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When Jérémie Rhorer first started his Mozart opera series in the Théâtre des Champs Élysées, he was not exactly a household name, but now that it is close to reach its end, he has become something of a sure deal for Classical repertoire. I’ve had the luck to see the Così fan tutte in this series and I realize that it wasn’t only Rhorer’s reputation that has increased since then, he himself has developed as a conductor, most notably in the sense that he has found a more fine balance between his ideas and the means available to carry them out. It is curious that I’ve had the same seat both evenings, and the impression of the orchestral sound could not be more different: today, all sections of the Cercle de l’Harmonie were in perfect balance and, if the strings have a touch of astringency, this was put to good purpose in a punchy, vivid sound picture. Actually, if these performances deserved to be recorded (probably in studio, with cast changes), the main reason for that would doubtlessly be Rhorer’s conducting. This was probably the best conducted TIto I have ever heard (including recordings) – the Overture sounded entirely fresh to my ears, with wonderful interplay between strings and wind instruments and truly theatrical flair. His management of tempi proved to be ruled by the quest for the right balance between musical and theatrical values and the eschewal of empty effect. Soft affetti were treated with unusual care – the Servilia/Annio duettino exquisitely touching, while the orchestra could provide Vitellia with some of its most stingy and nervous sounds. I have been often let down in the finale ultimo, but this evening it has surpassed my expectations in the perfect matching of soloists, orchestra and chorus (which could be a bit short in tenor and bass sound during the whole opera).

Everybody wondered how further Karina Gauvin would be singing exclusively on the cream before moving up to the full glass of milk of her lyric soprano. The choice of the formidable role of Vitellia seems like a bold step into a future of new possibilities, even if this deserves some consideration. First, I was surprised to see how wholeheartedly she has embraced the virago attitude, spitting her recitatives with panache and chewing the scenery as if her life depended on it. However, she does not have the physique du rôle for a seductress, especially when sabotaged by an unbecoming gown strangely provided by no other than Christian Lacroix. Second, if Gauvin could delve most naturally in chest voice for the very low notes required by Mozart, she lacks either training or the instincts or even the spiritual disposition when things get high and loud. She tiptoed through every incursion above high a and produced a truly underwhelming account of the acuti of Vengo… aspetatte… . There is no “third”: other than this I’ve found her Vitellia really enjoyable in her rich, flexible soprano. She tackled many difficult runs unusually accurately and showed no reluctance before trills and sang a sensitive and heartfelt Non più di fiori.

Kate Lindsey too was a sensitive Sesto, singing with beautiful sense of line and true ease with mezza voce. Her mezzo remains, though, light for the role and heroic moments took her to her limits, most notably in the end of Parto, ma tu ben mio, when her fioriture left a lot to be desired. Julie Boulianne (Annio) proved to be more generous in the vocal department, her velvety and homogeneous voice easy on the ear. Julie Fuchs has Mozart running through her veins. Her voice is very reminiscent of Barbara Bonney’s, but she finally offered a Servilia even more touching than Bonney’s in bother her recorded performances. Robert Gleadow was a positive Publio with very clear divisions, but there is a rattling, nasal quality suggesting the musical theatre rather than the opera that disturbed balance in many ensembles.

Kurt Streit was, for many years, a model of Mozartian singing, as one can sample in his many recordings in this repertoire, but these days seem to be behind him. It is true that the sense of line, the imagination for ornamentation, the elegant phrasing and the clean fioriture are still there, but passaggio is now handled in a glaringly open tone and, when he has to cover his high notes, they turn up tremulous and effortful. His handling of the text was extremely artificial, as if Tito were talking to small children during the whole opera, what made him seem insincere and studied and a bit dull. And that is not the character devised by Metastasio.

Director Denis Podalydès, from the Comédie-Française, had many interesting ideas – starting the performance with a very expressive actress (Leslie Menu) delivering Bérénice’s farewell verses to Titus in Racine’s tragedy before the overture and setting the action in a hotel, where the high echelons of government seem to be interned during a political crisis while the ruler’s authority is being restored. There are too many extras, though, and some intimate scenes sound overcrowded and too many secrets are being recited to an audience of silent roles. The Personenregie is very detailed and all members of the cast keenly follow it, but I am afraid that the Sesto’s mental unbalance after he has set fire to the capitol is too much even for well-intentioned opera singer.

