Haymarket Opera marks the Lenten season with a curio by Anonymous

Fri Mar 09, 2018 at 12:54 am

By Lawrence A. Johnson

"Our Lady of Succor" by Giovanni da Monte Rubiano.
“Our Lady of Succor” by Giovanni da Monte Rubiano.

Haymarket Opera offered its annual Lenten program in an early evening concert Thursday night at the Chicago Temple.

This year’s selection is a real curio, the Oratorio per la settimana santa (Oratorio for Holy Week). Though long thought to be composed by Luigi Rossi (1597-1653), recent scholarship has cast serious doubt on Rossi’s authorship, as well as other works formerly attributed to him.

Dating from c.1640, the concise (40 minutes) Oratorio is one of the earliest surviving musical settings inspired by the passion of Christ. The setting confines itself entirely to the Good Friday narrative, with the people demanding the release of Barabbas and the crucifixion of Christ. Unlike Bach’s Passions to come, Jesus doesn’t appear at all and the principal character roles are Pontius Pilate and a non-biblical “Demon” in Part One, and the Virgin Mary in Part Two.

Mark Haddad, a true “Basso-Profundo,” wielded his dark and authoritative voice with consummate skill as Pilate. Haddad made him a compelling, conflicted figure, torn between the mob’s cries to condemn Jesus and his own doubtful conscience. Mischa Bouvier was just as terrific as the principal Demon, singing with dramatic point in a firmly focused baritone. 

Oddly, the music for the chorus of taunting Demons is the most lilting and joyous in the entire work. In the words of that great theologian Billy Joel, the anonymous composer would clearly rather laugh with the sinners then cry with the saints. Haddad, tenor William Dwyer, countertenor Drew Minter (still great), and sopranos Carrie Henneman Shaw and the bell-toned Kaitlin Foley made a lively and vibrant vocal ensemble, bringing wonderful evil relish to the chorus of Demons as well as the Multitude.

Part Two offers a more traditional Christian setting with the Virgin Mary in dialogue with the Demon and lamenting Jesus’s crucifixion and death. Shaw had some fleeting pitchy moments and her soprano tends to thin out in the highest register. But Shaw sang with increasing assurance and dedication in the latter sections, bringing affecting expression to Mary’s solos.

Leading from the bass violin, music director Craig Trompeter drew tangy sonorities and responsive playing from the seven-member, period-instrument ensemble.

The brief concert was filled out with Un Peccator Pentito (A Repentant Sinner), which followed the Oratorio without pause. This work is indisputably by Rossi and the madrigal-like text of contrition concluded the short program on an aptly Lenten note of hope and renewal.

The program will be repeated 5 p.m. Saturday at the Church of the Atonement, 5749 N. Kenmore. haymarketopera.org

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