“I long for something, but I don’t know what,” sang the lovely blind princess Iolanta, in Queen City Opera’s production of Tchaikovsky’s final opera, “Iolanta.”
Tchaikovsky’s rarely-seen one-act opera is being rediscovered, with the Met recently presenting its first production starring Anna Netrebko. Last month, inspired by the Met’s production, Isaac Selya mounted a charming, beautifully sung production in Cincinnati.
The fairytale opera is about a blind princess whose father, the king of Provence, King René, doesn’t allow her to know anything about light or vision, thus keeping her in the dark about her condition. (To create awareness, Selya collaborated with Cincinnati’s Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired.)
It was a gem of an opera, with a magical orchestral score, rewarding singing by a young cast and a simple but effective set design in Dunham Arts Center, a former tuberculosis hospital on Cincinnati’s West Side.
You couldn’t fail to be moved by the tender opening scene with the young Iolanta accompanied by a ravishing combination of string quartet and harp. Cast in the title role, Raquel González (who recently completed three seasons as a young artist with Washington National Opera) sang the Russian texts with rich expression and an innocence that perfectly captured the character who must learn what it means to experience light.
As her overly-protective father King René, CCM grad Stefan Egerstrom communicated with a mellifluous, emotion-laced bass. The doctor, Ibn-Hakia (Adam Cioffari) convinced him in a powerful aria that for his daughter to experience sight, she must first understand the idea of light.
Into the castle’s garden arrived two love interests. Baritone Simon Barrad was excellent as Iolanta’s intended, Robert of Burgundy, who extolled the virtues of one Melissa, rather than his promised bride Iolanta. The tenor, of course, is the one who eventually got the girl, and M. Andrew Jones communicated the role of Vaudemont with passion and exciting top notes.
The real joy was in the music, passionately conducted by Selya and vibrantly performed by his musicians, many with CCM connections. There was the mournful solo that opened the work for English horn, beautifully played by Bonnie Farr, and a superb quartet of horns (Rachel Hockenberry, Tim Martin, Brook Ten Napel and Emily Toth), providing wonderful evocations of hunting horns for the two wandering suitors. The moment when Iolanta miraculously was “cured” proved to be emotional, and Selya summoned a red-blooded Tchaikovsky crescendo in his orchestra.
The team included stage director Rebecca Herman, with the cast’s folk costumes designed by Joy Galbraith.
Selya’s company has just finished six seasons. “They flew right by,” he says. He’s developed a partnership with Cincinnati Opera, which has helped with things such as props and furniture.
And just last week, Selya’s company was awarded The American Prize, celebrating American excellence in the arts, for its production of Wagner’s “Siegfried,” Act II.
Stay tuned this fall for the company’s performance of “Operatic Greatest Hits” in concert version. And in the Spring of 2019, Queen City Opera will present the world premiere of a new critical edition of Weber’s “Der Freischütz.”