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Another forgotten gem presented with Haymarket Opera’s usual polish

The wealthy title character (Ryan de Ryke) hires an ambitious chambermaid (EricSchuller) Haymarket OperCompany productiGeorg Philipp Telemann’s “Pimpinone.” | CHARLES

The wealthy title character (Ryan de Ryke) hires an ambitious chambermaid (Erica Schuller) in the Haymarket Opera Company production of Georg Philipp Telemann’s “Pimpinone.” | CHARLES OSGOOD

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Updated: April 14, 2014 4:48PM

In just two years, Haymarket Opera Company has made the move from highly welcomed new kid on the block to trusted and charismatic old friend.

With its fifth production at Mayne Stage in Rogers Park, the astonishment that a tiny, carefully budgeted (at about $75,000 — a year) troupe can put on work of such high quality and engaging presentation is gone. In its place is an equally intense excitement over what hidden gem the company will display brilliantly this time.

This weekend it was another Chicago premiere — only 388 years after its creation and first performance, in Hamburg, Germany: Georg Philipp Telemann’s compact comic opera “Pimpinone, or The Unequal Marriage.” Telemann in his lifetime was fearsomely prolific. In later centuries he was either remembered for his extensive sacred music catalogue, denigrated as an inferior to Bach, or both. Today his popularity is back but varies by genre and geography: “Pimpinone,” almost never staged in the States, is this month alone being done by companies in western and eastern Germany, Moscow and Bialystock, Poland.

With only two singers in the score, Haymarket general and music director Craig Trompeter used the savings from the staging to engage a relatively large baroque orchestra for the company, a superb group of 14: a dozen strings plus harpsichord and the lute-like theorbo. Even with the excellent singing and stage work, the contributions of this ensemble under Trompeter’s direction from the cello were a major highlight both in accompaniment and in the three early Telemann instrumental concertos that opened each of the acts, or “intermezzi,” as they are called in the original comic form. (In the 18th century, the three intermezzi were actually presented in between the acts or scenes of a “serious” opera, in the original case, Handel’s 1724 “Tamerlane.”). The orchestra offered unified buoyant, lively and joyful playing with no creakiness or squeakiness that some still associate with early music.

But Haymarket is an opera company with more going on than just in the pit. All of its familiar strengths were on display with this work allowing them to be especially concentrated. The story is as much the battle of the classes as of the sexes. Vespetta (“the little wasp”), a sharp chambermaid, is looking for a new employer and crosses paths with Pimpinone, a wealthy (but nouveau riche) older bachelor. In short order, Vespetta is hired, takes over Pimpinone’s household and then his finances and by Act Three has married her employer and taken over his life as well. Rather than belittling women — that’s left to the hapless Pimpinone — Telemann celebrates their independence and rights to education, culture and leisure.

Two very strong young American singing actors made their Haymarket debuts with a splash Saturday evening (the two-hour show, including an intermission between Acts Two and Three, was presented again Saturday night and on Sunday afternoon). Soprano Erica Schuller handled the runs of her part and the cunning and often two-faced nature of her character with perfect ease. Baritone Ryan de Ryke impersonated a man perhaps three times his age with hilarity while handling not only his “straight” part superbly, but also an aria enacting the gossip of two women complete with narrator requiring him to sing from baritone to falsetto and back without a break.

The two rich but controlled voices were matched perfectly in each act’s duet, and both singers navigated the back-and-forth between singing in Italian and speaking in German as if they worked for the United Nations. (Excellent English supertitles were projected.)

At Haymarket, even the costume designers have a scholarly grounding, and Meriem Bahri’s period outfits, changing from act to act — especially Vespetta’s once she had hit the jackpot — told the story, too, along with Samantha Umstead’s elaborate wigs and makeup. David Mayernick’s new rotating drops, in his customary style for the company, took us from street scene to apartment with views with a simple spin, with scenes well lit by William C. Kirkham.

Sarah Edgar has danced and choreographed with the company before but here made a top-flight, directorial debut with them with a fully-integrated staging. (Some might have found de Ryke’s skillful mugging overextended, others that it went with the style.)

What will this enviable old friend bring us next? A double bill of works by the 17th century Frenchman Marc-Andre Charpentier over the first weekend in March 2014. Can’t wait.

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