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Filumena: Gaetan Laperriere (Emilio Picariello) and Laura Whalen in the title role of the Calgary Opera world premiere. (Calgary).

Filumena, by John Estacio and John Murrell, opened at Calgary Opera to a highly positive reception. An Albertan story brought to operatic life by two Albertans, the new work captured the imagination and played to full houses.

The plot is based on an Albertan story from Prohibition years, when a young immigrant Italian woman was hanged for the murder of an RCMP officer. Based on fact, Murrell's excellent libretto is primarily concerned with character and tragedy. The story is, ultimately, an account of the emotional journey of an immigrant girl caught in a web of circumstances that threatens to crush her. Her efforts to achieve psychological and personal freedom and genuine love take on a tragic dimension, especially in light of her final betrayal by the man who should most have stood by her. Her closing scene has those qualities of catharsis present only in major works for the theatre.

The surrounding characters, notably crime boss Emilio Picariello, his son, Steven, and Filumena's husband, Charlie, provide a wide range of male interaction with Filumena, ranging from elemental brutality to manipulative consideration and, finally, to love (albeit terribly flawed by betrayal). The women, too, provide a highly convincing set of female relationships that blend sympathy with clear-eyed female domestic realism.

Estacio's score is both eclectic and neo-Romantic. The Italian and Scottish elements are evoked through snatches of Italian-style tunes and Scottish hymns. The emotional climaxes are achieved through soaring, Puccini-inflected melodies. Despite its tonal idiom, the music is sophisticated in its treatment of both voices and orchestra. The complex choral writing is particularly striking, the chorus taking a major role in telling the story and providing incidental dramatic counterpoint. The Calgary chorus never sounded so good.

Laura Whalen was magnificent in the title role. Her voice, clear as a bell, easily carried over the full cast and orchestra, and her singing was beautifully controlled. Dramatically, her persona as a young teenage bride gradually transformed into an emotionally complex woman. Gaetan Laperriere's resplendent baritone was in command whenever he sang, his portrayal of Picariello convincing in every detail. David Pomeroy (Steven) sang with rich tone and lead-tenor authority. The character parts made their point as well, with Gregory Dahl a sturdily sung Charlie, Torin Chiles a clever and funny McAlpine and Elizabeth Turnbull a vocally sure Maria, Emilio's wife.

Kelly Robinson's staging was impressive for its visual complexity. Small, beautifully calculated touches provided a palpable sense of dramatic realism, while the handling of larger dramatic flow was equally compelling. The opera was led with enthusiasm by a sympathetic Bramwell Tovey, the Calgary Philharmonic handling the new score as if the music were as familiar as Beethoven.
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Author:DeLong, Kenneth
Publication:Opera Canada
Article Type:Opera Review
Date:Mar 22, 2003
Words:444
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