The 2012-2013 season at Miller Theatre opened last night with Venezia. It will be playing again tomorrow and is sold out, but a stand-by line will be open at 6 pm. Wannabe Venetian Alexandra Svokos checked it out.
Miller Theatre opened their season with the words “I do not know if I am awake, or if I dream still.” This sentiment could have been repeated by the audience of Venezia, a dream-like, fantastical program of Baroque opera featuring Music Hum fav Claudio Monteverdi among other composers. Venezia was performed by Le Poéme Harmonique, a musical group that focuses on 17th and early 18th century works, and was intended to create the experience of a concert in 17th century Venice. Indeed, the six musicians played authentic Baroque instruments such as the viola da gamba (remember that from Music Hum?) and sat onstage lit by candelabras and otherwise no set. Johannes Frisch on violin provided a majority of the instrumental melodies masterfully while the other musicians were strong and kept the audience rapt with lovely pieces.
There were four singers: a soprano, two tenors, and a bass-baritone. With a dim and stark stage, the singers took on most of the weight of enlivening the performance—and did it well. They sang emphatically, with large gestures and comical bits of acting and mugging to the audience. The proximity to the musicians also allowed them to become part of the active show; singers frequently sang to the musicians, egging them on or pulling them in for a little joke. Tenor Serge Goubioud, in particular, was a playful actor, contorting his face into dramatic masks, physically succumbing to weakness during a miserable aria, and, memorably, meowing and hissing like a cat during the enjoyable comic song “Misticanza di vigna alla bergamasca” by Manelli.
This piece included all of the singers and, indeed, even solo arias featured other singers. Like the Supremes to Diana Ross, two or three singers would add harmonies and light commentary to dramatic arias. Soprano Claire Lefilliâtre held her own as the only female singer. Her voice was strong with lovely lyric coloring, pulling heartbreaking arias such as “Son ruinato” by Ferrari to even more devastating emotional depth. Another highlight was Monteverdi’s “Lamenta della Ninfa,” a haunting and hypnotizing tune featuring all four voices, with bass-baritone Geoffrey Buffière, solid through the whole night, keeping a low beat.
Jan Van Elsacker opened the night exquisitely with “Dorma ancora” from Monteverdi’s The Return of Ulysses to His Homeland—whattup lit hum? As his opening line introduced the blurred lines of dream and reality, this production really succeeded in bringing the audience into the dream of 17th century Venice, so much so that there was an enthusiastic call for two encores. Well, it was a dream until the woman one row back turned on the light of her cell phone to read the program. Damn, I’m still in the 21st century.
Photograph via Miller Theatre