Arminio in Armenia, Opera Feroce's second pasticcio opera and most ambitious work to date, is an affectionate send-up of Baroque opera – a “faux-pera seria” – created by combining virtuosic music by the Italian composer Nicola Porpora (1686-1768) with a plot conceived by Opera Feroce’s Hayden DeWitt. Porpora was known as the premier voice teacher of his day, having even the great castrato Farinelli as a student; his exciting, dramatically expressive, and wide-ranging vocal writing was the impetus behind this project. Arminio’s scenario pokes fun at common conceits of Porpora’s day: an exotic locale (Massachusetts!), mistaken identity, sorcery, star-crossed lovers, swordplay, and a shipwreck. All music is sung in the (nearly) original Italian, except for the recitatives, which have freshly-written text in English supporting the new story. Staged and Costumed.

Forces for Arminio:

  • 3 singers, playing 2 roles each
  • 5-piece chamber ensemble (Continuo, Violin I & II, Traverso)

Running time:

  • 90 minutes of music with one intermission

Arminio was developed with help from Vertical Player Repertory’s “In the Works” Series, and made its workshop debut in June of 2012 at Christ Church, Brooklyn.

Our 2014 Brooklyn performances are sponsored, in part, by the Greater New York Arts Development Fund of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, administered by Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC).

The deep-seated collaboration has so far served this trio well—their voices blend with the ease and depth of an artisanal latte. More striking, however, is the extended ownership that these three singers have over the work…. The smart ones, like Dornak, Hatton and DeWitt … make their own luck.
— Olivia Giovetti, WQX-Aria, June 3, 2011

 

+ Program Notes

Arminio began with the music. We had a taste of it in a lovely, yearning cantata aria (Amor & Psyche). Knowing that Porpora had trained many famous castrato singers of his day, we thought this special relationship with singers was worth exploring. It soon became clear that there was a wealth of music suited to us and our storytelling needs, and we had ‘only’ to figure out the tale.

The plot was inspired by common conceits of operas in Porpora’s day. The name itself is based on one of Porpora’s operas, Germanico in Germania, and the story uses other tropes of opera seria — an exotic locale (Massachusetts!) with exotic residents (Pilgrims!), mistaken identity, star-crossed lovers, perceived villains, witchcraft, and swordplay.

To successfully pull off “A Budget Epic,” you need more than 3 characters. So we decided to have 6, with each singer playing two. We had precedent for multiple characters in Amor & Psyche, in which Alan Dornak played 5 different characters. Alan’s challenge for Arminio is playing two characters in different registers — one countertenor, and one baritone.

We sing arias and ensembles in the (mostly) original Italian; recitatives are Porpora’s with new English texts that go with our story.

“Why Porpora?”

Neapolitan composer Nicola Antonio Giacinto Porpora was either born in 1687, 1685, 1670 or 1686 depending on your source materials proving that it was a lot easier to fake your birth certificate in the 17th century than it is today. Although he composed over thirty operas and numerous cantatas, oratorios and instrumental works, Porpora is primarily remembered as a voice teacher, most notably of the great castrato Carlo Broschi (known as il Farinelli.) We are excited to sing his music because hisaffinity for singers is evident in his demanding, yet beautiful, writing for the voice.

He was active in Dresden, Venice, Naples and London, where he and Handel were rivals and where Porpora prevailed thanks to his famous pupil Farinelli for whom he composed his best works. Like any self-respecting genius, he died in an extremely deteriorated physical condition and in abject poverty, either in 1766, 1767 or 1768.

+ Musical Selections

  • Chi nel signor confida (Madrigal) Arminio et al
  • Saggio nocchier che vede – Arminio
  • So che tiranno – Norberto
  • Sei mio ben, sei mio Norberto – Tusnelda
  • Io ti miro e poi sospiro – Arminio
  • Tu mi scherzi, mi burli, m’inganni – Adalberto and Clorofilla
  • Quando soffre un cor costante – Genovinda
  • Sento che in sen turbato – Tusnelda
  • Tradito, sprezzato – Adalberto
  • Questo è il valor guerriero – Arminio
  • Fuggi dagli occhi miei – Norberto
  • Temi lo sdegno mio – Noberto, Tusnelda and Arminio
  • Se nell’amico nido – Clorofilla
  • Intendi i detti miei – Arminio
  • Così perir tu vuoi – Arminio, Adalberto and Clorofilla
  • Che cosa t’aggitò – Adalberto and Clorofilla
  • Quella ferita che porto in seno – Genovinda
  • Fosti il mio ben – Tusnelda
  • Su la destra imprimo i baci – Arminio and Tusnelda
  • Quella ferita (reprise) – Norberto
  • All’amor dei nostri cori – Norberto and Genovinda
  • Finale Ultimo - tutti

Sources: Operas: Germanico in Germania, Carlo il Calvo, Semiramide Riconosciuta, and Agrippina Cantatas: “Queste che miri, oh Nice,” Siedi, Amarilli,” and “Oh Dio! Che non e` vero!” Madrigale a 4 voci con strumenti Sonata per violino in G (grave)

+ Characters & Synopsis

  • Arminio (Hayden DeWitt): a hero sent by the Pope to convert the Armenians to the One True Faith
  • Norberto (Alan Dornak): Governor of Massachusetts
  • Adalberto (Alan Dornak): a simple country fellow, identical twin brother of Norberto
  • Tusnelda (Beth Anne Hatton): a witch, in unrequited love with Norberto
  • Clorofilla (Beth Anne Hatton): a country girl, loved by and in love with Adalberto, but playing hard-to-get
  • Genovinda (Hayden DeWitt): a pilgrim girl, in love with Norberto, but without hope of his reciprocating

