Ars Minerva's Astianatte
October 24, 2022
* Notes *
Ars Minerva was back with a seventh modern world premiere last weekend, this time Leonardo Vinci's 1725 Astianatte at ODC Theater in San Francisco. The Sunday matinée featured lots of beautiful singing from some familiar voices. The plot concerns the aftermath of the Trojan War, specifically focusing on Astyanax (Astianatte in Italian), son of Hector and crown prince of Troy. Interestingly though the proceedings have to do with his life and desired death by the Greeks, this character doesn't sing a note, is is portrayed by a silent child.
The basic outline is that Pyrrhus, King of Epirus and son of Achilles is in love with his captive, Hector's widow Andromache. He is supposed to marry the princess of Sparta, Hermione. Orestes, Prince of Mycenae and son of Agamemnon, comes to the court to demand Astyanax 's death. Orestes, of course, is in love with Hermione, who wants to marry Pyrrhus for her honor, rather than out of true afffection. Antics ensue, but everyone gets sorted out in the end and no one dies.
Another tidbit about this piece is that the role of Andromache (Andromaca) was created by Vittoria Tesi, a biracial Florentine opera singer from the 18th century. In this production the role is sung by contralto Jasmine Johnson (pictured), whose incredible range is nothing short of impressive. Her voice is rich and her arias were all strong. Her ability to switch from searing anger at her captor and poignant love for her son was stunning. The contrast of Johnson's deep tones contrasted well with mezzo-soprano Deborah Martinez Rosengaus as Pirro. The latter has a nice heft to her sound but also a lovely brightness. Their duet at the beginning of Act III was a highlight of the afternoon, they complemented each other.
Likewise, mezzo-soprano Nikola Printz was powerful as Oreste, they have such great flexibility in the characters they can convincingly portray and such nice control. Of the three sopranos in this piece, the largest role is for Aura Veruni as Ermione. Veruni has a wonderful effortlessness to her sound, which is very clean. She was ferocious here, razor-sharp in her singing.
Ars Minerva's Executive Artistic Director Céline Ricci's production started off with each soloist entering unshod and in underclothes, greeting Maestro Matthew Dirst and each other. The first scenes involve getting dressed, and this works well enough. Marina Polakoff's costumes have a steampunk flair, lots of corsetry, vests, and platform shoes. The two masculine presenting leads had lots of spikes, Pirro's jacket reminded me of a goth Bowser from Super Mario. Ermione's outfit looked very swirly and insectile, while Andromaca's recalled palm fronds.
The orchestra, headed by harpsichordist Matthew Dirst, was on the large side for this ensemble, a whole fourteen musicians. They played well, and it was nice to hear trumpets with all the strings, even if the brass was not always perfectly in tune.
* Tattling *
I got to my seat, Row D Seat 20, a few minutes before curtain and was surprised to see a video camera there. The person running the camera was surprised to see me there, and as I explained that I had purchased this specific ticket, he remembered that he was supposed to have moved the camera for this performance. He had me sit in Row C Seat 20, and was very apologetic and considerate. I was in the seat of a guest of the Executive Director, but this person was kind enough to simply sit next to me.
As with all ODC performances for the past few years, we heard a land acknowledgement, that the theater is on the unceded land of the Ramaytush Ohlone. I was glad to note that ODC is donating a small portion of each ticket sold to the Association of Ramaytush Ohlone and encouraging us to learn about and donate to this group.