Can Belto

On the art of singing and those who practice it…

Es gibt ein Reich… Toledo opera

Today, thanks to Toledo Opera and their sponsors we had the opportunity to watch one of the dress rehearsals for their production of Ariadne auf Naxos. I usually do not like to review dress rehearsals, but given how everyone actually sang full out, I’ll take the chance.

Toledo has cast this opera from strength, starting with Barbara Quintiliani, who I would guess is doing her first Ariadnes and boy was she good. My first reaction when I see a young soprano take on a role like this is always “too soon, too soon…” I did not need to worry. Ms. Quintilianni encompassed the whole role quite admirably. Where others just get through or just survive, she soared. A couple of high notes aside, I would say she gave an account of the role that was mature beyond her years and vocally splendid. Was it perfect? No. Do I care? Most definitely not. I hope she will continue to grow as an artist and a singer. I can see her doing this role again and again. Brava.

The evening’s Bacchus was tenor Michael Hayes whose fearless singing of this killer role created quite en impression.  Unfortunately, his wig did not make as good impression as his singing did on me. It was way too feminine and to be honest, he looked like the Composer’s older drag queen brother. Surely a more flattering and masculine wig is available to correct this before opening night. For the rest, he sang like no one told him this role makes other tenors lose sleep.

The composer of Stacey Rishoi was probably less fiercely sung, but carried not less impact. She cuts a nice figure on stage and was an ardent composer. Some of the upper reaches of the role taxed her, but lets be honest, the Composer is not a Mezzo role. It would be best served with an Ariadne-in-waiting,  or a Donna Anna. I do not understand why we keep casting mezzos in this role, given how it can get high and taxing fast and furious. That being said, Ms. Rishoi did her best to sing this role and was a committed artist; that should not be discounted.

The most enjoyable and consistent singing of the night came from the Zerbinetta of Heather Buck. Zerbinetta holds no terrors for her; I think someone needs to tell her this role is quite difficult. She sand confidently and acted with assurance without getting cutesy (I hate cutesy Zerbinettas). I thoroughly enjoyed her performance all the way to the fabulous high D’s and E’s she sand. Over all, a fabulous performance and she was awarded a great ovation at the end; I had to join in.

Other roles were also cast from strength in this production. The nymphs of Kirsten Chambers (Naiad), Priti Gandhi (Echo), and Sarah Heltzel (Dryade) were a joy to hear. Their ensemble singing was just fantastic; their harmonies tight as they could be and they looked fantastic in their costumes. Bravi. The same should be said for the comedic troupe composed of Alex Richardson (Scaramuccio), Lawrence Jones (Brighella), Markus Beam (Harlekin), and Gustav Andreassen (Truffaldino). They all sang their roles beautifully and were quite charming on stage. Special mention must be made to the ensemble that forms the bookends for Zerbinetta’s aria. I have sung Saramuccio and I know how difficult this ensemble is. they performed it while running and clowning around. Dudes, you rocked it. This fantastic cast was rounded up by Mathew Edwardsen (Dance Master), Jeremy Kelly (Music Teacher),  Micah Graber (Servant), Eric Graber (Wigmaker), Dustin Scott (Officer) and (a former Bacchus himself, now local radio personality) Brad Cresswell (Majordomo). They all made the best of their parts and contributed to a very enjoyable evening. Bravi all.

Toledo opera secured the services of stage director Jonathon Field who kept the action moving with precision if without a lot of imagination. I have always wanted to see a production of Ariadne where the stage director takes the chaos and runs with it. I have always wanted to see a whole bunch of acrobats, jugglers and vaudeville acts share the stage in an arranged chaos. After all, that must be what it felt like for all concerned when they were forced onto the stage together, so why not? I have always wanted to see how an Ariadne had to almost claw her way into being paid attention during some of the soliloquies, maybe walk up the rock to find an acrobat getting ready for a jump. Since she is the prima donna, she could, in a grand gesture, help the acrobat with her jump (thus freeing her spot for her big aria) and once the acrobat is caught downstairs by his/her colleges have the entire troupe stop the moving around and PAY ATTENTION to Ariadne’s aria, her singing; and join the applause when she is done. If there was something that I missed from Mr. Field’s staging was that sense of chaos during the opera part, the characters on each side sang to each other but they did not interact WITH each other. Ariadne, the opera, should be a competition to see who gets the attention of the public and the master of the house (given the realistic expectation that the best troupe will be invited back) and there was no sense of that.  That being said, the blocking (because that is what it was) was easy to understand and enjoyable.

