I shall refer to antiquity, as many a writer thus open their thoughts. In the 4th century B.C., Aristotle reflected on the capacity of music to soothe the senses, & certain forms thereof to cleanse the soul. He could not have possibly known the musical output of Bellini, since the latter lived in the 19th century. I suspect, however, the Greek philosopher had in mind precisely the sort of music Vincenzo left behind—full of endless beauty, faithful to the texts, rich in melodic lyricism, introduced to the ear gently, without disturbance.
Vincenzo Bellini, beloved composer of Dorota Sobieska & Jacek Sobieski, has for the fifth time appeared in the repertoire of Opera Circle. From premiere to premiere he grows more and more beautiful. Norma, glorious and musically exquisite, was succeeded by La Straniera, equally beautiful, perhaps more accessible, as if ornamented by motives of folklore, compositionally simple but incredibly effective. The three performances of La Straniera proved a grand success of Opera Circle. In particular, that of November 20, 2003, at Grace Lutheran Church, will make its mark in history. Nothing short of a revolution, the response of a full house was far beyond enthusiastic, better characterized by excruciatingly lengthy ovations and yelling: “Bravo! bravo!”
This applause then reflected an appreciation for all those who took part in bringing La Straniera to life. Let us begin with the soloists, as they construct the foremost plane of the performance. In the title role performed Dorota Sobieska, our nightingale of Cleveland. Gifted with her special gleam of coloratura soprano of a beautiful, shimmering timbre, she fell indeed nothing short of her avian counterpart. She related her role to the audience with great artistic depth and clarity, always in keeping with the mood of the music. Likewise did she stage direct the production.
In the role of her Romantic lover Arturo, passionate and dynamic, skillfully bringing out the full expressive potential and range of a tenor, appeared Mark T. Panuccio, whom we had already heard a year earlier when he successfully created the role of Pollione in Norma. The warm baritone of Ray Liddle, meanwhile, tied together the whole of the ensemble with a voice familiar to us from numerous other performances of Opera Circle. Among the leading soloists we also heard Jennifer Woda as Isoletta, whose pleasant mezzo-soprano corresponded ideally with her stage character.
The orchestra, finely led under the baton of maestro Jacek Sobieski, sounded excellent. Several fragments of the score featured instrumental solos for violin, flute, and oboe, which, in the hands of our young virtuosi, yielded a splendid effect. In this opera we further had the opportunity to see ballet on stage: a solo pair accompanied by a larger ensemble woven ideally into the musical score, as was, naturally, the choir. Moving chorus lines abound, and especially the selections for men’s chorus will long remain etched in our memories. For the final touch, all performers were cloaked in rich and exquisitely elaborate Renaissance costumes.
We joyfully await the next masterwork of Bellini to be presented on stage. As of yet, we are still unfamiliar with four others, whose premieres in Naples, Milan, and Paris in the second and third decades of the 19th century enjoyed great success. In Warsaw, the premieres of Bellini, despite ongoing Russian authority, took place as follows: La Sonnambula in 1840, Norma in 1843, and I puritani in 1852. Unfortunately, I am at a lack regarding the givens of La Straniera.
Opera Circle has performed Bellini annually since 1999, and for that we thank them heartily, as we were able to encounter true beauty presented in the best of style.
Dr. Elżbieta Ulanowska
Translated by Wanda Sobieska