September 11, 2007

Vocal Up-and-Comers

By Scott MacClelland

Making her debut with Opera San José last Sunday afternoon, Khori Dastoor dominated the stage in the coloratura title role of Lucia di Lammermoor, blazing through her shrewdly conceived mad scene with theatrical abandon and scenery-chewing panache. If Dastoor joined the company to gain stage experience — the stated mission of OSJ — then her colleagues can expect to learn even more from her. Despite a somewhat inconsistent vocal production, the California native (of Indian and Indonesian descent) and doctoral student at UCLA lavishly compensates with keen characterization and sizzling pyrotechnics.

Khori Dastoor as Lucia and Isaac Hurtado as Edgardo

Photo by Pat Kirk

Slight tentativeness in the opening act was soon laid aside as Donizetti’s celebrated opera unfolded, fulfilling not only Dastoor’s potential but that of both leading men, Daniel Cilli as Enrico, Lucia’s brother, and Isaac Hurtado as Edgardo, her lover. And now we have the new, improved Hurtado. Opening last season in Romeo et Juliette, he was wooden and distracted, creating negative chemistry instead of the naive tenderness that the two star-crossed adolescents share in their private world. Here he played his role with conviction, from sensual love-making during the overture, to impassioned pledge of troth to Lucia, to betrayal, remorse, and final suicide. His vocal production also rose with the occasion, imparting a new depth and authority to his stage presence.

Daniel Cilli as Enrico and Khori Dastoor as Lucia

Photo by Pat Kirk

Cilli, Daniel Leal as the Lammermoor captain of the guards, and Silas Elash as the chaplain moved self-consciously in the opening scenes but subsequently gained dramatic credibility. Elash's stature expanded as his role grew in dramatic significance and he became a dominating vocal presence with his luminous basso. Cilli was no second in the vocal department. He sports a richly distinctive baritone, but needs to loosen up more as a stage actor. After Dastoor, the other debut appearance was that of mezzo-soprano Cybele Gouverneur, who isn’t given nearly enough exposure by her role in this opera but is gifted with a voice to love. Future roles this season should give her talent the chance to shine accordingly.
Production Standouts
The sets, by Giulio Cesare Perrone, and lighting by David Lee Cuthbert, were clearer and tighter than in other recent OSJ productions, participating in the drama with greater purpose. Notwithstanding Act I jitters, the stage direction by (Ms.) Timothy Near was superb. (She can be forgiven the Act II quartet-cum-quintet-cum-sextet, where all the principals line up across the proscenium; when the music trumps the words, Donizetti must get his due.) Choreographers Lisa la Cour and Kit Wilder enhanced the festive and fight scenes, respectively. A special nod goes to flutist Isabelle Chapuis for her equal partnership in the mad scene, and harpist Karen Thielen for her extravagant (and challenging) introduction to the second scene of Act I.

Donizetti favors ensembles in this work (and others), with the big solos merely serving to punctuate the duets. The principals came up to the high marks of the overall production — particularly in their floating Belliniesque lines — as did the chorus in its various guises (and costumes) and the orchestra under the expert leadership of conductor Anthony Quartuccio. The men wore tartans and leather, except for Michael Mendelsohn’s Arturo—Lucia’s ultimate betrothed, whom she dispatches with a blade on their wedding night. He appeared, albeit briefly, in attire more befitting Florentine nobility as seen in Italian Renaissance paintings.

The Wedding Scene

Photo by Pat Kirk

This 24th Opera San Jose season will stage Massenet’s Werther from November 17 through December 2. In February, the company will mount Verdi’s Rigoletto. The season will close in late April and early May with Mozart’s The Magic Flute, the ultimate crossover opera that joins Italian coloratura with Austrian folk song, and serious Baroque counterpoint with musical comedy. With the current crop of vocal horsepower, and higher standards across the board, small wonder that OSJ is enjoying more and more sell-out performances.

Scott MacClelland has written on music and, in Monterey County, taught on the subject for more than three decades.