Patrons stand in a circle, up-close and personal with the singers, in the company’s rehearsal studio for this centuries-old story that resonates today.
Seattle Opera has scored another success with “The Combat,” the second production in its new Community Engagement series designed to bring chamber opera out of the opera house and into the neighborhoods. Presented in the Opera’s South Lake Union scenic studios, “The Combat” engages timely subject matter in the oldest of operatic forms: Monteverdi’s 1624 “Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda.”
The involvement of musical director Stephen Stubbs, an early-music specialist who also leads Pacific MusicWorks and is senior artist in residence at the University of Washington, is always a guarantee of both authenticity and great quality. It was Stubbs’ idea to use the 20-minute Monteverdi work as the centerpiece of a show that is preceded and followed by two other short pieces serving as an introduction and a conclusion.
In the Monteverdi “Il combattimento,” Tancredi, a Christian (Thomas Segen), and the Muslim Clorinda (Tess Altiveros) are lovers, but both are disguised with armor when they encounter each other in a nighttime battle with fatal results. They are manipulated into combat by the poet Testo (Eric Neuville).
Seattle Opera: ‘The Combat’
with Stephen Stubbs, musical director, and staging by Dan Wallace Miller. Repeats April 6, 7 and 9, Seattle Opera Scenic Studios, ($40; seattleopera.org).
Preceding “Il combattimento” is a shorter staged Monteverdi madrigal, “Tirsi e Clori,” in which the two meet and fall in love. The final piece in this trilogy, following the combat death of Clorinda, is a François Couperin selection for two sopranos and continuo, from his “Leçons de ténèbres,” with a text from the Old Testament “Lamentations of Jeremiah.” The Couperin piece, beautifully sung by Linda Tsatsanis and Danielle Sampson, provides a sort of benediction to the tragic outcome of “Il combattimento.”
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The three principals – Segen, Altiveros and Neuville – are all compelling singing actors with distinctive, beautifully produced voices. Those voices are set off by a first-rate instrumental ensemble led by Stubbs (who also played the chitarrone, a bass lute), with Maxine Eilander (baroque harp), Henry Lebedinsky (harpsichord) and a string quartet (Corentin Pokorney, Brandon Vance, Vijay Chalasani and Nathan Whittaker).
Dan Wallace Miller’s staging is imaginative and extremely effective, creating a graceful courtship in the first act, a tense and fraught second act with a deadly swordfight, and a stately processional for the third. The audience members, who stand in a peripheral circle for the entire performance (some seating is also available, by advance request), move from one room to a second between the first two acts. They hold randomly assigned discs identifying them as Muslim or Christian, and are routed respectively to opposite sides of the room for the combat scene.
That combat is lengthy and quite terrifying, thanks to realistic fight choreography from the expert Geoffrey Alm, who had many in the audience fearing a sudden change of scene to the Harborview emergency room. (Luckily this didn’t happen.)
What a relevant, timely and thought-provoking production. For those who think opera is an antique, elitist art form with no connection to our own time, here is a show to change your mind.