Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's review of L'elisir d'amore
La Wally, even championed by Arturo Toscanini (he named his daughter after the heroine), has never been able to get a foothold into the standard repertoire. The only Metropolitan Opera performances were in 1909 conducted by the maestro and featuring the legendary Emmy Destinn. The only professional performances in the United States in the past 40 years were by Sarasota Opera in 1989, conducted by Maestro Victor DeRenzi. I would not be surprised to see it show up at Santa Fe Opera within a few years, the fate of several of Sarasota Opera's unusual operas over the past 10 years.
This opera is best known for a first act soprano aria, "Ebben? Ne andrò lontana," featured in the 1981 movie Diva, but the soprano alone has three other worthy arias, not to mention two for the baritone and one each for tenor and mezzo soprano. Several exciting duets and ensembles fill out this opera which, if not exactly a masterpiece, is far better than its checkered performance history suggests. Perhaps several writers on this piece are correct in saying that staging the denouement, an avalanche, has frightened potential presenters.
Wally loves Giuseppe Hagenbach, the tenor, son of an enemy of her father Stromminger. (Does anyone see parallels to Romeo and Juliet, also in Sarasota Opera's repertoire this season?) He does not seem to reciprocate her feelings. Her father pledges her to baritone Vincenzo Gellner whom Wally rejects. Stromminger sends her from her/his home, thus the aria which translates as "then I shall go far from my home."
In the second act, father is dead and there is a meeting between Wally and Hagenbach, now engaged to someone else, which does not go well and she wishes him dead. Gellner, ever in love with Wally, agrees to do so and in the third act almost succeeds. Wally saves Hagenbach, but believing her love is not returned banishes herself to a mountain retreat. At the last moment and during heavy snow, Hagenbach seeks Wally out to tell her he does love her after all, but the ending is not a happy one. He is able to get away, but Wally dies in the aforementioned avalanche, of course to some thrilling music.
Catalani's music makes up for what on paper seems like a rickety opera plot. After a lifetime of opera going, I am always ready to discover something new and worth my attention. La Wally is far better in performance than just as a listening experience.
Caitlin Crabill looks the part of a strong, assured woman, slightly taller than her tenor. Her singing in this exacting role belies her lack of experience in major roles (other than one performance as Turandot, a role she was covering last season). Her acting, by opera standards, is quite assured, commanding the stage with strength. She has come through the ranks at Sarasota Opera, first apprentice artist, now studio artist, and hopefully for the future principal artist. I hope she is smart enough to realize that Wally is really not a role for a young singer, just because she can get through six exciting performances, she needs to choose slightly less demanding roles at this stage of her career. There is time, if she is to fully realize all the potential I hear.
Any opera performance is not built on one singer, no matter how good or exciting, and this La Wally has a fine cast across the registers. Rafael Davila has given Sarasota Opera many fine performances in the past, and Hagenbach is no exception, except that this is not the tenor's opera. He doesn't get an aria until act four and that bleeds into a duet with Wally. There is also a prominent duet in act two, but I don't think any tenor is going to build a promising career with this part. Sean Anderson, also with a solid resume at this company, has the more interesting role of Gellner. He is very good, although the role begs for a full Verdi voice and his is more lyric, so he is pushing his limits.
All the singers benefit from the astute leadership of Maestro DeRenzi keeping the orchestra down a bit, so as not to force his singers. Jessica Sandidge sings the trouser role of Walter, friend to Wally. Her other role this season is Musetta in La Bohème, an odd duo as the latter is always taken by a soprano and these kinds of trouser roles usually are mezzo soprano territory. Either way, she is pleasant in her top of the first act aria and throughout the evening. Young Bok Kim is, as always, solidly professional both in his acting and in his singing as Stromminger. Lisa Chavez plays innkeeper Afra and Ricardo Lugo the Foot Soldier, two not particularly interesting roles.
Thirty-eight years leading Sarasota Opera have provided Victor DeRenzi tremendous experience. The maestro knows how to make a less than perfect opera play well. The chorus is far more effective than it was in L'elisir d'amore, less dominating in finales. I bet that for his own reasons he loves this operait shows. The orchestra play extraordinarily well for him, with nuance in support of his singers.
Scenic design by Steven C. Kemp, costumes by Howard Tsvi Kaplan, and especially lighting by Ken Yunker make this show lovely to look at. Brittany V. A. Rappise adds excellent work as hair and make-up designer.
If an opera company is going to offer up something as unusual as La Wally, I recommend doing so first class, and Sarasota Opera certainly does. Opera lovers, don't miss this one, you might not live to have another chance.
La Wally runs through March 22, 2020, at Sarasota Opera, 61 N. Pineapple Avenue, Sarasota FL. For tickets and information call 941-366-8450 or visit www.sarasotaopera.org.