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Review: LOVE AND SECRETS, A DOMESTIC TRILOGY Now Streaming to Computers Everywhere

Wolf-Ferrari's The Secret of Susanna, Rorem's Four Dialogues, and Cipullo's The Husbands

Review: LOVE AND SECRETS, A DOMESTIC TRILOGY Now Streaming to Computers Everywhere

Review: LOVE AND SECRETS, A DOMESTIC TRILOGY Now Streaming to Computers Everywhere On April 15, 2021, Opera San Jose premiered its digital stream of Love and Secrets: A Domestic Trilogy: Il Segreto di Susanna (The Secret of Susanna), Four Dialogues, and The Husbands.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) wrote The Secret of Susanna in 1909, but wanted the staging to be set back in time as did Richard Strauss with Der Rosenkavalier. Thus, according to Set Designer Steven C. Kemp and Costume Coordinator Alyssa Oania, Susanna is smoking in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century when candles still lit drawing rooms at night. The sets and costumes are exquisite, especially Susanna's beaded overdress. The furniture and its plethora of pillows are unusually colorful and stylistically in keeping with time and place. David Lee Cuthbert's lighting pointed out the smooth movements of the characters inTara Branham's realistic staging.

Wolf-Ferrari's buffa comedy presents a wife with an addiction that she tries to keep secret. Thus, her husband suspects she has a lover and is most pleasantly surprised when he finds out she merely smokes cigarettes. Baritone Efraín Solís sings increasingly dramatic lines as his suspicions grow. A fine singing actor, he creates a most believable character. Unfortunately, he decides the best answer to her problem is for him to join her. As Susanna, Vanessa Becerra has more lyrical lines and her creamy soprano soars above Music Director and Principal Conductor Joseph Marcheso's smooth, expressive piano and string ensemble. I love the gentle sounds of the piano in this group.

Ned Rorem's Four Dialogues is rhythmic and full of chunky textures. It is totally different from the other two operas. Set in the present time, it shows the seamy side of romance. As the modern couple, tenor Carlos Enrique Santelli and soprano Marnie Breckenridge sing Rorem's short drama with strong tones that underline Frank O'Hara's rhyme-happy poetry and outline the opera's no-nonsense characters.

Tom Cipullo's music always pulls my heartstrings and this performance of The Husbands is no exception. Young war widows take bus tours to keep from grieving but when they are alone in their hotel rooms, ghosts appear. Mezzo-soprano Ashley Dixon, a grand finals winner of the 2018 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and a 2019 alumna of San Francisco Opera's Adler Fellowship, made a critically well received debut as Sara in Los Angeles Opera's 2020 presentation of Donizetti's Roberto Devereux. As the bereaved and lonely tour member, her musically colorful tones depict the human cost of war. She and robust-voiced baritone Eugene Brancoveanu, create a fabric of intense passion that may bring out long-repressed feelings among patrons who have lost life partners.

Leading the socially distanced instrumental ensemble, Resident Conductor Christopher James Ray never covers the singers' notes. In Cipullo's lyrical The Husbands, his accompaniment, which here includes a flute, buoys up the singers' lines, always allowing them enough breath to shape their tones.

The triptych, Love and Secrets: A Domestic Trilogy, paints musical pictures of love in its many aspects, both comic and tragic. Two of the short operas, Wolf-Ferrari's Il Segreto di Susanna and Cipullo's The Husbands, are melodic and nostalgic, the middle piece, Rorem's Four Dialogues, is rhythmic and dynamic. The complete show is available for streaming now, priced from fifteen to forty dollars.

Photos of scenes from The Secret of Susanna and The Husbands by Ian Fullmer for Opera San Jose.

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Maria Nockin worked at the Metropolitan Opera in New York while attending  Fordham University across the street from Lincoln Center. At the same time, she studied voice, piano, and violin... (read more about this author)

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