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The Music Director Emeritus of the NHK Symphony Orchestra, Charles Dutoit, has inscribed his name in the performance history of Debussy’s Pelléas et Melisande with his recording from Montreal, a reference for those who want this work at its least “operatic”, and he conducted it most recently in 2012 at the Verbier Festival with Stéphane Degout as Pelléas. For someone who is not very keen on opera, Maestro Dutoit has conducted some key XXth century stage works in Japan:  Dallapiccola’s Il Prigioniero, the Japanese première of Szymanowski’s King Roger and Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle. This afternoon, he offered the Tokyoite audience a concert performance of Debussy’s only complete opera with an all-star cast.

Although Dutoit is still faithful for his strictly-demi-tintes approach, eliciting very subtle and colorful playing from the NHK SO in flexible but never rushed tempi, some may find the orchestral sound a little bit more embracing than on his CDs, although weight is a word no-one would ever think of here. In comparison, Claudio Abbado sounds almost Verdian in his urgent and theatrical DG recording, in which the Vienna Philharmonic dazzles the listeners in kaleidoscopic orchestral effects. In any case, provided you have a castle as impressive as the one gathered here today, the Swiss conductor will be proved right in giving Maeterlinck’s text all the time and prominence it deserves.

If I had to be picky about the choice of soloists, I would say that Karen Vourc’h is one or two millimeters below her colleagues. Although her voice has an appealing shimmering femininity à la Ileana Cotrubas, it acquires a certain graininess above mezzo forte and the low notes are mostly left to imagination. On her favor, there is not a word in the text the meaning of which she does not fully understands – even if her approach is surprisingly sincere. Other singers could find a bit more sensuousness in this role, and I am afraid I have finally got used to that, especially in Mes longs cheveux, sung today without any hint of mystery or seduction. Stéphane Degout is simply the best Pelléas of his generation. First, it is vocally flawless; second, it is crystalline in diction; third, it is entirely devoid of affectation and unusually “masculine”. There is something extremely honest and direct about his performance that makes the role extremely believable. Vincent Le Texier is a forceful and intense Golaud. He is the less aggressive or fatherly Golaud I have ever heard and one can see why Mélisande agreed to marry him in the first place. Midway through act III, when the writing becomes somewhat heavier, Le Texier started to increasingly show some signs of fatigue, but he managed to channel this into his performance. Nathalie Stutzmann and Franz-Josef Selig as Geneviève and Arkel are the dictionary definition’s of embarras de richesses. Khatouna Gadelia and David Wilson-Johnson were ideally cast as Yniold and the doctor.

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I have a long story with Marco Arturo Marelli’s producion of Verdi’s Don Carlo: I’ve seen the première in the Deutsche Oper and a reprise with a different cast last year. It must be said that serious rethinking has been done and I could say that third time’s a charm: not only does it look better within the New National Theatre’s higher proscenium arch, but also many important adjustments have been done, especially in the auto-da-fé scene. In any case, if the really superior blocking and acting is the result of Spielleiter Yasuko Sawada’s work, then she truly deserves compliments. Another improvement over the Berlin performances is Pietro Rizzo’s conducting. The Tokyo Philharmonic orchestra played with unusual animation and richness of tone, only occasionally lapsing into the customary bureaucracy. Maestro Rizzo did a very good job in balancing the need to accommodate a largely light-voiced cast and Verdi’s demands of a rich orchestral sound. He rightly opted for forward-moving tempi and theatrical effects. This was indeed one of the best performances in the New National Theatre in the recent years.

