Manhattan School of Music’s Senior Opera Theater showcased this year’s graduating class with the Baroque rarityLa Doriclea by Francesco Cavalli (seen March 26). This musically challenging work had the distinct advantage of offering a wealth of roles, large and small, that could be matched to the varying abilities of the young singers. The plot is a mystifying narrative tangle involving a conflict between Armenia and Arsacia and featuring warriors of fluid gender and allegiance. Women’s roles predominate — a boon for a female-heavy opera studio — and don’t inhabit strict vocal categories as much as a sliding scale of color and weight, from the maid Melloe (the burnished contralto Lisa Angela Barone) to the page Orindo (the adorable, flute-y Alessandra Altieri). Doriclea, the Armenian queen, spends most of the opera in trousers and captivity, exercising a Viola-like fascination over Eurinda, the Arsacian king’s sister. Doriclea’s rangy, not-quite soprano music hovers just above that of her mezzo-soprano husband, the vanquished Tigrane. In these two central roles, Bryn Holdsworth and Gina Perregrino provided a warm heart for the sometimes silly and none too credible plot. Holdsworth was alternately defiant and compassionate, especially affecting in her beautifully judged third act lament. Perregrino layered Tigrane with a combination of mellow goodness and swaggering strength, and together they created a relationship of real tenderness and urgency.
Soprano Caroline Dunigan brought a regal bearing, sparkling soprano, and a sure sense of Baroque style to Eurinda. As her foil, the stalwart soldier Farnace, Megan Mikailovna Samarin offered a sonorous, cushy mezzo and an appealing earnestness. Baritone Justin Austin, a gentle actor and elegant musician, made a strong impression as Subari, who also falls in love with Doriclea. His quiet confidence made him sympathetic even as he betrayed his queen and stood smoldering off to the side. Tenor Juan del Bosco held forth with authority as the triumphant king Artabano, while baritone Nicholas Smith conveyed the easy arrogance of the victor as his henchman Surena.
No Baroque opera would be complete without a complement of meddling deities. Soprano Katelyn Wilson was a vixenish Venus, calling forth her army of anime Cupids in neon pink wigs. Cameron Johnson gave Mars a repentant veneer, and Mark Zhaoming Seah contributed a playful Mercury. Molly Boggess (Ambition), Marina Lombardi (Ignorance), Haley King (Virtue) and Sheila Houlahan (Glory) set the tone nicely in the prologue, personifying the forthcoming conflict in Doriclea’s journey. All the singers endowed the plentiful recitatives with significance and used the judiciously applied ornaments expressively. As always, Dona D. Vaughn provided simple, character-driven, and well-paced direction. Conductor Jorge Parodi stayed loose and flexible, attentive to both singers and orchestra. Summer Lee Jack designed attractive flowing desert robes for the mortals and shimmering spandex for the gods, while Kate Ashton’s tastefully appointed set created atmosphere and, in the case of a bunny hiding from the battle, sly commentary.
JOANNE SYDNEY LESSNER