tulyaganova and Donna Breitzer (two of Iolanta's palace friends) in a lullaby.  Jonathan Winell as Alméric (the king's armor-bearer) made a strong, well-characterized contribution, and Ryan Allen as Bertrand, the palace gatekeeper, created a moving dramatic moment out of the announcement that Iolanta's sight had been granted.

The orchestra, though undersized and jammed into a small pit, gave a highly creditable and often quite gorgeous account of the sumptuous score under the inspired leadership of conductor Pacien Mazzagatti. Dicapo's general director Michael Capasso staged the production with taste and economy. spacer

JOSHUA ROSENBLUM

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