Many music lovers know there is a violin concerto by Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, a Black man born in 1745 to a slave and a slaveholder on the island of Guadeloupe. Few know Bologne wrote operas and most of them have been lost. Only L’Amant Anonyme remains in its entirety.
Mozart was a decade younger than Bologne, Gluck was three decades older. You can hear some of the stylistic traits of each in L’Amant. Also composing operas at this time were Joseph Haydn, André Grétry, Josef Mysliveček, and Giovanni Paisiello. Some sonorities found in L’Amant are similar to those found in the works of the above-mentioned composers but there are also marked differences and Bologne’s music certainly deserves to have its own place in the sun.
The opera starred members of LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program: Tiffany Townsend, Robert Stahley, Alaysha Fox, Michael J. Hawk, Gabriela Flores, and Jacob Ingbar. This is a highly talented group and I expect to see two or three of them in major opera houses when the pandemic is over.
Tiffany Townsend portrays Léontine, the lady with the unknown lover. Her strong voice combines with smooth, flowing tone to produce the kind of sound people run to the opera house to hear. With social distancing because of COVID 19, the stage action is stylized and singers have to stay away from each other, so the drama has to be expressed musically. Townsend shows her fondness for the secret admirer in her early ariette and in the dramatic second act recitative which reminds me of Orfeo’s “Che fiero momento.”
With a name that sounds a bit like valiant heart, Valcour, is the anonymous lover who is afraid to find out whether Leontine loves him or not. He explains his problem in an aria at the very beginning of the opera. Tenor Robert Stahley has a robust sound that expresses his character’s longing to explain his plight to Léontine. Michael J. Hawk’s Ophémon is an outstanding personality who guides much of the storytelling and provides burnished low notes in the ensembles.
As Dorothée, Alaysha Fox sings a delightful aria from Bologne’s first opera, Ernestine, since L’Aimant has no music for her character. Gabriela Flores and Jacob Ingbar as Jeannette and Colin complete this sextet of accomplished young artists. Choreographer Andrea Beasom’s dances are etherial and even intimate since she dances with her husband and gallant partner, Daniel Lindgren.
Hana S. Kim’s projected sets vary from silhouettes to sketches to bright-colored decor, most of which are based on colors, patterns and the perspective found in appliqué quilting. Misty Aires’ costumes put the dancers in light, airy fabrics of wedding white. Her costumes for the singers are form-fitting in white or jewel colors. Ophémon’s quilted jacket reiterates the style of the projections.
Director Bruce Lemon, Jr., has a huge COVID Rule Book to follow and this audience could not get a complete idea of what he would have done with a free hand. Either he or Maestro Conlon decided to have the orchestra play during the bows since there was no audience which made up for the lack of enthusiastic applause that would have occurred if this performance had been in a patron-filled hall. Conlon has given us a gift of a tuneful, wonderfully well coordinated online performance of L’Amant Anonyme that we can can enjoy until November 29th.
Photos of Michael J. Hawk as Ophémon by Larry Ho.
Photo of Tiffany Townsend courtesy of LA Opera.