back: Pabyan and John Tessier in Imeneo.
Glimmerglass Opera, July 19
Two of director Christopher Alden’s more recent offerings
at Glimmerglass, Sousa’s The Glassblowers and Offenbach’s
Bluebeard, were both wickedly frenetic, often hysterical
affairs, exploding with color, life, and humor. The Glimmerglass
production of Handel’s Agrippina a few years ago was
an eye-popping spectacular crammed with mind-blowing gender
bending and pop-culture references.
So how does one explain Alden’s droll and lifeless production
of Handel’s Imeneo?
Handel wrote Imeneo in the 1730s, and this production
was set, according to the program notes, in the mid-1800s
with a stage set inspired by the Mount, Edith Wharton’s Lenox
“cottage.” Yawn. The spare stage consisted of the side of
a clapboard house, with five windows opening onto a roof.
Characters entered and exited through the windows, and activities
inside of the house, consisting of lifeless, expressionless
bodies sitting or moving slowly about, were often visible.
The stage was largely without any color, and the costumes
were all variants of black and brown.
There was an emotional void at the center of the opera. Apparently
to create a stylized effect, the few characters tended to
underact, stare incessantly into space, and only occasionally
move, slowly, stiffly, and mechanically. While perhaps this
was meant to underscore the internal conflict of the characters
or to focus attention on the music, the overall effect was
that of a slow-moving slideshow of uninteresting period photographs.
This could have worked had there been more heft to the opera
itself, but the libretto was thin, and this was an aria-driven
work. When the super-title translation screen goes blank for
minutes at a time while somebody is singing (as happened throughout),
you know that the singer is either endlessly repeating a phrase,
or saying something so inconsequential as to defy the translator’s
labor. Tick, tick, tick.
There were a few stabs at wacky humor, which seemed bizarrely
out of place, and soprano Amanda Pabyan’s Rosmene’s sporadic
flourishes of spunk in the second act seemed like bright wildflowers
popping through grey concrete.
All in all, Imeneo seemed like an operatic version
of the lethargic 1993 slacker film Bodies, Rest & Motion,
except without the character-driven dialogue.
Sure the music was heavenly. This is, after all, freakin’
Handel! Michael Manciaci, a male soprano, was easily the star
of the show. The novelty of the castrato voice (the program
coyly referred to Manciaci as an intact male soprano)
wore off quickly, leaving one to confront simply a singer
of great dynamics, expression, and grandeur. Handel’s device
of providing ensemble choruses was likewise very pleasing
indeed. If only there had been something to look at as well.