The opera was performed in a multi-language version that would make purists shake their heads but made me smile and giggle like a kid. I believe that Ariadne (and I hope Hugo von Hofmannsthal would agree) is an opera that can benefit from this. The prologue was performed entirely in English (and I have to say the diction was superb, congrats to the singers and the English language coaches) and the opera was done in dual language: German for the “serious” artists and English for the comedy troupe. That meant that Zerbinetta’s Grossmachtige Prinzessin was performed in English (and the aria’s opening line did prove the one awkward translation moment) but it made sense. The “serious” artists sang in their hoity-toity  language and the comedy troupe in the language of the audience. I think it is a great idea and one that works beautifully. Yea, some people might not like it; they might even protest the fact that it is not a purist approach and that the “beauty of Hofmannsthal’s libretto can not be admired.”  OK, they have a point… who cares, send them a link to the Kempe recording and they can spend the rest of their days admiring it in the privacy of their own sanctuary.

Maestro Thomas Conlin, conducting the  Toledo Symphony Orchestra did a beautiful job with this show. The orchestra was precise and I did not hear any issues between pit and stage, no small feat. The orchestra produced a very exiting sound (for what I could hear, more on that latter) and at the same time were very sensitive to the needs of the singers.

The production, whose designer is uncredited in the website, is a traditional XVIIth century set and costuming. I have to say that I liked it quite a lot. the prologue gave the audience a true sense of what a backstage looks like and how chaotic it can be. The “opera” set had a cardboard feeling to it that I found charming. Ariadne is after all, a “XVIIth cetury” opera and it can afford to look like it is done in that style, fake sets and drops, it feels realistic in a sense. I myself enjoyed the setting and the costumes (if not Bacchus’ wig and Ariadne’s tiara) a lot. You know, talking about those 2 things, I have an idea: make Bacchus’ wig smaller and Ariadne’s tiara larger, without making it look like she just won the Miss Gay Toledo pageant and it will be perfect.

Now, I would like to talk about some of the technical aspects of the webcast because I think I might have some feedback that could be considered for the next time. I say, take it and do with it what you want:

  1. Thank you to the person who turned the mics (finally!); you were a little late, please do not forget the next time. We were getting frustrated because we were having difficulty hearing.
  2. Thank you also to Opera Music Broadcast for making this available for free. If you do not know who these people are, please click on the link and get acquainted. They need your support.
  3. The multi-camera work was very good. Some people in the chat room were commenting that it felt a lot more natural than the met’s HD camera work because  it did not go into weird angles. So kudos to your cameramen. Work needs to be done in the direction so the cameras are not caught while in the process of setting the shot. That is just experience, so take it with a grain of salt.
  4. Is there a way to make the video feed detachable from the website? This is what I am referring to: we were given 2 options that were basically all or nothing. That meant that if we waned to chat (and trust me, we will be doing the same thing the next time) we had to be content with a small image. If we wanted to see the image in a bigger size, then our option was full screen, which meant that we could not chat (get it? all or nothing). If the video feed could be made detachable we could make the feed as big as we want, minimize the browser and chat away. Think about it, if it can’t be done, it can’t be done…
  5. Lastly (and this is a biggie), GET BETTER MICROPHONES.  The poor mics were getting overwhelmed left and right by the singing. Any time one of the sopranos hit anything from high A the distortion on the mics was audible and more pronounced that the singing. This was truly not flattering to Ms. Quintilianni or Ms. Buck, who has plenty of high notes and were done no favors by the hissing coming from my speakers.

