Washington Classical Review »Blog Archive» There’s a lot to like about Wolf Trap’s “Cinderella” / “Sāvitri” double bill

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Pauline Viardot composed her opera “Cendrillon” at the age of 83. The work was performed at the Wolf Trap Opera on Friday evening.

On Friday night, singers from Wolf Trap Opera joined their orchestral counterparts at the Filene Center to present two memorable chamber variations on the timeless theme of love conquering all: Pauline Viardot’s piece Cinderella (Cinderella) and Gustav Holst Sāvitri.

Cinderella was the highlight of the evening. Written for intimate living room decor, this bedroom operetta premiered in 1904, when Viardot was 83, with witty twists to Charles Perrault’s beloved fairy tale. The evil stepmother is more of a drunken stepfather, and Prince Charming is a joker who has fun exchanging his identities with his valet, Count Barigoule.

Soprano Shannon Jennings sang Marie (Cinderella) with clarity and emotion. Her opening tune was a deep, sonorous showcase, and she brought unerring height and grace to the high-pitched, climactic notes of her duet with Prince Charming. As Prince Charming, tenor Christopher Bozeka was Jennings’ equal, singing with warmth and precision. Their French was impeccable.

Alexandra Nowakowski, a soprano, excelled as La Fée (Fairy Godmother) with gorgeous, slender musical lines and crisp French pronunciation. As Marie’s half-sisters, Mexican-born soprano Yunuet Laguna and mezzo-soprano Gretchen Krupp sang well, though their pitch sometimes got lost.

Other promising young singers included tenor Joseph Leppek as Count Barigoule and baritone Jonathan Bryan as Baron de Pictordu (Mary’s stepfather). Both singers stood out as well-trained and dynamic, with rich and balanced tones.

The program continued without an intermission at Holst’s Sāvitri. Based on an episode from the Sanskrit Indian epic Mahābhārata, The one-act chamber opera tells the story of Sāvitri, who faces death in a battle of the mind for the life of her beloved husband.

Holst (1874-1934) is best known for his orchestral suite The planets but composed several short operas and wrote Sāvitri to be “played in the open air”.

When death comes for Sāvitri’s husband, the lumberjack Satyavān, he also grants Sāvitri, who is in total distress, a boon – provided it is not Satyavān’s survival. Sāvitri wishes for a full life, which she believes will not be possible without her husband. To keep his word, death sends Satyavān back to Sāvitri, proving that even death is “Māyā”, an illusion.

Mezzo-soprano Leia Lensing sang Sāvitri beautifully, striking the high notes of her opening aria perfectly. Her dynamic range was secure throughout as she rose above the orchestra bemoaning the approach of death.

Switching from Prince Charming to Satyavān, Bozeka did well on his second round of the evening, singing with precise pitch and tone. As he awaited Death’s arrival, his duet with Lensing was chilling in its dark, low contrast to Lensing’s brilliant timbre.

The real highlight, however, was bass-baritone Calvin Griffin as Death. With controlled, resonant vibrato, Griffin was a thrilling delight on stage and as a disembodied voice backstage. He sang with a depth and timbre unmatched by his castmates.

Members of the Wolf Trap Opera Company’s Studio Artists program performed the Sāvitri Chorus of Female Voices, providing a mesmerizing and well-tuned drone effect to underpin the music.

Kelly Kuo led another solid performance from the Wolf Trap Orchestra, which performed with ease and precision. In Cinderella, Kuo was conducting an arrangement by Washington, DC composer David Hanlon. Director Amanda Consol conjured up the mystery and atmosphere for Sāvitri with fog in the opening and simple Indian style costumes. This corresponded to his straightforward and then-appropriate approach in Cinderella.

Wolf Trap Opera Artists and Alumni returns with the National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Christopher Allen on July 23 at 8 p.m. wolftrap.org

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