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Ars Minerva's Olimpia Vendicata

Olimpia-vendicata-2023 * Notes * 
Ars Minerva returned to ODC Theater in San Francisco for the modern premiere of Domenico Freschi's 1681 Olimpia Vendicata ("Olimpia Avenged"). The Sunday matinée had all the features of an Ars Minerva production: a small orchestra with clean, dry playing; projected backdrops; medieval-inflected costumes with a Burning Man aesthetic; beautiful, clear singing; and a silly, convoluted plot that the cast leaned into and made very funny.

Francesco Aurelio Aureli's libretto concerns one Olimpia, princess of Holland, who is abandoned on a desert isle by her erstwhile lover Bireno, prince of Denmark. Olimpia is captured by the pirate Araspe, and sold to King Oberto of Hibernia, but under the name of Ersilia. Of course, Bireno is in Hibernia wooing Oberto's sister Alinda, who is in turn loved by King Osmiro of Scotland. King Oberto, naturally, falls in love with Olimpia/Ersilia. Antics ensue, and Olimpia ultimately gets the vengeance in the title of the opera.

Unlike some of the operas we've heard at Ars Minerva, this one has a baritone, in the role of the pirate Araspe. Nicolas A. Garcia made for a good contrast with the rest of the cast, which includes lots of voices in a more middle range, including tenor Sidney Ragland as Bireno's servant Niso.

Most impressive, perhaps, was contralto Sara Couden in the smaller role of Osmiro. The character is often hapless and unintentionally hilarious, Couden did a great job with the physical humor, and her voice is effortlessly deep and resonant. Mezzo-soprano Deborah Martinez Rosengaus was entertaining as Oberto, her voice is colder than Couden's but also has a good weight to it. Mezzo-soprano Nina Jones has a very clean, crisp sound as Bireno.

Both sopranos were very strong, Aura Veruni has a nice powerful voice that is flexible. Veruni conveyed a lot of Alinda's feelings in her face and body, her disdain for Osmiro and her conflicted views on Bireno. She did some hula hooping in Act I, Scene 2. Leslie Katter (pictured) was triumphant as Olimpia, her clear, bright sound worked well and her acting was spot on, from demure handmaiden to would-be vengeful murderer.

The staging was a lot of fun. There was a ferris wheel and lollipops at the end of Act I and a humorous fishing scene with animated jumping koi and characters wearing little row boats.

The orchestra, led by harpsichordist Matthew Dirst, was scaled back to only a string quartet plus violone, bass, and theorbo.

* Tattling * 
It was the birthday of costume designer Marina Polakoff and supertitle translator Joe McClinton, so we got to hear everyone sing them "Happy Birthday" at the end of the performance.