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Florentine Opera to beguile and amuse with ‘Die Fledermaus’

Director John Hoomes returns to the Florentine Opera.
Director John Hoomes returns to the Florentine Opera.

Milwaukee welcomes back director John Hoomes (Elmer Gantry 2010) as the Florentine Opera closes its season with the delightful and cheeky operetta Die Fledermaus. The comical tale, by Johann Strauss II, tells the story of a masked ball held by a prince that brings together a collection of duplicitous socialites.

Rife with humor and witty athleticism, Fledermaus will feature the talents of Inna Dukach, in her Florentine debut as Rosalinde, Corey McKern (The Elixir of Love 2015, La Bohème 2014) as Eisenstein, and former Milwaukeean Bill Theisen as Frosch, with Milwaukeean James Zager on hand for choreography. Putting it all together is Hoomes, who says he’s excited to make his return to Milwaukee with this “fantastic piece.”

How would you describe Die Fledermaus’ place in the history of modern opera?

This work, like so many operas, almost went in cycles — similar to Faust, which did that for years. It was the most popular opera in the early 1900s, then for years nobody performed it, and then it started coming back. Fledermaus comes and goes. It’s a fantastic piece. It’s been at least eight years since I’ve done a Fledermaus, but now this is the second one I’ve done this year. It’s not like we all talk (to each other), it just all seems to roll back around.

Will the production be in its traditional period (the late 19th century), or something different?

It will be period, but with great liberty. The script for this is one I had worked with before and is put together from a number of different editions I have done. There isn’t an official edition of Fledermaus. It changes a good bit depending on the cast, on the direction and on the concept. The dialogue especially can be very different.

I’ve put together the dialogue for this production over the years myself. Some of it is based on a version from the 1930s, so some of it plays like the Carole Lombard comedies of the ’30s, and some of it looks and plays more contemporary, like some of the Naked Gun movies Leslie Nielsen was in. It gets very silly sometimes in a cool comedic way.

How has the cast taken to their roles as comedians? Is that typical or atypical of an opera singer’s palette?

Well, that’s what takes time rehearsing. Comedy is not easy and you really have to work and routine it to make it look naturalistic and make it run fast. The timing of the jokes is in the music: The music and composer give you all the timing, the length of pitch and everything. It’s all about that timing and opera singers aren’t used to having to do that. We’ll spend so much time polishing the gags. It’s very much like Broadway in that respect.

How would you characterize the score of Die Fledermaus?

It is written by Johann Strauss and so the music in this is almost all waltzes; the entire piece is made up of a series of waltzes. There are some melodies that people will recognize if they remember any of the Tom and Jerry cartoons because they used some of this music every now and then. It’s very light, it’s effervescent, it’s gorgeous music. Sometimes too, the music is kind of funny!

What do you think will resonate most with audiences?

Well, a lot of the scenes of the piece involve intrigue, like all operas, but it is more of a family piece as well. It’s light, it’s beautiful and nowadays with everything going on in the world it’s nice to come to a comedy, to something that’s light and beautiful. It’s a very wonderful, very funny piece. We kind of need a comedy now, with the state of the world.

It’s a little Eyes Wide Shut if it were done as a socially awkward Woody Allen comedy, without all the heaviness of it. It’s fun, the costuming is beautiful. So much of the piece is about the comedy and the music and how that blends together. I think people will be surprised just how funny it is.

What should less casual opera fans keep an eye out for in this production? Or is there any insider’s knowledge you can provide?

There’s a character that shows up in Act II whose name is Prince Orlofsky. He is supposed to be a German prince who is hosting this very elaborate, somewhat decadent party at his palace. Even though it is a male prince, the role is sung by a woman — it is a “pants role,” which is largely traditional in a lot of opera. For example, Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro. But for some reason, if people don’t know that they get a little surprised because he is a very prominent character. We have a wonderful soprano, Amanda Crider, who’s doing this role and that’s one of the special things about the piece.

Die Fledermaus will be performed at 7:30 p.m. May 13 and 2:30 p.m. May 15 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee. Tickets range from $31 to $130 and can be purchased at 800-326-7372 or florentineopera.org.

Florentine raises a glass to season-ending ‘Elixir’

When William Florescu, general director of Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera, raises a glass on the opening night of Gaetano Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love,” he’ll toast the opera with the Florentine’s own wine.

