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Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010

Florentine Opera Premieres ‘Rio de Sangre’

Strong performances aid uneven production

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Warm congratulations to the Florentine Opera on its first world premiere.

Rio de Sangre
by composer Don Davis, librettist Kate Gale and translator Alicia Partnoy is a somber full-scale opera in Spanish. The idealistic Christian Delacruz, newly elected to lead a fictional Latin American country, is ruined by the machinations of Guajardo, his general, closest adviser and jealous brother. Guajardo prods Delacruz to mishandle a disastrous earthquake and cholera outbreak, which causes the death of Delacruz’ son and provokes national unrest. Guajardo spreads lies about Delacruz’ daughter Blanca and her fiancé, Igneo, the progressive characters, and instigates Blanca’s kidnapping by an insurgency of followers of a former tyrant. Delacruz and his family are murdered and Guajardo comes to power, promising what Delacruz had promised: a new era.

Co-creator Partnoy was imprisoned by Pinochet in her native Argentina. With such harrowing material, all pleasure must come from the artistry. The singers and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra led by Joseph Rescigno revealed the integrity and sweep of the music. As the floundering Delacruz, baritone Guido LeBron sang confidently. As his wife, Soprano Kerry Walsh conveyed her character’s oceanic grief and rage with a darkly beautiful voice even at extreme registers. The audience reserved its biggest cheers for soprano Ava Pine and tenor Vale Rideout who, as Blanca and Igneo, sang Davis’ best passages with thrilling vibrancy. Soprano Mabel Ledo as a tavern owner and bass-baritone Rubin Casas as a priest were enjoyable. Tenor John Duykers’ voice did not seem up to the demands of his role as Guajardo on opening night.

The economic constraints of opera make it difficult to adjust design and staging concepts once they’re in motion, which is especially perilous when the work is completely unknown. Understandably, the Florentine team under director Paula Suozzi took a fairly realistic approach, but it was not entirely successful. An immense turntable center stage made scene changes ponderous and unmusical and kept the performers distant. The on and off projected backdrop grew tedious. The violence was rendered melodramatically. Best was Simone Ferro’s stylized, stop-action choreography, which created a human environment of ritualized interactions.