Opera Lafayette's Erminia & La Forêt Enchantée
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In Review > North America

Erminia/La Forêt Enchantée 

Opera Lafayette

In Review Opera Lafayette hdl 218
Tenor Asitha Tennekoon and mezzo soprano Allegra de Vita in Opera Lafayette's production of Erminia by Alessandro Scarlatti
© 2018 Louis Forget
In REview Opera Lafayette 2 lg 218
Bass-baritone André Courville and soprano Julia Dawaon in Erminia
© 2018 Louis Forget

OPERA LAFAYETTE, the Washington D.C.-based Baroque specialists, returned to the Gerald W. Lynch Theater on February 2 for what has become an annual visit, with a delightful double bill of Alessandro Scarlatti’s dramatic cantata Erminia and Francesco Geminiani’s ballet, La Forêt Enchantée (The Enchanted Forest). Both depict episodes from Torquato Tasso’s epic poem of the Crusades, La Gerusalemme liberata (Jerusalem Liberated), which has populated operas from Monteverdi to Handel with such familiar characters as Rinaldo, Armida, and Tancredi. Scarlatti’s heroine is the princess Erminia, in love with Tancredi, who loves Clorinda. Erminia flees the battle wearing Clorinda’s armor in order to lure him away. It is not only Tancredi who mistakes Erminia’s identity, but also Polidoro, who seeks revenge on Clorinda for killing his father. 

Mezzo-soprano Julia Dawson was a radiant and riveting Erminia, spinning out silken, sensual golden tone even when lying on her back. Only the first part of Scarlatti’s two-part cantata is extant, and it ends with a fiendishly difficult coloratura tour de force for Erminia, with relentless staccati and vocal pyrotechnics, which Dawson executed with focus and aplomb. Asitha Tennekoon’s sweet, leggiero tenor made sense of Polidoro’s quick flip from hatred to love of the disguised Erminia, who enchants him. Although at times the role of Tancredi seemed to sit a little low for her, mezzo-soprano Allegra De Vita swaggered and prowled with delicious panache. Her recitatives were especially incisive, and she ended her final aria with a blazing cadenza that hinted at an exciting upper register. André Courville’s estimable bass-baritone lent authority and sympathy to the unassuming shepherd who finds himself facing down Tancredi’s sword for harboring a fugitive. 

The Geminiani doesn’t pick up exactly where the Scarlatti leaves off, but the pastoral setting is the same. The King of Jerusalem’s advisors cannot agree on how best to keep the Crusaders at bay, but the sorcerer Ismeno solves their problem by casting a spell on the forest, making it impossible for the enemy to build a fortress. The action for both works was transplanted from Jerusalem to India during the Mughal and Maratha wars in order to involve the Kalanidhi Dance Company, which specializes in kuchipudi, a form of classical Indian dance. The effect was extremely successful, with Meriem Bahri’s richly textured costumes, Richard Ouellette’s flexible trellised set, and Rob Siler’s lighting shifts, which reflected the characters’ moods. Choreographer Anuradha Nehru’s keen eye and witty storytelling involved pantomime as well as dance, and served the music with freshness and charm. The dancers were wonderful to watch, especially Saisantosh Radhakrishnan as the wily Ismeno, and Smitha Hughes, Kavya Smrithi Adabala, and Rashi Narain as the patient King and his contrary councilors. The corps of forest nymphs was beautifully synchronized, and the warriors humorous in their impotent attempts to fell the forest. 

Ryan Brown led a lively performance on period instruments and deserves kudos for dreaming up a way for audiences to enjoy these unique pieces together.  —Joanne Sydney Lessner 

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