Serena Farnocchia’s lyric soprano is two sizes smaller than the role of Elisabetta and, if she sang elegantly and musicianly, she often seemed to be saving steam for her big moments. Once in the final act, she thew caution to the winds and offered an exciting account both of her aria and the ensuing duet. Sonia Ganassi too is hardly the dramatic mezzo soprano one usually finds as Eboli. Although her voice had a bleached out sound in its higher reaches, she husbanded her resources most intelligently and offered a dramatically compelling and vocally acceptable performance. As usual, her attention to the text makes all the difference in the world. I had never heard Spanish tenor Sergio Escobar before. It is an interesting voice without any doubt: its bright, firm sound has palpable presence in the auditorium and, when the phrase is congenial, he can provide some exciting acuti. He still needs to work on breath support, though – he is often caught short and some high-lying passages grate a bit. He has not been blessed with acting abilities and invariably looked awkward when he tried to reproduce some gesture or attitude outside his comfort zone. Markus Werba is the third singer below the right Fach for his part today. This did not prevent him from offering a convincing performance – he has solid technique, did not beef up unnecessarily his high baritone and only showed some sign of strain during the long scene with Filippo in the first act (this is the Italian 4-act version). I had seen Rafal Siwek as the Inquisitore in the Staatsoper back in 2011 and found him authoritative but lacking variety. For the role of Filippo II, the natural volume of his voice is an undeniable advantage. The slightly veiled tonal quality and a tiny hint of throatiness prevent him from providing the necessary impact in the auto-da-fé, but he proved to scale down to real Innigkeit in his act III aria. If Hidekazu Tsumaya could produce more consistent high notes, he would have been an entirely successful Inquisitore – here he sounded underpowered in many key moments.

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When a theatre has the name of Constantin Stanislavsky, one expects to find acting of a certain level in any of its performances – and I have not been disappointed this evening. Although sets and costumes in Alexander Titel new production makes one think of stagings as one would find in European theatres in the 1970’s, the approach sounds fresh in the detailed Personenregie and the attention to Lorenzo da Ponte’s text rendered in a way that makes complete sense for audiences nowadays. Although I dislike the idea of Donna Anna as a hypocrite who would overlook the murder of her own father for a fatal attraction, this has been shown in a way that at least makes some sense. It is also very courageous to show Donna Elvira as the mezzo carattere role she really is, even if the seriousness in Mi tradì felt somewhat contrived. I have never seen such an all-round convincing  portrait of Zerlina as today: here she is definitely earthy, ready to have fun and streetwise: she plays the victim to Don Giovanni as long as she believes that she can profit from that. Even Don Ottavio has some nuance here, his lack of alpha-male quality combined with a repressed aggressiveness when his fiancée refuses him his intent to marry her as soon as possible. All this is made possible in a staging that focus the actors – the single set is a structure that shows a staircase covered by grapevine on one side and a wall of upright pianos on the other side. Don Giovanni’s final feast is a bit overdone with all those plastic grapes, but the effect of the Commendatore dragging his prey inside the wall was very striking and original.

This performance has been conducted by the assistant director, Timur Zangiev, who showed a very good grasp of rhythmic flow in his forward-moving beat dictated by needs of structural clarity and a good ear for matching the Hauptstimme in the orchestra with his soloists on stage. I wonder how the results would be with a truly adept orchestra.

My main source of interest this evening was the Donna Anna of Hibla Gerzmava, a soprano I have first heard in the solo of Mozart’s Vesperae Solennes de Confessore. Her singing in this recording impressed me so much that I decided that I wouldn’t miss an opportunity to hear her live. It is a voice of unusual creaminess and homogeneity used with seamless legato, but either she was not in a very good day or she has become a little careless since that Laudate dominum. Whenever things got high or fast or loud or all those, her soprano would acquire a metallic edginess that jars with her usual smooth vocal delivery. It is praiseworthy that she had tackled the stretta of Non mi dir a tempo in a fast pace, but the sound could be a bit Mara Zampieri-esque. In terms of interpretation too, although her Italian is very clear and well-pronounced, the impression was rather generalized, especially in a very tame Or sai chi l’onore. In any case, she sounded like a paragon of Mozartian singing in comparison with the sour-toned and gusty Donna Elvira. Although Inna Klochko had her unfocused moments, her bell-toned soprano is tailor-made for Zerlina. Vedrai carino was particularly lovely, graceful and sexy. She is a very good actress and knows who to use music and text to create a complete performance.

When it comes to Artem Safronov’s Don Ottavio, one must praise his extraordinarily long breath and flexibility, but his voice has very strange placement, his high register matte and bottled-up. Dmitry Zuev (Don Giovanni) too has long breath, but the tonal quality is too open, metallic and unvaried. His idea of interpretation was basically keeping you on the edge of your seat while he spitted out long stretches of text without breathing pauses in uninflected Italian. Although Denis Makarov’s Italian is very poor too, that is all I can fault in his Leporello – the voice is warm and pleasant and he is funny without exaggeration. Maksim Okosin too was a pleasant Masetto, richer toned than unsual. Finally, Dmitry Stepanovich was a very powerful Commendatore, a bit eerie in his straight-toned vocal production and weird vowels.

