sang the role exquisitely (excepting some roughness in the lower register), but one wished Pelly had not imposed such tiresome tics on her. And was it really necessary during the Mad Scene for her to lie on her back in front of the wedding guests, legs spread and hips thrust upward, in the throes of imagined passion? No matter what she was told to do, Rae coped gallantly, and left one longing to see her in a Lucia production where she wasn’t forced to embarrass herself.
The rest of the cast certainly matched Rae for vocal excellence. It was a luxury to hear Michael Spyres’s beefy, clarion tenor in the role of Edgardo, rather than the lighter voices one is used to. Troy Cook was an elegant, menacing Enrico, and Christian Van Horn unfurled an enveloping bass as Raimondo. Andrew Owens was an unusually fiery Arturo, though his fluttery vibrato needed taming. It’s rare that an Alisa stands out as Hannah Ludwig did, with a striking, warm mezzo that promises much.
Pelly’s costumes and Chantal Thomas’s spare sets emphasized a monotone grayness, until the Mad Scene, when the lighting director Duane Schuler flooded the stage with red. Banks of fake snow were the most prominent visual element, and at one point they caused Michael Spyres to slip and nearly fall. Corrado Rovaris’s conducting lent cohesion and support to a production that was better heard than seen.
The premiere of Sky on Swings, by the composer Lembit Beecher and librettist Hannah Moscovitch, was one of the festival’s high points. At its second performance, at the Kimmel Center’s perelman theater on September 22, it proved itself a riveting work, focused on Alzheimer’s and its effects on those who suffer from it and on their families and caregivers. Offering two dramatically accomplished turns by the veteran mezzos Frederica von Stade and Marietta Simpson under the insightful direction of Joanna Settle, Sky on Swings takes place both in reality and in the minds of its two central characters. Von Stade was Danny, a chic widow in the early stages of denial about her condition; the scene in which her grown son convinces her she can no longer live independently and must enter a home is devastating. Simpson was Martha, already a resident of the home and with a more advanced case of Alzheimer’s. The two women bond with each other as their minds slip further and further away. This limbo-like world was represented not only by Andrew Lieberman’s effectively open, sparse sets, but also by the vivid and wrenching musical picture painted by Beecher. Tonality and dissonance rise, fall, clash, and interweave into a sonic tapestry that is highlighted by the eerie sound of a vocal quartet singing in unsettling harmonies. Pat Collins’s lighting design and Jorge Cousineau’s minimal but aptly disorientating projections added to the atmosphere of disquiet. Geoffrey McDonald conducted the terse (80
■ Patricia Racette as Elle in ‘La Voix humaine’ in Philadelphia
Opera, December 2018