This is the last of four columns that review the productions of the Glimmerglass Festival’s 2017 season. For further readings on the three operas and one musical this summer, please contact the Village Library at 547-8344 or logon to the Four County Library System website at www.4cls.org.
The Glimmerglass Festival is offering a full array of productions this summer. After premiering a modern American opera, a classic musical, and an opera with few characters and no chorus, it completed the cycle with the American debut of Gaetano Donizetti’s “The Siege of Calais.” There is no word to describe this production other than “overwhelming.” Everyone involved leaves a powerful imprint with their voices (including the chorus) that captivate the audience.
“The Siege of Calais” is set during the time of the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, circa 1347. To spice up the production and give it a more modern feel, the Glimmerglass Festival set the time and place during what looked like World War II. It was a clever idea, as it brought home the toll an indefinite siege takes on a populace. One could easily picture what Leningrad went through during the German siege of the city during WWII.
The storyline, which for once didn’t involve a convoluted romance, focuses on the bravery of the French citizens of Calais who have to endure the siege by King Edward III’s British army. When the King offers to end the siege as long as six leading citizens of Calais agree to give up their lives, it leads to a fierce debate among the denizens whether anyone should be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice.
Eustachio, the mayor of Calais, decides that the citizens will die if they do not submit, and he agrees to King Edward’s proposal and is the first to sign up as one of the martyrs. His son Aurelio insists on joining the group of six as well. They are then hauled before the King to be executed. Queen Isabella, Edward’s wife, then appears and along with others pushes the King to show compassion and spare their lives. At first he refuses but changes his mind when he sees the six saying goodbye to their families. The entire ensemble rejoices in the consciousness of the King and the opera ends on a high note (literally).
There are bouquets aplenty to disperse to this splendid cast. The one who stands out most is Leah Crocetto as Eleonora, Aurelio’s wife. Her powerful voice mesmerizes the audience. Adrian Timpau as Eustachio, and Aleks Romano (a female playing a male role) as Aurelio, complement Crocetto’s performance. Kudos also go to the chorus, which provide the topper to an impressive production.
There is something magical about “The Siege of Calais” from the moment it begins. Perhaps it’s the mind-boggling set that provides the feel of a true city under siege. Maybe it’s the three headliners whose characters and voices provide such an emotional impact. Or perhaps it’s the chorus that leaves you “overwhelmed” from its first appearance onward.
Whatever it is that makes “The Siege of Calais” succeed, this production clearly has the “it” factor. It’s amazing that shortly after the opera debuted in Paris in 1836, it became dormant for almost 150 years. The Glimmerglass Festival’s introduction of “The Siege of Calais” to the American audience will probably spark a revival that will last for many years to come.