Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Donizetti wrote Rita just to keep himself busy while waiting for the libretto for another planned opera in 1841. The composer was already well known, with Anna Bolena, Lucia di Lammermoor and The Elixir of Love already behind him. This opera did not make it to the stage until 1860, more than a decade after the composer's early death. It is a minor piece, albeit from a major composer. The moment I heard the opening aria for soprano, I knew there would be an aria for each of the characters, duets around, and a trio plus finale to end it all. It is strictly formula stuff, each aria and duet having a cabaletta, but entertaining, with some lovely melodies. The characters, with roots in comedia dell'arte, include a widow, now married to a second husband, except that the first husband turns out not to dead, and of course winds up at her rustic inn. It's all light merriment, good preparation for the much more substantial The Elixir of Love which Sarasota Opera will produce next year at this time.
Susanna's Secret is Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari's best known work, although The Four Ruffians shows up occasionally in Europe, and several others have worthwhile recordings to investigate, especially Sly, which is based on a character from Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew who only appears in the first and last scenes. Susanna dates from 1909 with a vastly different compositional pallete than Rita. Donizetti wrote at a time when Verdi was just beginning to make a success for himself and had not yet influenced other opera composers, whereas Wolf-Ferrari's operas are historically parallel to Puccini's most popular works, although no verismo stylist he.
The Donizetti piece seems to be a rarity, especially in the United States. The Wolf-Ferrari shows up occasionally professionally, and frequently in educational programs. This production gives a chance to hear these pieces with singers capable of doing them full justice and with full sets and costumes.
Elizabeth Tredent is fast becoming a company favorite, and this production shows why. She is a lyric soprano, ideal for Susanna in the second half, but she acquits herself delightfully in the more florid Donizetti. As Rita, she is vivacious, as Susanna a touch vixenish. William Davenport is second husband Pepe in Rita and sings with a light tenor di grazie, just the right weight for this part. He has a charming stage demeanor which serves him really well in the second half as servant Sante, a silent role which does offer some nice acting bits. Marco Nistico, another company stalwart, is to the manner born in two light buffo roles: Gasparo, the second husband in the first half, and Count Gil in the second half. These are roles best cast with a baritone rather than a basso for lightness. All three singers are delightful in the patter numbers, and sing more than respectable French, including delivering some spoken dialogue in Rita.
Conductor Marcello Cormio leads sparkling performances of both pieces, fully aware of the stylistic differences. Susanna's Secret begins with a short brio overture, which earned a round of applause from the audience at the performance I attended . His orchestra plays with transparent buoyancy, the woodwinds in particularly fine form.
Sets by Michael Schweikardt are beautiful to the eye, outside a country inn for Rita, a turn of the century formal sitting room for Susanna's Secret. Costumes by Howard Tsvi Kaplan are equally lovely, each appropriate for the time and place of each opera.
Even though this double bill is intended to be economical, it packs a full wallop of entertainment, lovely music for the ear, plenty of pretty for the eye, with sets and costumes on a high professional level. For a portion of Sarasota Opera's audience who are devoted operaphiles and crave something a bit off the beaten track, this is a wonderful evening. Sadly, the night I attended, there were many empty seats. More is the pity, as people missed a lively evening.
Rita and Susanna's Secret, through March 23, 2019, at Sarasota Opera, 61 N. Pineapple Avenue, Sarasota FL. For tickets and information call 941-366-8450 or visit www.sarasotaopera.org.