christine meadows

‘La Finta Giardiniera’: early blossoms

The young Mozart's relatively obscure comic opera, staged this year by both Portland State University and Portland Opera, showcases emerging singers

Story by ANGELA ALLEN

Photos by JOE CANTRELL

The obscure La Finta Giardiniera (The Fake Gardener) is making its modern-day debut twice in Portland in four months. The opera is Portland State University’s spring presentation (the final show is at 3 pm Sunday, April 28) and Portland Opera stages it in July.

Did Portland’s opera directors have the same dream at the same time?

Or is it the irresistible W.A. Mozart? The composer was 18 — younger than many of these student performers— when he wrote the opera, which premiered in 1775 in Munich. Even if the opera lacks a moral typical of his later pieces like Cosi, Don Giovanni and Figaro, its music hints at the Mozart to come. Guiseppe Petrosellini gets credit for the libretto though there is some controversy around who actually wrote it. Much of it is so repetitive that in the PSU production, subtitles disappear for stretches of time because the characters repeat the same thing over and over.

The Act One opening ensemble: Life, and song, and costumes are abloom.

With its helter-skelter plot, mixed identities, and operatic exaggerations – these characters wear their hearts deeply inscribed on their long sleeves—La Finta, a fun “buffa” piece—is rarely performed, but it provides a good vehicle for young voices and energetic actors. Four couples, plus a mayor, go in and out of love and at times, go stark raving mad, or slightly nuts. The plentiful roles are distributed evenly, so the opera is well suited to such a student production as PSU’s, and in the case of Portland Opera, to up-and-coming resident artists.

Continues…

Building Mozart’s garden

PSU Opera's designers and artisans create a world onstage for the comic "La Finta Giardiniera." Joe Cantrell tells the tale in photographs.

Photographs by JOE CANTRELL

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was 18 years old when his opera La Finta Giardiniera (The Pretend, or Fake, Gardener) debuted at the Salvatortheater in Munich in 1775. When it opens Friday evening at Lincoln Performance Hall in Portland it’ll feature a cast almost as young, made up of singers in the elite Portland State University Opera program. Under the artistic leadership of onetime New York City Opera star Christine Meadows, PSU Opera has become known for its high-quality, relatively low-cost, professionally designed productions.

The latter is definitely true in the case of La Finta Giardiniera, which is double-cast in seven major roles (“the students have grown incredibly through the experience of preparing Finta,” Meadows says) and will have four performances, April 19, 20, 26, and 28. Its design team is stellar: set by Carey Wong, lighting by Peter West, lavish period costumes by Hadley Yoder, wigs and hair (a major task for this period comic opera) by Jessica Carr and Randy Graff respectively, props by Sumi Wu.

Maeve Stier as the servant Serpetta, surrounded by painterly foliage.

Wong’s ravishing set is dominated in many scenes by a landscape painted on its walls and inspired by Wooded Landscape with a Peasant Resting, a bucolic painting by Mozart’s near-contemporary Thomas Gainsborough, perhaps best-known for his portrait The Blue Boy. Other scenes take place in a cave, providing a sharp contrast in mood between bright and colorful and dark and forboding.

Continues…

Audrey Luna: on a high note

Portland State alumna returns home for a recital after soaring to the heights of the opera world

by BRUCE and DARYL BROWNE

A shock –a frisson of emotion, of sheer joy amidst a fountain of favorite songs –was the prevailing feeling among audience members Sunday afternoon at the vocal recital of Audrey Luna at Portland State University Recital Hall.

Luna’s name has popped into opera junkie conversation since singing her record-breaking A above high C (A6, do not try this at home) in the premiere of contemporary British-American composer Thomas Adès’s opera The Exterminating Angel (with Ms. Luna in the role of Leticia) at the Metropolitan Opera. We scoot forward on our seats in anticipation of more magical record-breaking notes. But there is so much more in the total package on stage, including acting, vocal endurance and, at times, gymnastics, as in another Adès opera, The Tempest.

Luna as Leticia in ‘The Exterminating Angel’

At her PSU recital, Ms. Luna, partnered with PSU faculty pianist Chuck Dillard, offered us the vocal works of three composers: Richard Strauss and Claude Debussy in the first half, and just one song, one glorious rhapsody, by Samuel Barber in the second. These three composers happen to be her favorites.

The five Strauss songs, plucked from three different song cycles, demonstrated his proclivity for athletic vocal lines, with leaps and coloratura for the singer, and a wide palette of harmonic colors. Strauss’ romantic-era vocal works are, according to English soprano Susan Gritton, “a sumptuous wave for the voice to surf, with wonderful opportunities for timbre and line.” Ms. Luna loosened as she rode those waves.

She and Dr. Dillard adhered like velcro on each song. Dillard’s tinkling scales and arpeggios in “Herr Lenz” were a delight. Professor Dillard heads the Collaborative Piano program at PSU, and his work in this recital defines “collaborative” and acknowledges the level plane upon which recital partners exist.

Dillard and Luna performed at Portland State.

The first of several selections from Six Songs (Sechs leider), “Ich wollt ein Strausslein binden,” set to the poetry of German/Austrian Clemens Brentano, was most compelling in tone and expression. “Amor,” from the same cycle, was Ms. Luna’s final offering on the recital, a fireworks display of vocal maneuvering.

With the Debussy, we were lifted even further by Ms. Luna’s rapturous voice and elegant delivery. “Quatre chanson de jeunesse” sets the work of three different poets, each evoking dreamy impressionistic landscapes populated with typical French characters of the time: Harlequin, Pierrot, Cassandre and Columbine. Luna’s command of the language, the images of each word of poetry, was a magic carpet of vocal line, peppered with particularized articulation of each word.

For me, Samuel Barber‘s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 was the perfect capstone of the afternoon. A song may be elevated three times over: first by the poet of the original text, second by the music of the composer and last, but not least, by the singer. It was a perfect illustration of a happy wedding of words and music, further heightened by the artistry of Ms. Luna.

There’s not a wrong word by the author, James Agee, a wrong note by Barber, nor was there a misstep by Ms. Luna. The work is new in her repertoire, but it sounded like an old friend. She captured perfectly the essence of the young boy questioning his identity, and wove a magic spell around the stunningly evocative text of Agee. With suave inflections and an afterburner of vocal range, Ms. Luna made us believe and we left transformed. That’s all one can ask.

Continues…