Gregg August at Birdland
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The Collegiate Chorale Presents "Beatrice di Tenda"

by Andreas Hager

IMG_6922Beatrice
Photo credit: Erin Baiano

The Collegiate Chorale presented something of an early-bird special at Carnegie Hall on Wednesday evening. Bellini’s underperformed Beatrice di Tenda, began at an early 6PM, and wrapped up in time for dinner–this may, in fact, have been the earliest I’ve ever left an opera house.

The plot is usually cited as the reason for Beatrice’s relative neglect: it’s standard novella fluffer, with everybody loving the wrong person, eventually leading to tragedy. These absurdities are trumped only by the beauty of the music, making the opera ideal concert fare.

Bellini employs the chorus like a Greek drama, with various sections commenting and arguing about the action. The Collegiate Chorale had been well prepared by James Bagwell, sounding impressively cohesive. Helming the American Symphony Orchestra, Bagwell kept the large forces together despite some awkward sightlines with the soloists. Beyond traffic control, however, he seemed to find little drama in the score.

Luckily, the soloists had no trouble negotiating the bloodless tempi, and indulged in the extra time to showcase their luxurious instruments. Angela Meade scored a success as Beatrice, a part that is synonymous with Joan Sutherland in New York. With recent praise for her singing at the Metropolitan Opera with Anna Bolena and Ernani, expectations were high; while her acting and stage presence were pedestrian, her singing lived up to the hype. In a rather telling moment, after sumptuously floating high notes into the rafters of Carnegie Hall, she turned, took a sip from her plastic water bottle, before launching into the rapid-fire cabaletta.

Her husband the Duke was sung by Nicholas Pallesen. A simple villain in the libretto, his silky baritone and impassioned delivery hinted at something deeper; the arch of his character shifts wildly between compassion and spite, and Pallesen portrayed both equally convincingly. He is jealous of Orombello, ably sung by Michael Spyres—an attractive voice that projected well. 

But the most exciting singing came from Jamie Barton as Agnes, the romantic rival. Beginning with an offstage love song, she was a compelling romantic rival for Beatrice. Despite the brevity of the part, Barton delivered a woman that transformed from a Machiavellian rival to a penitent. Bellini, unfortunately, never completed his planned smack down between the ladies, a fight I suspect Barton would have won.

Whatever the problems with this performance, the audience was whipped into a fury by the end, giving a standing ovation. This was an all-star outing for a rare work, and an overall compelling evening.

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