Rome and Massachusetts Bay Colony in the year 1630

Pope Urban VIII has commissioned the warrior Arminio to lead a crusade to convert the Armenian infidels to Catholicism. (Chi nel Signor confida) After setting sail, a huge storm strikes Arminio’s fleet. He washes up on the shores of Massachusetts, everyone else having perished. (Saggio nocchier)

Enter Norberto, the Governor of Massachusetts. Arminio wonders where the storm has deposited him, since the coast doesn’t appear to be Armenia. No matter the danger, he vows to stay true to his Papal mission. He is informed by Norberto that he (Norberto) is the local governor and that no one is going to be converting anybody on his watch. (So che tiranno io sono)

Exit Norberto. Enter Tusnelda, a sorceress. Arminio is immediately struck by her beauty. She, however, has eyes only for Norberto. (Sei mio ben, sei mio Norberto)

Exit Tusnelda. Arminio exchanges sea-sickness for love-sickness. (Io ti miro, e poi sospiro)

Exit Arminio. Enter Adalberto and Clorofilla, a country couple, playing hide-and-seek. They argue for the umpteenth time about their relationship which consists mostly of his chasing her and her playing hard-to-get. Towards the end of the duet, Clorofilla blind-folds him and runs off. Adalberto gropes his way off after her. (Tu mi scherzi, mi burli, m’inganni)

Enter Genovinda, a pure and wholesome Pilgrim girl toting a sketchpad and a No. 2 quill pen. It turns out her masterpiece is a portrait of Norberto, betraying her hopeless, helpless, hapless infatuation with the Governor. (Quando soffre un cor costante)

Exit Genovinda. Enter Tusnelda who has decided to use her “arcane knowledge” (a code name for “witchcraft”) to prepare a potion to make Norberto fall in love with her, although she realizes that she runs a dangerous risk in doing so, since discovery means certain death. (Sento che in sen turbato)

Exit Tusnelda, freshly-concocted potion in hand. Enter Adalberto, still blind-folded. Realizing that he has been given the slip once again by the perfidious Clorofilla, he gives up the game and comments on his despair. (Tradito, sprezzato)

Enter Tusnelda, relieved to have located her prey in such short order. Thinking she is face-to-face with Norberto, she obsequiously approaches Adalberto. He is confused and comments on this. Noticing the difference in his voice, Tusnelda asks if maybe he has a cold and tells him that she has “just the thing” to fix him up (the potion, of course.)

Enter Arminio. Angry at seeing the two of them together and still vowing to convert the Pilgrims, he challenges “Norberto” to a duel. Tusnelda cuts her losses for the moment and departs as Arminio draws his sword. The panic-stricken Adalberto flees and Arminio laughs at the cowardice of the enemy when faced with the bellic prowess of a Roman soldier. (Questo e` il valor guerriero)

Enter the real Norberto. Seeing that Arminio is still in Massachusetts, he vows to make him leave by brute force, if necessary. (Fuggi dagl’occhi miei)

Arminio and Norberto attempt to dook it out while Tusnelda (who has returned to the scene) wrings her hands from a safe distance until, fearing for Norberto’s life, she decides to intervene. (Temi lo sdegno mio)

Intermission

At the top of Act Two, Clorofilla enters on a laundry-drying mission. She compares herself to the helpless turtledove who, finding the nest empty, flies in search of her beloved mate. In spite of all her bravado, she really does love Adalberto. (Se nell’amico nido)

Enter Adalberto. He has had enough of Clorofilla’s teasing ways and threatens to teach his recalcitrant sweet-heart a thing or two. Clorofilla starts to throw a temper tantrum.

Enter Arminio. Once more he thinks he is face-to-face with Norberto and loses no time in renewing his challenge to a duel. In a short, but heart-felt, arioso and trio, Arminio threatens to kill his adversary, Adalberto quakes in his boots, and Clorofilla states the obvious: that her beloved is about to get his butt kicked. (Nasce da valle, Cosi` perir tu vuoi)

They “fight” and, this time, Arminio wounds Adalberto. Exit Arminio, satisfied that justice has finally been served. Clorofilla comes out of hiding and makes it all better with a few kisses. The lovers reconcile after a little more bickering. (Che cosa t’aggito`)

Genovinda enters on the end of the duet and watches as the couple exits together happily. She comments on her own sad, lonely state. (Quella ferita che porto in seno)

Exit Genovinda. Enter Norberto, angrily dragging Tusnelda who, according to Pilgrim law, must be burnt at the stake for the use of witchcraft. She pleads with him to spare her life, saying she only did it because she loved him, but he remains immovable. Norberto ties her up and exits briefly to procure the means by which to start the blaze. In his absence, Tusnelda remembers her love for him, that love which is now the cause of her death. (Fosti mio ben, fosti il tormento)

Enter Arminio. Having given his best effort to converting the local infidels, he has decided to leave Massachusetts. He sees Tusnelda ready to be executed and vows to save hisbeloved.

Enter Norberto. Arminio threatens to challenge him to another duel, if Norberto refuses to release Tusnelda. He agrees, as long as Arminio takes her back to Italy and they leave immediately. Tusnelda and Arminio sing of their new-found love for each other. (Su la destra imprimo i baci)

Exit Arminio and Tusnelda. Norberto, left alone, comments on his own loneliness. (Quella ferita che porto in seno)

Enter Genovinda. In a tidy turn of events, she reveals her love for Norberto and is delighted to discover that it is reciprocated (but not as delighted as Norberto who had despaired of ever finding a worthy mate among the slim pickings of the colony.) (All’amor de’ nostri cori)

The three happy couples sum things up. (Finale ultimo)

It was a privilege to hear you — and to see you in your nifty costumes — in Brooklyn Heights last night. We hope to see you again in January.
— Nick & Joan Murray, Fan, December 7, 2013