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Jess Crawford

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PDX OPERAbeat | A Company Blog is the blog for all things Portland Opera, featuring a variety of guest contributors who will provide insider's tidbits on all we do to celebrate the beauty and breadth of opera. Jess Crawford is our primary blogger. Jess spends much of her time eating enormous amounts of cake, making long lists of books she'll probably never read, and challenging people to arm-wrestling contests. During the day (and sometimes at night) she is Portland Opera's music librarian. She writes more about her escapades at her personal blog: http://bravissimi.blogspot.com

Rinaldo: fun facts, & farewell

 

world's best entrance

Was this not the most fabulous entrance ever? Lindsay Ohse in her first entrance as Armida
Cory Weaver/Portland Opera

 

We closed Rinaldo Saturday night. It was bittersweet for all of us; we'd all really fallen in love with the show, and we also hated to say goodbye to our conductor, Gary Wedow, and our former Resident Artist soprano, Sharin Apostolou. But that's the business! We always have to say goodbye.

 

We're all tired and there's a ton to wrap up (heartbreakingly, all those Rinaldo parts I so carefully crafted have to be disassembled and returned to the publisher). But I wanted to take a minute to share a few miscellaneous Rinaldo items before we put Handel away for awhile.

 

Fun facts

The boat

 

The boat

Cory Weaver/Portland Opera

 

The tiny boat that appears at the top of Act II, which sails across the top of the set and, it turns out, is attached to Armida's hair, was a big hit with the audience. It's one of my favorite scenes -- I love stage magic! But do you know a crazy thing? That boat wasn't just stuffed into Lindsay's wig during the Act I intermission. The boat had its own wig.

Armida & the boat

Cory Weaver/Portland Opera

 

Lindsay would swap wigs prior to that number, from her regular Armida wig to the boat wig, and then would swap back. That's a lot of work for about 90 seconds onstage. But so worth it!!

 

Ornaments

Though most of the singers ornamented relatively the same way every night (with some variations), André and Nick, our Argante and Herald/Mago, changed their ornaments up for every show. I found myself surprised in general by how exciting I found ALL the ornamentation in the opera, and I can only imagine what it must have been like in Handel's day to attend a performance where most of the singers were improvising in the moment.

 

The increasingly long duet

This is something that you only would have picked up on if you'd been in the audience for every performance (a feat I think only accomplished by our Resident Historian & Lecturer, Bob Kingston). Caitlin and Lindsay (Rinaldo and Armida) sing a duet during Act II in which Armida is begging Rinaldo to stay with her and promising how faithful a lover she'll be, while Rinaldo refuses and longs to have Almirena returned to him. The 'ornament' that Lindsay and Caitlin ended up singing at the very beginning of the da capo section was holding their notes increasingly longer every night. Lindsay would sing her line -- 'Fermati!' ('stay') -- and Caitlin would answer -- 'No, crudel!" (essentially 'no, cruel one'), and beginning, I think, on Tuesday, I started to realize that Lindsay was holding her first note longer than normal. On Thursday I actually burst out laughing in the booth because Lindsay's first note became probably twice as long as normal, and Caitlin answered in turn. The audience must have picked up on the gag, because they chuckled. Saturday night's was even longer. It was a small thing but delightful, and hilarious.

 

One last 'academic' note about Rinaldo

pants role

Caitlin Mathes as Rinaldo, Hannah Penn as Eustazio, Sharin Apostolou as Almirena, and Matthew Grills as Goffredo
Cory Weaver/Portland Opera

 

One of the most prevalent questions we heard during the run of the show was, why were two of the men played by women? We found this question a little perplexing, because pants roles are very common in opera, and we've certainly had our share of them. Off the top of my head: Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro, Hansel in Hansel & Gretel, The child in L'enfant et les sortileges, Siebel in Faust, Amore in Il Ballo delle ingrate. But despite the prevalence of women playing men in our art form, we've had a huge number of people ask us about the casting choice.

 

Over lunch last week, we all chatted about it. Why was this show different than any other show with pants roles? Why were the pants roles in Rinaldo so much more noticeable ... or at least, why were they more noticed? We came up with some possible answers:

-- The folks asking about the characters of Rinaldo and Eustazio are new to opera and this is their first experience with a pants role. This would be awesome!

-- There are two women onstage playing men, rather than one, which makes it more obvious.

-- It's the main character, rather than a side character, who is a man played by a woman.

-- A pivotal part of the story is Rinaldo's love for Almirena, maybe making it more obvious that it's two women? But Cherubino's character is almost exclusively 'defined' by his crush on Rosina. Hm.

-- The women playing men in Rinaldo are both portraying soldiers -- men rather than boys. The only other time we've seen this recently, that I can recall, was in another Handel opera, our 2008 production of Rodelinda, where the king, Bertarido, was played by a contralto.

 

The Rodelinda example is very pertinent to Rinaldo. Italian opera in Handel's time was dominated by castrati, men castrated as boys to preserve their treble voices while allowing them to use the singing power of a fully grown man. Obviously, this practice no longer exists today. This leaves us a few casting choices for the castrato role:

-- Take the role down an octave and give it to a tenor or baritone.

-- Leave the role as-is and give it to a mezzo.

-- Leave the role as-is and give it to a countertenor.

 

Most of the folks who asked us about Rinaldo mainly wanted to know why we didn't use a countertenor. Did we have something against countertenors? Certainly not! We had a FABULOUS countertenor, John Holliday, in our production of Galileo Galilei, and have also used countertenors in La Calisto and Rodelinda. Did you know the countertenor voice has only recently begun to make a resurgence in popularity? As tastes change, roles which have come to be sung by mezzi may eventually be routinely sung by countertenors instead, but countertenors are still relatively few and far between, comparatively speaking.

 

But maybe most importantly -- and my huge caveat here is that I have nothing to do with casting and don't sit in on the process -- is that having a mezzo sing the role is just as 'correct' as having a man do it, and we have a mezzo in the program who can sing the heck out of the music! Why search for a countertenor when we have Caitlin?

Caitlin as Rinaldo

Caitlin Mathes as Rinaldo
Cory Weaver/Portland Opera

In short, none of the casting possibilities available to us today -- a male voice dropped the octave, a mezzo, a countertenor -- are any more 'correct' than the others, since the sound we are trying to replicate is one that no longer exists. And since pants roles are very common in opera, AND since we have two wonderful mezzos who make great men (we kept joking with Hannah that she was alarmingly foxy as a dude), we have two ladies onstage pretending to be men!

 


 

I'm already hard at work on Falstaff. Isn't that crazy?! Nothing to do in this business but move forward. The chorus begins rehearsal for our final show on Monday. We'll have more about that ridiculous Sir John Falstaff in the coming weeks.