The Florentine Reserve, produced by The Wine Foundry in Napa, California, is a classic Bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot and petite verdot, says marketing and communications director Richard Clark.

“We knew that a love of great opera and a great wine would make the perfect pairing to end our 81st season,” Clark says. 

It’s also a clever tie-in for the Florentine’s version of Donizetti’s comic opera, which has been migrated from the Basque Country in northern Spain, circa the 18th century, to 1930s California wine country. 

“Since the opera’s premise is that a quack traveling doctor is trying to pass off a bottle of Bordeaux as a love potion, we knew wine country would be a perfect location for our version,” says Florescu, who’s directing the production. “It was one of those updates that would be plausible without changing the logic of the piece.”

In fact, the itinerant quack Dr. Dulcimara (bass Musa Ngqungwana) arrives just in time to find a love triangle in the making. Poor Nemorino (tenor Rolando Sanz), a simple man in love with wealthy landowner Adina (soprano Diana McVey), can barely attract her attention. When the self-important Sgt. Belcore (baritone Corey McKern) begins to court Adina, Nemorino turns to the medicine man for a love potion.

“The Elixir of Love,” a Florescu favorite that he ranks as one of Donizetti’s best operas, was relatively unknown to audiences after its initial performances in 1832. Famed tenor Luciano Pavarotti changed all that when he popularized the aria “Una furtive lagrima” (“A furtive tear”) in the ‘90s. It became one of the late Italian tenor’s signatures.

Donizetti wrote some 70 operas and a few sacred works, but most of them are no longer performed. His broader contribution to opera is having popularized the bel canto (“beautiful singing”) style of opera, along with Vincenzo Bellini and Gioachino Rossini.

“Elixir” contains several bel canto moments, Florescu says, most notably the five duets performed among the four major characters.

“‘Bel canto’ describes a style of singing, but also describes an opera era that was the golden age of singing,” Florescu says. “The style is generally thought of as having a beautiful lyric line and some fast notes. In bel canto, the orchestra played a subservient role, whereas later the orchestra became a sort of protagonist to the singers.”

The opera’s use of bel canto is punctuated by its comic characterizations. Those would become source material for some of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most famous parodies, Florescu says. The “patter songs” familiar to fans of”The Mikado” and “The Pirates of Penzance” first appeared in bel canto operas.

He also thinks the opera has unique implications in choosing to empower its heroine financially and romantically. “What’s fascinating about this piece, which was adapted from a French libretto, is that you have a single woman in a position of independence and power with a young man mooning over her,” Florescu says. 

Donizetti’s strength as a composer adds to the opera’s appeal even beyond its comic leanings, Florescu adds. He was a craftsman who composed operas on commission to earn a living, but he was also an artist whose works foreshadowed operatic compositions yet to come.

The composer’s strength was his naturalistic compositional style, Florescu explains. While Bellini and Rossini usually relied on musical “hooks,” Donizetti was able to adapt his style to suit the material for which he was composing, whether it was a comedy like “Elixir” or a tragedy like “Lucia.” However, the composer did have his weaknesses.

“He wrote at a quick pace and pumped out at least two operas a year,” Florescu says. “The sheer prodigiousness of his output meant that some of his stuff became workmanlike to the point where it didn’t contain any memorability.”

Fortunately, “The Elixir of Love” doesn’t fit into that category, standing as one of the composer’s best efforts. Florescu expects audience members will feel the same way.

“I think people will love hearing the voices working together, especially in the five duets,” Florescu says. “They’re just fantastic pieces that give each voice a chance to shine, but they also do a great job moving the actions forward.”

ON STAGE 

The Florentine Opera’s production of Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love” will be performed in Italian on May 8 and May 10 at the Marcus Center, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee. Tickets are $27-$121 and can be ordered at 414-273-7121 or florentineopera.org.

IN THE GLASS 

To taste The Florentine Reserve, join opera fans at a Florentine fundraiser to be held at the Lake Country home of Dr. Karen Madsen and Dr. Peter Drescher. The event will take place on May 2 at 6:30 p.m. and also feature duets from “The Elixir of Love” performed by the Florentine Studio Artists. 

Tickets are $50 and include samples of the Napa Valley red and food catered by Zilli’s. For details or to reservations, call 414-291-5700, ext. 212, before April 27.

‘Elmer Gantry’

The Florentine won two Grammys for a recording of its last staging of Elmer Gantry, a contemporary opera based on the early 20th-century novel about a small-time preacher’s fall from grace. So it makes sense that they’re bringing back the production this year, with a brand-new cast and a director, Frank Kelly, whose experience with the opera dates all the way back to workshops in 1992. The critically acclaimed score, influenced by gospel and folk music, remains the same, though, so don’t miss this rare opportunity to hear it live. (For more on the production click HERE)

At the Marcus Center, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee. Tickets range from $27 to $121 and can be purchased at 800-326-7372 or florentineopera.org.

March 13 and March 15

Back to the fold | ‘Elmer Gantry’ returns to the Florentine

In March 2010, the Florentine Opera took a risk on a new work. The opera, Robert Aldridge and Herschel Garfein’s Elmer Gantry, which had received its world premiere performance three years prior, took the stage that month to high acclaim from Milwaukee audiences.

It was only a hint of what was yet to come. The Florentine’s recording of the opera won two Grammys — for best contemporary classical composition and best engineered classical recording — and Elmer Gantry has since debuted at more than a half-dozen other companies around the country. 

The Florentine has earned a victory lap, and it’ll take it. Almost five years to the day it premiered, the opera will return to Uihlein Hall March 13 and March 15.

The opera, based on the same-titled, best-selling 1926 novel by Sinclair Lewis, tells the story of Elmer Gantry, a man who becomes an accidental preacher after he falsifies a conversion during his college years to attend seminary. Over the course of the work, Gantry connects to Sharon Falconer, a feisty woman campaigning to build a grand tabernacle. The opera takes place in Zenith, Missouri, and satirizes the Christian fundamentalist movement in the United States in the 1920s.

Aldridge weaves the story through music that hinges on folk and hymn-like melodies. “The music,” explained Florentine general director William Florescu in a recent interview at the company’s offices, “is completely original. Everything, albeit the hymn “What A Friend We Have in Jesus,” was composed new for the opera. It is created in such a way that people can identify with the music directly.” 

The Florentine’s score will be sung by a brand-new cast, Florescu says, including Craig Verm, who will take on the title role. “He’s sung with the Florentine a number of times and vocally was the right choice for the range of Gantry. His extensive experience with new opera also made him a great choice for this role,” Florescu says.

Soprano and former Florentine Studio Artist Alisa Suzanne Jordheim will sing the role of Lulu Baines, the local reverend’s daughter, with whom Gantry has an affair over the course of the opera.

The cast will be supported by a brand-new crew. Director Frank Kelly will replace the original production’s director John Hoomes, but he’s no stranger to the work. Kelly performed in a workshop of Elmer Gantry at Boston Lyric Opera in 1992.

The original novel faced criticism when it was published for its satire of religion and fanaticism, and the opera doesn’t shy away from those same subjects. Florescu feels the universality of those themes helps it transcend its 1920s setting. 

“Whether you’re a learned scholar in opera or just someone beginning to experience the form, it’s for everyone,” he says. “People instantly get the conflicts of the story.”

More than anything, Florescu says, Elmer Gantry’s success speaks volumes for opera’s continuing relevance in the 21st century. “If anyone wonders whether or not opera is a museum form, this proves that opera is alive. Not quasi-Broadway or folk, but everything that the art form should be.”

ON STAGE

Elmer Gantry will be performed by the Florentine Opera at 7:30 p.m. March 13 and 2:30 p.m. March 15, at the Marcus Center, 929 N. Water St. Tickets range from $39 to $135. Visit florentineopera.org for more information.

Florentine Opera sings to the heart for Valentine’s Day

From a little light music to A Little Night Music, Milwaukee’s Florentine Opera will once again celebrate Valentine’s Day by offering a selection of songs that speak directly to the heart.

From Vienna to the Great White Way, a Valentine’s Day-themed concert at the Marcus Center’s newly renovated Wilson Theater at Vogel Hall, will take listeners from English and Viennese light opera and operettas to the best-loved music of Broadway.

The song list stands as a “best of” selection of familiar favorites, like Franz Lehar or Lerner and Loewe, and also offers less well-known numbers that will be brand-new to most listeners, according to Florentine Opera general director William Florescu.

“I particularly like the melodic content of the early 20th century American musical theater composers like Victor Herbert and Jerome Kern,” Florescu says. “A lot of popular singers from the ‘40s and ‘50s have taken those songs and turned them into own popular works of their day, and we try and do that as well.”

The company’s February recital, which Florescu first staged in 2008, is designed to feature the Florentine Opera Studio Artists, four rising talents selected to temporarily join the ranks of the Florentine.

Now in its seventh season, the Studio Artists program is designed as a steppingstone for young post-conservatory singers ready to become full-time professional performers. It’s also a chance for Florentine patrons to have a first look at American opera’s future stars, Florescu says.

“These are front-line ambassadors for the company and they have to be able to perform at a very high level,” says Florescu, who interviewed a field of 60 performers chosen from a national pool of 200 applicants for the four slots. “We’re looking for that spark, for performers who have a natural stage presence and a lot of potential.”

This year’s Studio Artists include soprano Julie Tabash, mezzo-soprano Lindsay Metzger, tenor Aaron Short and baritone Pablo Siqueiros. Metzger is in her first year as a Studio Artist, while Tabash, Short and Siqueiros are all in their second and final years with the program.

“We try and exploit the strength of the singers in choosing our material,” Florescu says. “This year’s group sounds so good together that we’ve tried to include as many ensemble pieces as possible in the program.”

Early 20th century arias like Victor Herbert’s “’Neath a Southern Moon” and “Live for Today,” both from Naughty Marietta, top the playlist, as does Lehar’s “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” from Das Land des Lächelns (The Land of Smiles) and “Wie eine Rosenknospe” from Die lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow).

There also are more familiar numbers, including Al Dubin and Harry Warren’s “Lullaby of Broadway” and “42nd Street” from Gold Diggers of 1935 and 42nd Street, respectively, and Stephen Sondheim’s “Agony,” from Into the Woods, and “In Praise of Women,” from A Little Night Music.

The February recital has become very popular both among Florentine regulars and people unfamiliar with opera but interested in expanding their musical horizons, Florescu says.

“I’m a real sucker for the musical areas we’re covering,” Florescu says. 

It also helps both the general director and his audiences to have a themed approach to the performances, he adds.

“Being able to move thematically from the Viennese epicenter to the Great White Way give me a pretty broad brush with which to paint,” Florescu said. “But I think it’s the breadth of material and the level of talent of these young singers that makes the show as good as it is. Frankly, this year’s group is phenomenal.”

ON STAGE

The Florentine Opera’s production of From Vienna to the Great White Way runs Feb. 13-Feb. 15 in Vogel Hall’s Wilson Theater at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets range from $27 to $55 and can be ordered at 414-273-7121 or visit florentineopera.org.

Wuthering Heights

The star-crossed love story of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights will find new life in January with the Florentine Opera’s concert staging of American composer Carlisle Floyd’s operatic version. A cast of Florentine favorites is set to perform with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. The performance is to be recorded and released commercially.

At 19805 W. Capitol Dr., Brookfield. Tickets range from $30 to $70. Call 800-326-7372 or visit florentineopera.org to purchase.

7:30 on p.m. Jan. 9; 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 11

‘The Flying Dutchman’

The Florentine Opera kicks off its season with a Wagnerian bang. His tale of the tormented Flying Dutchman, doomed to sail the seas without rest unless he can find a faithful wife, is one of the earliest successful operas in his canon and one of the most accessible. It clocks in at about two and a half hours, well below his lengthy Ring cycle. The Florentine’s new production, directed by local Paula Suozzi, may not have a giant ship crashing on stage, but it will have a cast of singers able to handle Wagner’s grandiose score.

At the Marcus Center, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee. Tickets range from $27 to $121. Purchased tickets online at florentineopera.org or call 414-291-5700.

7:30 p.m. on Oct. 24 and 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 26

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‘Flying Dutchman’ focuses on a ghastly legend’s emotions

Halloween is the time for ghost stories, and the Florentine Opera has one ready to go a week early: Wagner’s epic The Flying Dutchman, playing at the Marcus Center’s Uihlein Hall on Oct. 24 and Oct. 26.

