View of St. Mark's English Church, Florence.
Reviewed by James Karas
How is this for an opera season: forty-five performances of ten operas and an evening of love duets. Most opera companies don’t come even near those numbers.
Early September can be a dry month for operas in many cities. But that does not apply tp Florence, Italy where St. Mark’s Opera Company started its fall season on September 2.
Producing opera in St. Mark’s, the English Church in Florence, is like entering a boxing match with one hand tied behind your back. The odds are stacked against you but that does not mean you will not get in a lot of jabs and hooks to leave your supporters cheering.
The programme lists only four singers, a pianist and a Narrator. The latter is Franz Moser who, with his wife Ilse, founded the opera company that is now in its twelfth season. No director is listed and I will assume that Moser does that job. He is also the audience welcoming committee, the prop mover between acts and who knows what else.
Much credit goes to the singers who perform under less than ideal conditions. Elise Efremov is a lovely and lively Susanna. She sings beautifully in challenging surroundings and is spritely and comic. Alvaro Lozano has a good, big voice but he suffered from the acoustics of the Church.
Chiara Panacci was a moving Contessa Almaviva. One could see why the Count’s eye may stray toward the lively Susanna but Panacci’s rendition of her two great arias, “Porgi amor” and “Dove sono” convince us that she deserves to be treated well.
Franco Rossi as Almaviva was impressive and when caught acting like a fool with an axe in his hand, he was quite funny. Eva Mabellini was fine vocally as a red-haired Cherubino but she was somewhat stilted in a role that requires a body trembling with sexual excitement.
All the other characters and the chorus were deleted and as a result the opera was done in two hours including an intermission.
The vaulted ceiling of St. Mark’s Church is not opera-friendly. The piano playing of Eugenio Milazzo displayed some very intricate finger acrobatics but it suffered for coming out fortissimo because of the acoustics when less volume would have been more pleasing to the ear. The same fate befell the singers especially the strong, low registers of Rossi and Lozano. The sopranos fared better.
In the tiny playing area of the church there is hardly much room for maneuvering and the set consisted of a couch and a few essential furniture. The seats did not allow much of a view and we had to settle for seeing most things above the knees of the singers.
Yes, this is not La Scala but there is an intimacy and a sense of opera in the raw and on the inexpensive all worthwhile.