Amore e Morte – a review of “Idaspe”

by Michael Buzzelli

Dario (Vivica Genaux) and Idaspe (John Holiday) have been defeated, their women, Mandane (Zoie Reams) and Berenice (Pascale Beaudin), have been captured by a warring clan led by Artaserse (Karim Sulayman). All is lost! And that’s just the first five minutes of Claire van Kampen’s “Idaspe.”

Arbace (Shannon Delijani), Artaserse’s right-hand-person, summons the guards, his Matrix Mafia, elegant cavaliers and ballerinas in suits and sunglasses, and they rush out to arrest Dario, Idaspe and their compatriot, Ircano (Wei En Chan).

When they go before Artaserse, Dario (a Jerry Springer twist! He’s secretly Artaserse’s brother) disguises himself as Arbato, a general, in a desperate hope to get close to Mandane and trick his sinister sibling.  Idaspe disguises himself as Arcone and claims that Idaspe is dead on the battlefield.

Mandane sees through Dario’s disguise, but Berenice does not recognize Idaspe and mourns her “dead” lover. It’s hard not to yell out, “You’re looking right at him!”

The soapy elements are frothier than a foam party in gay nightclub in Ibiza.

The opera, a reimagining of Baroque composer Riccardo Broschi’s classic story of warring kings. It’s set in Naples, Italy in the psychedelic 60s, with warring clans (read: Mafioso) standing in for the kingdoms. The story is really a tangled five-sided love triangle (love pentagram?), with a fickle Artaserse trying to woo both women away from their betrothed, Dario and Idaspe. 

Artaserse (Karim Sulayman) captures Berenice (Pascale Beaudin) and promises to marry her after he kills her lover. Photo Credit: Jason Synder.

Confused? It’s okay. The plot is heavy and complicated in the first five minutes, but it thins out and gets easier to understand as it rolls along.

It’s a lot like “Days of Our Lives,” or, rather, “Giorni della nostra vita” as the grand melodrama is sung in Italian with English subtitles.  Even though it gets silly, especially when Berenice is right up on Idaspe and doesn’t recognize him, or when Artarserse quickly throws over Mandane for Berenice because it suits the plot, it all works. Thanks, mostly, to van Kampen and Chatham Baroque’s imaginative retelling of Riccardo Broschi’s opera from 1730.

There are acrobats tangling in silks, fancy masquerades, show-stopping dance numbers and bright lights. It’s a dazzling spectacle filled with pomp, circumstance and some tongue-in-cheek humor.

Ilona Somogyi’s costumes are grand, with stylish dresses, ornate headpieces with hilarious accoutrement such as Mandane’s studded leather harness draped over her elegant canary-colored evening gown.

Mandane (Zoie Reams) in chains. Photo Credit: Jason Snyder

The orchestra provided by Chatham Baroque with Andrew Fouts (violin), Patricia Halverson (viola da gamba), Scott Pauley (theorbo) and an assortment of added musicians, including two oboe players, Fiona Last and Julie Brye, a celloist, Ezra Seltzer, a harpsichordist, Justin Wallace, and more combined blissfully for this stunning collaboration between Chatham Baroque and Quantum Theatre. 

Antonia Franceschi’s sharp-yet-fluid choreography was extraordinary.  The movements were crisp and clean. The suits gave the dancers a Fosse-esque “Rich Man’s Fugue” vibe.

Lighting designer Mary Ellen Stebbins uses kaleidoscopic colors and blinding bright whites to mesmerize the audience.

van Kampen’s 115-minute show moves along briskly, even with a 15-minute intermission, after the first act, and a brief pause between the second and third acts.

“Idaspe” is an extravaganza! A delight for your eyes and ears. It swelled with beautiful music and stirred the imagination.

– MB

Quantum Theatre’s “Idaspe” runs from October 7 until October 15 at the Byham Theater, 101 Sixth Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15222 at 7:30 PM. For more information and tickets, click here: