Standout performances in AVA double-bill
The Academy of Vocal Arts opened its 2018-19 Opera Theatre season with a unique coupling of two one-act operas, both by Puccini: Suor Angelica and Le Villi. An audience favorite, Suor Angelica was paired with Puccini's very first opera, Le Villi. These two operas differ greatly from each other, but it is the sweeping melodies and thrilling climaxes in their scores that prove them to be of the same composer.
Christofer Macatsoris conducted Suor Angelica, which included some very fine singing. The strongest moments involved the ensemble of female voices, which blended to create a warm and exquisite sound. Soprano and first-year AVA Resident Artist, Renée Richardson sang the difficult title role with conviction and fervent energy. Maestro Macatsoris drew lovely shimmering sounds from the strings, which caressed the vocal lines throughout the score. Balance between the orchestra and singers was excellent, which is a notable achievement considering the several different venues in which AVA has staged this production.
The unexpected but welcome triumph of the night was the second half, in which Richard A. Raub conducted Puccini's Le Villi. The roles of Anna and Roberto were sung both skillfully and artistically by soprano Kara Mulder and tenor Matthew White. While many aspects of Le Villi were great, the performances of Mulder and White were truly superb. Mulder's voice moved with total ease and consistency throughout her entire range. White's voice was also consistent and quite memorable, and his captivating energy paired well with the score of a young Puccini. Audiences should be sure not to miss any future AVA performances featuring Mulder or White.
Richard A. Raub must be commended for his work with both the cast and the orchestra. While intonation was, at times a noticeable issue, the ensemble gracefully navigated from swelling passage to swelling passage. Raub also maintained an energetic momentum through the work. Raub kept the high level of romanticism without ever losing any precision.
David Gately directed both operas, and from a production standpoint, the team excelled at creating a simple yet effective set. The use of painted walls and projected images invited the audience into both a convent, and the Black Forest. Unfortunately, Gately's staging in Suor Angelica felt uninspired and lethargic. In Le Villi however, the singers appeared to be more grounded and deliberate in their choices and movements.
One of the greatest strengths of the Academy of Vocal Arts' Opera Theatre is its wide reach to different communities of the greater Philadelphia region. With performances in Center City, Haverford, and Bucks County, AVA brings affordable ticket prices and top-notch talent to both seasoned opera goers as well as first time opera attendees. I am looking forward to the rest of the AVA season.