SF Opera's It's a Wonderful Life
Esa-Pekka Salonen and SF Symphony

Ars Minerva's Ifigenia in Aulide Review

Ifigenia-2018* Notes * 
Ars Minerva was back at ODC with Giovanni Porta's Ifigenia in Aulide last weekend. This opera, premiered in 1738 at Shrovetide in Munich, is in many ways the typical Baroque opera with an elaborate plot based on a classical subject. The music certainly is beautiful and was vibrantly performed here.

The most famous opera using Euripides original drama is of course Gluck's Iphigénie en Aulide, and Porta's version also changes the tragic ending, but the music (written more than three decades before) is rather frilly in comparison.

The music is pretty and the small orchestra, lead by Derek Tam, played with a fresh brightness. There was much lovely singing from the eight soloists, including artistic director and founder of Ars Minerva Céline Ricci, whose mezzo-soprano is clear and powerful as Achille. Countertenor Matheus Coura makes for a very sensible Teucro, while soprano Cara Gabrielson is a robust and very emotional Elisena. Tenor Kevin Gino had the slightest strain at the top of his voice, but otherwise is quite a convincing Ulisse, doggedly after Agamennone to sacrifice his own daughter for the greater good.

Mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz in turn was a strong Agamennone, with lots of color to her voice and some gorgeous low notes. Her singing with sopranos Shawnette Sulker (Clitennestra) and Aura Veruni (Ifigenia) was particularly good. Sulker has never struck me as a natural fit for Baroque opera, perhaps because I've heard her in more contemporary pieces, but her bird-like sound works well in this. She is a fine actress, her mastery of side-eye got a few laughs in Act II as she comes upon her daughter's supposed rival. Veruni has a clean, light voice and makes for a noble Ifigenia.

Ricci's production used all the characters plus a supernumerary in purple robes and tragic masks as a near constant presence. It was effective, and the semi-staging seems to refer to the lack of set besides the background video projections and a large rock in one scene of Act III.

I enjoyed the pleated velour athleisure worn by the male characters, the women's one-sleeved velour gowns were somehow less fun. There were also a lot of sequined capes.

* Tattling * 
I attended the Saturday performance with a group of young people that was coordinated by the secretary of the board of Ars Minerva. Somehow many of us managed to wear dresses that matched the dark red and black program.

The woman in B 13 spoke to both of the people next to her throughout the performance, but otherwise it was a fairly quiet audience. There was noticeable attrition after Act II, perhaps because the opera was three hours and 15 minutes long.