It’s the Florentine’s first production of a Wagner work since 2004’s Tristan und Isolde, and the company has tapped local director Paula Suozzi to serve at the helm of this seafaring work. Though she’s worked on other Wagner operas, this is her first time directing Dutchman, and she says the roles feel much more realistic than those in most other operas. 

The legend of the Flying Dutchman predates Wagner’s 1840 opera. It centers on the captain of a ghost ship that’s cursed to never again reach land. 

In Wagner’s version, the Dutchman (Wayne Tigges) is allowed to go ashore once every seven years in the pursuit of a wife; if she remains faithful to him until death, he will be freed to ascend into heaven. The goal seems impossible, Suozzi says, until he meets Senta (Alwyn Mellor).

“She feels like she’s going to be the one to save him,” Suozzi says.

In Wagner’s storyline, Senta has been “obsessed” with the Dutchman for most of her life. When her father Daland (Peter Volpe) encounters the Dutchman after a storm and unknowingly brings him home, she finally has the chance to rescue him — although her goal is complicated by her former lover Erik (David Danholt).

Suozzi hasn’t worked with Florentine’s cast members before, but she says working on an opera has an advantage over musical theater or stage plays that counters that unfamiliarity: Singers come to rehearsal fully memorized, and follow a composer’s pre-determined score. Suozzi’s role becomes more to help them explore a text than invent it. “The question I ask a lot is, ‘Why do you have to sing this next thing?’ Suozzi says. “It’s a little more like doing detective work.”

As a composer, Wagner is known for his frequent use of leitmotifs, and that proclivity gets its earliest expression in The Flying Dutchman, where motifs recur around the Dutchman and Senta. They’re also found in the overture, a 12-minute work that replicates the fury of an oceanic tempest in orchestral form.

“The music is very evocative of the water and the storm,” Suozzi says. “It really creates an atmosphere that is all-encompassing.”

The Florentine plans to implement that nautical atmosphere in its staging. There won’t be an actual ship onstage, but Suozzi says they’re constructing a set that seems made of wooden slats and floorboards. The effect is the impression of a ship’s deck that can be quickly converted into indoor scenes. An LED screen at the back of the stage will wash the production in stark lighting and images throughout.

“One of the things we were playing with is the quality of light,” Suozzi says, adding that the LED lights will evoke a cold, barren shoreline.

Neither that set nor the costumes will attempt a completely naturalistic approach to the show’s setting, but Suozzi says that’s not the point. Film and other media offer realism, but live theater can instead focus on the power and emotion of the singers performing live before an audience.

“The opportunity to see Wagner live is a big deal,” she says. “This is a piece that is do-able because it’s not five-and-a-half hours. … These voices are amazing, and to be able to sit and hear that live? I’m excited to see it.”

On stage

The Florentine Opera presents The Flying Dutchman at Uihlein Hall, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee, at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 24, and 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 26, in German with English supertitles. Tickets range $27-$121, and can be ordered at 414-291-5700 or
florentineopera.org.

Florentine Opera season

Milwaukee’s oldest opera company has a strong season ahead of it, including a new commercial recording and the return of a Grammy-winning production.

Wuthering Heights (Jan. 9 and Jan. 11): The Florentine strays from its usual home to present this concert staging of Wuthering Heights, the opera adapted from Emily Brontë’s clandestine love story by American composer Carlisle Floyd, at Brookfield’s Sharon Lynne Wilson Center. That venue has acoustics better suited for recording the performance for an album release.

From Vienna to the Great White Way (Feb. 13-15): The Florentine once again reprises its Valentine’s Day concert of love songs. The 2014–15 Studio Artists perform a revue of songs from both famous Viennese operettas and favorite Broadway shows.

Elmer Gantry (March 13, March 15): The last time the Florentine produced Elmer Gantry, the cast recording won two Grammy Awards. This revival features a new cast presenting this powerful tale of a preacher’s rise and fall from grace.

The Elixir of Love (May 8, May 10): Donizetti’s romantic comedy about a peasant who tries to win a wealthy woman’s heart with a love potion closes out the season. This original production is set in early 20th-century American wine country.

Ava Pine’s Cleopatra made the slog through Florentine’s ‘Julius Caesar’ worth the effort

Whenever Ava Pine, as Cleopatra, sang on March 28, we heard and saw the glory of Handel’s Giulio Cesare in Egitto. Otherwise, not so much.

