The Siege of Calais, by Gaetano Donizetti, performed by Odyssey Opera.
The second in their season of works focused on the Hundred Years’ War. L’assedio di Calais was written in 1836, but this was its Boston premiere. Parts of it were very fine (the male choral parts, notably), but on the whole it had very uneven mood. The story is of the six burghers of Calais, who agree to sacrifice themselves to lift the siege of Calais by King Edward III. Yet the music kept turning to light themes, including a bit of incidental music between the second act (which ends with the burghers placing nooses around their necks and going off to submit to the English) and the third act that sounded like a bit of John Philip Sousa. (My friend Chris referred to it as “Italian martial music.”)
I did not enjoy the mezzo who sang Aurelio, the mayor’s son, although the rest of the audience seemed to like her and she received good reviews. I disliked her (single) facial grimace, and felt the romantic dynamics would have been better served by a male alto. (The soprano who sings Aurelio’s wife and the baritone who sings his father the mayor spend a great deal of time in the first act singing duets; the contrast with the pants role didn’t sit well with me.) Interestingly, the program notes say Donizetti hoped to have a male alto sing the role but had to hire a female mezzo soprano for the premiere.