In Review > North America

La Pietra del Paragone

VIENNA, VA
Wolf Trap Opera
6/25/17

In Review Wolf Trap Pietra hdl 717
Kihun Yoon, Richard Ollarsaba, Zoie Reams and Alasdair Kent in Wolf Trap Opera’s production of Rossini’s Pietra del Paragone
Photo by Scott Suchman

FOR A LA SCALA COMMISSION, Rossini wrote La Pietra del Paragone (The Touchstone), quite a success in 1812, but eclipsed soon enough by more durable gems. That La Pietra deserves the occasional dusting off was heartily confirmed by Wolf Trap Opera in a colorful production at the Barns at Wolf Trap (seen June 25). The score would be fun to hear if only for the opportunity to spot passages that would feed Rossini's self-borrowing habit—the storm music that would break out again in Barbiere; the overture, which was recycled for Tancredi, etc. (Tancredi’s hit aria, “Di tanti palpiti” also has a Pietra connection.) At twenty, Rossini already had such a knack for engaging melodies and sparkling orchestration that La Pietra percolates even when Luigi Romanelli's libretto runs out of steam. The plot's promising set-up—wealthy Count Asdrubale tests the loyalty of three candidates for his hand in his marriage—gets rather belabored over the course of about three hours. But the animated Wolf Trap cast, imaginatively directed by E. Loren Meeker and sporting whimsical costumes by Erik Teague, made up for all of that in a performance that merrily romped all over an Erhard Rom-designed stage that got its visual energy from rotating rectangular panels and projections. (Additional energy was amusingly generated by cardboard cutouts of animals that were trotted out for the hunt scene.)

As Asdrubale, Richard Ollarsaba used his sizable, creamy bass-baritone to keen effect. He proved an astute comic actor, too, especially in Act I, cavorting in disguise as a turban-topped, snake-cuddling creditor (part of the Count's scheme to see if anyone will stick with him if he were penniless). As the genuine Clarice, who wins Asdrubale's heart, velvety mezzo Zoie Reams phrased with elegance and articulated coloratura nimbly. In the role of Giocondo, who carries a torch for Clarice, Alasdair Kent sounded to the bel canto born with his evenly produced tenor, refined technique and intense expressiveness. Baritone Shea Owens offered supple vocalism and a scenery-chewing portrayal of the paltry poet Pacuvio, channeling a bit of Paul Lynde for the nutty ballad “Ombretta sdegnosa del Missipipi.” As tabloid-level journalist Macrobio, Kihun Yoon revealed a baritone of considerable volume and richness; even more impressive was the array of tonal subtleties he brought to nearly every phrase. The cast was rounded out by mezzo Megan Mikailovna Samarin, in bright, if slightly steely, voice as Baroness Aspasia; and the confident, lush-toned mezzo Summer Hassan as the likewise frivolous, husband-hunting Fulvia. The male chorus sang sturdily and proved adept at stage shtick. Aside from the puny-sounding violin section, the orchestra came through as conductor Antony Walker kept the score bubbling along nicely. And at the keyboard, Nicolo Sbuelz enlivened the recitatives a great deal; he couldn't resist inserting a sly reference to a certain Richard Strauss opera at the moment Fulvia presented a rose to the Count.  —Tim Smith 



Follow OPERA NEWS on FacebookTwitter Button