A spurned enchantress takes her revenge on others – including changing them into pigs – in Pietro Andrea Ziani’s opera La Circe, which was written in 1665, but is having its modern premiere this week by Ars Minerva. The production, at ODC Theater, is directed by Celine Ricci, who will also be singing the title role. This is the third production by Ars Minerva of an Italian Baroque opera that would otherwise remain unperformed on a library shelf.
You can find out more about the production at the Ars Minerva website.
This is the same sorceress who appears in the Odyssey, keeping Ulysses (in the Roman mythology, or Odysseus in the Greek) from getting home from the Trojan War. “The opera starts when Ulysses escapes,” Ricci explains. “So Circe goes crazy, right? She’s going to use her power and anger on anyone on her island to make them suffer in a way the way she suffers because Ulysses has escaped… I see it like a wonderland, with this crazy magician on this isle, and everyone has to go into her emotions. And the story is almost like a huge hallucination.” The semi-staged production (accompanied by a Baroque chamber ensemble with theorbo, violins and continuo) also includes an acrobat. In the course of her research, Ricci found that La Circe actually had already had a second run, but only fifteen years after its premiere in Vienna, when it was part of the Carnival in Venice, where Ziani had relocated. It’s a tragicomedy that never gets too tragic, she says. “Those operas, composed by those Venetian composers, always alternate drama and comedy very very very fast. And I think it was the taste of people at that time, right, it was what they enjoyed the most it’s changing of emotions very very quick.” And while she says it’s a challenge to both direct and sing the title role, when she sang Cleopatra with Ars Minerva in 2015, it was more of a featured role. “The opera is Circe, but actually I think that every character in the opera has to sing almost as much. Everyone is important and it’s really a team work, like a troupe.”