By Charu Suri
In the constant “tug of war” between the Metropolitan Opera and the City Opera, the latter is known for its risk-taking and pushing lesser known artists into prominence, as well as rendering the best versions of George Frederic Handel operas. The opera Flavio, which debuted at the City Opera on April 8th, is no exception.
The set is a series of houses and walls that unfold, almost kaleidoscopically, into palace rooms and pink and green colored patios and lawns. Many of the prominent singers, including Gerald Thompson (Guido), Katherine Rohrer (Vitige), as well as the conductor, William Lacey, all made their City Opera debuts in Flavio.
Ultimately, it is a jewel-encrusted showcase for countertenors: those amazing male singers whose roles where originally played by castrati. The soft and full-bodied rendition of the high notes (we’re talking the entire first octave – and then some — of the treble range here!) was exquisitely rendered by Thompson, although he struggled a little bit with arias that seemed as endlessly long as The Godfather trilogy.
I personally took to the famed David Walker’s voice like a fish to water: the dulcet tones of his countertenor range complemented the twinkling bonbon of a plot beautifully. The female voice that really shone was Marguerite Krull, whose rendition of Emilia (Guido’s lover) was superbly portrayed (the lament in the middle of Act II is as fine as any rendition I’ve ever heard).
The plot? Well, think of it as a Wedding Crashers meets Cosi Fan Tutte. A silly plot that revolves around a slap in the face, betrothals and betrayals, this potpourri is exactly what you’d expect to find in a messy tangle of a Mozart opera. But Handel’s use of recitative and arias are very Mozartean, poignant, light as well as with dark undertones that leap from the onset of tragedy.
Flavio is not without flaws (the opening duet left me wondering), but it is a jewel of a performance that can only help to broaden your musical ear to the possibility of what countertenors can do; and if you’ve never head as fine a pair as Gerald Thompson and David Walker – who steal the show – then you’d better hurry and get your tickets before the production closes. Only three performances left: April 12, 14 and 21st.
To Purchase Tickets by Phone, call CenterCharge at (212) 721-6500.
Or visit http://www.nycopera.com