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Major Voices in a Minor Opera

Curtis Opera Theatre
05/09/2008 -  and May 11
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Iolanta
Marquita Raley (Martha), Amanda Majeski (Iolanta), Allison Sanders (Brigitta), Tammy Coil (Laura), Evan Hughes (King Rene), Allen Boxer (Ibn-Hakia), Adrian Kramer (Robert) and Dominic Armstrong (Count Vaudemont)
Rossen Milanov (conductor)
Danielle Orlando (concert staging and principal opera coach) and Derek Hachkowski (concert lighting)

Tchaikovsky's operas have never been popular in Philadelphia. The Opera Company of Philadelphia has ignored both Pique Dame and Eugene Onegin – important works performed in other major American cities - in decades. Oddly, Iolanta has been produced twice in recent years. Following up a fully staged production with piano accompaniment by the Academy of Vocal Arts three years ago, Curtis Opera Theatre presented concert performances with orchestra of the one-act opera Tchaikovsky originally paired with The Nutcracker. Led with authority by Rossen Milanov, the cast made a strong case for Tchaikovsky’s opera.

The static opera portrays a blind princess whose sight is restored after she falls in love with Count Vaudemont. The libretto, fashioned by Tchaikovsky's brother, Modest, is singularly lacking in action and conflict. The dramatic high point comes after the count asks Iolanta to pick a red rose for him in her garden. After she picks three white roses, he discovers the princess is blind. Through Vaudemont’s love, Iolanta is inspired to cure her blindness.

Iolanta may lack drama, but Tchaikovsky gives each of the main characters a powerful aria. Curtis' cast seized their opportunities. Amanda Majeski soared through Iolanta's arioso in the opening scene. Her firm voice embraced the big melody in a stream of shining sound. Battling severe allergies, Dominic Armstrong sang impressively until his voice tired. His tenor blended handsomely with Majeski's soprano in the thrilling duet that caps the scene in which Vaudemont and Iolanta fall in love.

Opera coach Danielle Orlando staged this concert performance simply but effectively. The singers moved comfortably across the stage in front of the orchestra arrayed behind them. A large bowl of roses represented the bush from which Iolanta plucks the roses for the count. The near-capacity audience at the Harold Prince Theater showered applause on the cast. Bass-baritone Evan Hughes earned cheers for his fervent singing of the King's arioso. Also effective was Allen Boxer, the firm-toned bass-baritone who sang the role of the Moorish physician who helps Iolanta regain her sight. Adrian Kramer opened up his baritone with thrilling impact in Robert’s aria. Also effective were bass Thomas Shivone as the gatekeeper and mezzo-soprano Marquita Raley as his wife. As Iolanta's friends, Allison Sanders and Tammy Coil blended their voices nicely with Raley's in their trio.

Milanov, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s associate conductor, proved to be a fervent advocate for Tchaikovsky's score. He paced the opera admirably and savored the musical climaxes. The Curtis Symphony played impressively.

Robert Baxter



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