And while I am at it, and I do not pretend to appear like a know it all, here are a couple of ideas:

  1. We could only get your sponsor’s name  during the speech at the beginning. Is there a way to add something to the video feed during intermission, even a short ad? We all owe your sponsors a HUGE thanks for making this available but their name was mentioned so quick and there were no other reminders in the feed. I feel horrible because I would love to mention them by name and link to their website. Unfortunately I can’t. Maybe they could be showcased more prominently the next time around.
  2. I loved the whole idea that we were watching a hybrid of dress rehearsal and student performance. I loved sharing with all those youngsters the fact that many of them were seeing their first opera. What I missed what a way for them to connect with the audience on-line. Remember that this will be the generation that will take the internet to a whole new level; and hopefully will be in love with opera on a way their parents are not. Could we get an acknowledgment during the opening remarks and allow the kids to say hi to the audience watching on their computers? Something like: Tonight you are not alone, there is a whole bunch of people sharing this with you through the power of the internet, say hello everyone, they are looking at you right now and are very proud of you for taking the plunge and not being intimidated by opera. I think the kids would enjoy it and know that there is a whole world of people out there who are passionate enough about opera to be watching over the internet.

All in all, I want to thank Toledo opera and Opera Music broadcast and to the sponsors which included [your sponsors will be here as soon as I get their names] and SoundQue Multimedia for the fabulous effort that they put in making this available, and FREE! I love it when a smaller opera company refuses to be invisible and or exclusevely local. I love it when stuff like this is done because it says LOOK AT US, no we are not the Met, or la Scala, but we are relevant and we are putting out a product worth showcasing and worth being exited about. I hope this is the start of a new trend, and to the fabulous people in Toledo, you did it first; so the biggest ovation of the night goes to you and your paint-out-of-the-lines staff and to the people of Opera Music Broadcast. This was a brilliant idea.

People, if you are in the area, or can travel, make sure you stop by Toledo Opera and buy a ticket. You will not regret it. Ariadne is playing this Friday 10/8 at 8:00 PM and Sunday 10/10/10 (what a beautiful number) at 2:00 PM at Valentine Theater.  I encourage you to get a ticket either at the theater or online, they have several ways for you to do it, JUST DO IT!


October 7, 2010 - Posted by | Opera Review


  1. Wonderful review! And what great fun it was hanging out on Parterre for a non-Met event!

    I spoke w/Kelly Rinne (the host/owner of operamusicbroadcast) tonight and mentioned some of the same things. You would NOT believe how little time they had. One of the managers, of the company was “difficult” cut one entire day of work they had and today cut their 3.5 hours down to 1.5. They didn’t even get to check the microphones, (plus, poor Kelly was in a van outside giving orders to the remote camera men, etc., directing the entire thing). It’s amazing it came off as well as it did! Let’s hope “Rake’s Progress” makes it on the station as well! This is a very good thing!


    p (aka Sharky)

    Comment by Paul Padillo | October 7, 2010 | Reply

  2. Hi L –

    Thank you so much for all the kind words. We really enjoyed doing this and hope, as we like to say, that it is “the future of classical music and opera”.

    I am envisioning a hybrid of online and in-person audiences.

    Please let me thank everyone involved in the production, including the staff at the theater, who did accommodate us even though their schedule required that they shut down the theater for a break.

    Most of all I want to thank Renay the Artistic Director and Maestro Conlin of the Toledo Opera for believing the marketing power of this technology, and the Toledo Symphony for the additional support.

    We did not have any sponsors for this event so that certainly leaves a window of opportunity open for sponsors.

    77,440 people from around the world gave their evening over to opera, from the following countries:

    United States
    United Kingdom
    Czech Republic

    Bravi tutti, indeed!

    Kelly Rinne ~ Opera Music

    Comment by operabcast | October 7, 2010 | Reply

  3. Lindoro, Bacchus is supposed to feminine and androgynous.

    Comment by wisetrog | October 7, 2010 | Reply

    • I hear you but I am not sure I agree 100%; specially after seeing the (sill) incredibly handsome and very virile Bacchus of James King in the Met telecast. I think there is room for interpretation, but if we want to be literal, then Bacchus will always be fat.

      Comment by Lindoro Almaviva | October 7, 2010 | Reply

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