Madness Insanity! "Opera Rara" indeed In fact, you couldn't find an opera rarer, or for that matter less frequently performed, than Donizetti's hardly pronounceable "II Furioso All'Isola di San Domingo" -- "The Madman of San Domingo" -- which opened last night at the Terrace Theater of the Kennedy Center.
"II Furioso," sung in Italian, is the final offering of this summer's chamber opera series in the Terrace Theater, chamber opera being a performance of small dimensions and intimate character with a small orchestra.
Despite "II Furioso's" fancy window-dressing -- sets, costumes and so forth -- its Terrace Theater production is really nothing more than a very fine student performance. It hardly justifies the two-digit price of admission.
II Furioso" is early Donizetti, coming just after that period when Donizetti was still hot under the influence of Rossini. You will never hear so many "Rossini crescendos" outside of Rossini as in "II Furioso," where brief passages in rapid tempo are repeated over and over with no variation save that of volume.
During his early years, Donizetti churned out a remarkable number of operas like II Furioso," nearly all of them remarkably forgettable. For Donizetti, born in 1797 -- the same year as Schubert -- the big triumphs were still to come.
In spite of its serious character, "II Furioso" has a lot of buffo patter and brass band scoring. The Terrace Theater production takes advantage of this and often hams it up too much.
There are some florid vocal opportunities for the tenor, Rockwell Blake, who sings Fernando, the madaman's brother.In his first act aria he whips off a line of sixteenth notes in a cabaletta that ends in a high D. Other than this, Blake is totally unimpressive -- his voice sounding pinched and hollow while his acting is stiff.
The madman himself. Cardenio, sung by Charles Long, a baritone, has an unattractive edge to his voice, while the other baritone, William Dansby, often yells instead of sings.
The two sopranos are simply unispiring. Donizetti's chorus of tenors and basses stand around looking as if they don't know what to do. Their acting is atrocious. And as they are gaudily costumed, with painted faces and chests, they resemble those old photos of natives seen years ago in National Geographic.
Opening night, the orchestra-sounded dull and dilapidated. The dead sound of the Terrace Theater pit did not help matters in this regard. John Mauceri's conducting, however, was swift and sure, especially in the finale to Act One.
The plot of "II Furioso" is the kind of thing Anna Russell would have a field day with. Admittedly, it is no bel canto masterpiece, though it has a number of fine ducts and catchy tunes.And while the show at the Kennedy Center most likely uses a debased text, the production still adds to our knowledge of early Donizetti works.
Earlier in this chamber opera series Mozart's "Impresario" was performed on a double bill with Carl Maria von Weber's "Abu Hassan." Other offerings were Dominic Argento's "Postcard from Morocco" and a comic pastiche of Offenbach's music called "Christopher Columbus."
"II Furioso" will have five more performances in the Terrace Theater.