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Review: ‘Mozart in Prague’ co-production proves Savannah needs more opera

  • Elizabeth de Trejo
 

Review: ‘Mozart in Prague’ co-production proves Savannah needs more opera

05 Apr 2016

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One of the most striking features of the Savannah Music Festival is its ambitious dedication to genre diversity. With international musicians from more than 20 countries, playing genres ranging from jazz to Americana to traditional Malian kora music, the weight of choosing from the 118 performances is nearly as daunting as it is exciting.

Perhaps the oldest music on display at this year’s festival were the arias and music of Mozart — specifically, the operas Mozart composed and premiered in Prague.

“Mozart in Prague: An Operatic Journey” was the second of two opera-themed productions at this year’s festival, birthed through collaboration between SMF and Savannah VOICE Festival. The two organizations paired up last year to put on Puccini’s one-acts, “Suor Angelica” and “Gianni Schicchi,” which were the first full-fledged opera productions in the SMF’s history.

At this year’s performance on April 2 at Trinity United Methodist Church, the costumes and set pieces were put away and the focus was squarely on the music of Mozart and the sights of Prague. The cast performed arias, duets and ensemble pieces from two of Mozart’s most revered works, “Le nozze di Figaro” and “Don Giovanni,” while a projector displayed photos of the city on the wall behind them.

The seven singers were accompanied by the impassioned playing of pianist Caren Levine and conducted by Andrew Bisantz, who also played the harpsichord during recitative.

World-renowned baritone and Savannah VOICE co-founder Sherrill Milnes guided the audience in the history of Mozart’s experience in 18th century Prague. The city was one of the biggest artistic hubs in Europe at the time, and Mozart premiered both “Giovanni” and “Figaro” there.

The pieces were taken out of the context and performed in concert style, with Milnes filling in plot gaps between songs.

Baritones Marco Nisticò and Edward Parks both offered impressive performances throughout the night. Nisticò sang a splendid “Figaro” during the first half of the show, then Leporello for “Don Giovanni” after intermission. Parks played the Count for “Figaro,” and the title role for “Giovanni.”

The pair’s shining moment came in the “Figaro” half, with back-to-back arias, Park’s perky, exciting “Non piu andrai farfallone amoroso” and Nisticò’s vengeful “Vedrò mentr’io sospiro” were some of the more memorable performances of the night.

The show’s most impactful integration of sonic and visual elements came near the end of “Figaro.” The lights went down on soprano Micaëla Oeste to make way for a montage of beautiful images of Prague. Oeste delivered a controlled and sensual “Deh, vieni, non tardar” as the photos flashed in and out — truly a triumph of the show’s format, and a nice touch of variety for the evening.

Guest artist Elizabeth de Trejo showed off her spectacular range and control during “In quali eccessi ... Mi tradì quell’alma ingrata,” an aria that wasn’t performed in the Prague premiere of “Giovanni.” The difficult coloratura piece was composed for the opera’s Vienna premiere to showcase the skill and tact of the soprano performing Donna Elvira at the time. The piece flaunted Trejo’s experience and impressive timbre, as it was written to do, and was one of the show’s high points.

Two Mozart pieces not from “Figaro” or “Giovanni” were performed as well. Oeste, Nisticò and an otherwise underutilized Jessica Ann Best gave (arguably) the evening’s most rousing performance: “Soave sia il vento” from opera “Così fan tutte.”

The only non-operatic piece performed was the explosive “Dies irae” from Mozart’s final composition before his death, “Requiem Mass in D Minor.” It was performed at the conclusion of the concert by the entire cast, and proved to be a fitting end to an exciting evening.

Savannah VOICE Festival is the closest thing to an opera company in Savannah. Fully realized opera performances are expensive and risky, but I believe shows like this are a big step in the right direction. The show was well-attended, and managed to serve the Savannah opera community while avoiding the financial risk of putting on a full-fledged performance.

If there are ever to be consistent operas in the Hostess City, one can only hope they will be as satisfying as “Mozart in Prague.”

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