Last night at the 906.World Cultural Center, mezzo Céline Ricci, Artistic Director of Ars Minerva, revisited her Women of the Mediterranean, which she had presented at the Italian Cultural Institute at the end of March in 2018. She was joined by the two vocalists that had performed last year, soprano Aura Veruni and mezzo Kindra Scharich. Instrumental accompaniment was provided by Kelly Savage at the harpsichord.
Once again the program began with an introduction to Ars Minerva itself and its mission to engage new audiences for the vast repertoire of Baroque operas, many of which were forgotten after their first performance. She made her case by reviewing the innovative approaches her productions have taken to the four operas presented thus far, La Cleopatra by Daniele da Castrovillari, Carlo Pallavicino’s Le amazoni nell’isole fortunate (the amazons in the fortunate isles), Pietro Andrea Ziani’s La Circe, and Giovanni Porta’s Ifigenia in Aulide. Arias from the last three of these operas were included in the recital that followed the introduction.
The recital selections balanced these rarities that have established Ars Minerva productions as valuable insights regarding pre-Classical opera with selections by three more familiar composers, Francesco Cavalli, Claudio Monteverdi, and George Frideric Handel (who was represented by three selections). Particularly interesting was the fact that many of the composers that Ars Minerva has “revived” (along with both Cavalli and Monteverdi) created operas to be performed during pre-Lenten Carnival festivities, primarily in Venice but in other cities as well. Thus, even when the underlying narrative was tragic, the Carnival spirit would be satisfied by low comedy. This meant that the singers themselves frequently had to deal with significant shifts in character, sometimes within a single aria.
Ricci seems to be consistently and imaginatively aware of this delicate balance of emotional dispositions. It has been evident in her full length productions, and it was just as evident in the delivery of the solo arias presented in last night’s program. Each aria was preceded by a brief (first-person) monologue describing the character delivering the song. Those introductions were so well-conceived that I found that I could set aside the English translations in the program book, preferring to focus on how the character embodied in the music was being established through minimal staging techniques.
The result was a highly satisfying evening that balanced well-conceived musicianship with imaginative approaches to staging in a minimal setting, affirming the impressive results encountered in Ars Minerva fulfilling its intended mission.