The Florentine Opera production around Pine had some issues. Conductor William Boggs maintained reasonable tempos and cued nicely. But he drew no lift or lilt from the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Except for some episodes of recitativo secco, when the continuo group comprising theorbist Dieter Hennings, cellist Scott Tisdel and harpsichordist Yasuko Oura were on their own, the accompaniment chugged along dutifully.

Bland accompaniment has a boring effect on Baroque music.

Aside from Pine, the singing was spotty. Countertenor Ian Howell and mezzo Deanne Meek, both singing roles originally assigned to castrati, lacked the vocal force to sing Ptolemy and Caesar in Uihlein Hall, as least with the balances Boggs enforced. Bass-baritone Derrick Ballard, as Achilla, made himself heard but lacked expressive nuance.

Eve Gigliotti, as the hapless and ever-weeping Cornelia, widow of the defeated Pompey, projected well and brought out the pathos Handel intended in all his dissonant half-step suspensions and passing tones. Gigliotti and Adriana Zabala, ardent as her son Sesto, sang a particularly touching duet.

They had to try to make their characters live within stage director Eric Einhorn’s concept, which sounded great on paper: Posit Julius Caesar as Mussolini, or perhaps his most ambitious general, on one of his absurd colonial adventures into North Africa in the 1920s. That opened the door to cool uniforms, old newsreel projections and real or fake period propaganda graphics.

Einhorn, projection designer Kathy Wittman and costume designer Christianne Myers gave us some of those things, especially early in this very long opera. But then the concept more or less disappeared, except for the uniforms. For example, there were inexplicable sword and knife fights, despite the fact that Julius’ lieutenant (Pablo Siquieros) could have just pulled out his Luger and shot.

And while the Italians in the opera are dressed for the 1920s, the Egyptians went barefoot under robes familiar from every ancient-Egyptian-themed movie you’ve ever seen.

I’m not insisting that this creative team should have made real-world sense out of Nicola Francesco Haym’s nonsensical 1724 libretto. It hardly mattered in an opera designed as a canary fest and costume show more than compelling drama. But I did hope for a coherent look and feel within the production. It’s as if the team forgot its concept during the course of staging this disjointed show.

They also overlooked too much obvious unintentional comedy — in particular the Victorian bloomers revealed when Ptolemy “savagely” ripped off Cornelia’s dress. How did they not see that as a Benny Hill moment?

Noele Stollmack’s set and lighting didn’t help. The design comprised nearly symmetrical white staircases and platforms on either side of a central ramp that rose at least nine feet from stage level from down center to up center. Horizontal panels descended from the heavens to reshape the space from time to time, and the performers slid vast vertical panels from side to side. Beautiful long draperies dropped in and flew out. As pure design, the set pleased the eye with its elegant austerity and impressed the mind with its flexibility.

But its utter neutrality communicated nothing about the characters or their world. It could have been the setting for any opera. And, while no performers tumbled on March 28, plenty of insteps caught edges and no one looked comfortable on that ramp.

Stollmack splashed light over her set to change its hue occasionally, memorably to red and shades of blue and violet — and that was beautiful. But unless it was the fault of the singers missing their marks, she too often left their faces in semi-darkness. The worst instance occurred during “Venere bella,” Cleopatra’s seduction aria. Einhorn staged it not as a love scene but as a production number Cleopatra stages for an audience of one. Great idea — except that Cleo’s servant Nirena (Erin Gonzalez) was upstage shining a rolling stage light at her from behind, thus casting Pine’s face into shadow and pointing a light into the eyes of the audience.

Pine is a comely lass, but we needn’t see her to know that Cleopatra is the sexiest woman on Earth, whether in 48 BC or 1925. We could hear it in the gorgeous, honeyed soprano she wound around Handel’s most sensuous melody like a cobra coiling up a perfect leg.

A number of patrons left after the lengthy, slow-moving, expository Act 1. They should have stayed, because Julius Caesar became more and more Cleopatra — that is, more and more Ava Pine — as Acts II and III unfolded. Only late in the opera could she reveal her coloratura in a combination of spectacular agility, big sound and lush timbre.

The glory of Handel, the glory of opera, the glory of singing are in that voice. The slog through Julius Caesar’s North African campaign was worth it.

For more of veteran cultural writer Tom Strini’s insights, visit his blog at striniwrites.blogspot.com