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In the bunraku play adapted for kabuki Kokusen’ya Kassen (The Battles of Coxinga), the warrior Watounai and his mother Nagisa are sent to China in order to offer General Kanki alliance in their common purpose of restoring the Ming Dinasty. When they arrive at the gates of Shishigajou Castle, there is a problem: according to the law, foreigners are not allowed inside. Since they have military secrets to discuss, the Chinese propose a compromise: the old lady can come if she agrees to have her arms bound. They are both outraged and Watounai threatens to draw his sword, but Nagisa – “as a Japanese person would do” – smiles. As you can see, it is not from today that the Japanese have disliked public display of emotions. Now imagine the effect of Italian opera on people who work hard to be collected even among friends: Renata Tebaldi and Mario del Monaco claiming vendetta and confessing amore in full stentorian voice as if their lives depended on that in front of thousands of people. At this point you can see the appeal of becoming an opera singer in this country: your job being letting it all out in the name of art. This may sound like wild generalization, but I ask my eight or nine readers – have you heard of a Japanese singer who has distinguished him or herself internationally as a Mozart singer, in the way… someone like Sumi Jo has done?

As it seems, the majority of domestically trained Japanese singers are irresistibly attracted to Verismo and some Verdi… with the possible exception of those who sing with the Bach Collegium Japan. Even when they do sing other repertoire, the pamphlets advertising solo recitals almost invariably show people extravagantly dressed to sing Puccini and Verdi. Displaying feeling through the mastery of immaculate technique, sense of style and absolute grace could be a summary of the art of Kabuki actors, but it is also how a Mozartian singer could be described – this seems, however, to be less appealing a task for someone who could be ultimately letting it rip as Nedda or Canio. I have seen Japanese singers in Mozartian roles in the New National Theatre and I am afraid that it has never been a pleasure (I have discovered some very impressive Wagnerians born in this country nonetheless). I have refrained from posting a review on a Magic Flute without International guest singers from that theater and even more so because I couldn’t make myself stay for the second act.

The reason why I’ve decided to attend to the Idomeneo offered by the Nikikai Opera Company with an all Japanese cast is the fact that I was curious to see Damiano Michieletto’s 2013 production for the Theater an der Wien. As it seems, the genial atmosphere of the Da Ponte opera seems to inspire the Venetian director more positively than opera seria. The single set shows a sand box surrounded by white curtains. In it, we can see remains of war: shoes, suitcases, pieces of furniture. Nobody seems to be particularly happy about Greece’s victory over Troy, but rather gloomy in all shades of grey. This has an effect of having the cast throw things around – while poor Arbace’s job seems to be getting the trash out of the way for the next scene while he sings his long recitatives. When the second tenor finally got to sing one aria, he had already tossed aside 100 pieces of luggage and seemed so exhausted that he could barely get to the end of his phrases. This unimaginative and bizarrely awkward concept (have I told you that Ilia gives birth to a baby on stage during the ballet music in the end of the opera?) involves Elettra shown as a brainless bimbo obsessed with glittery dresses and high heels (to be used in the sandbox…). This meant that her sensuously expressive aria d’affetto would be transformed into operetta-ish couplets sung off-pitch amidst capers. If the director really wanted to use his imagination, he could have thought of something convincing for Idomeneo, Idamante and Ilia to do during D’Oreste, d’Ajacce.

If there was something positive about this performance, this was Jun Märkl’s conducting. His structural understanding of the score informed an ideal orchestral balance, an absolute control of rhythmic flow, even when he indulged in some well-judged playing with tempo… I feel tempted to write “sense of theatre”, but the truth is that a problematic cast and a not truly virtuosistic orchestra did not allow him real impact. In any case, the Tokyo Symphony gave the maestro its best and occasionally played with gusto. I cannot say something similar of the Nikikai Chorus, who lacked discipline and couldn’t cope with the solo demands (here given to a reduced group of choristers). The edition adopted today involved none of the arias cut in the Munich première (but for the above mentioned D’Oreste, d’Ajacce), the excision of Arbace’s Se il tuo duol and a large chunk of the scene with the High Priest, the use of one of the longer versions of the utterance of the Oracle and a reduced ballet music.

Now the singers. I have to assume that Yukiko Aragaki (Ilia) must have been seriously indisposed this afternoon. Her soprano is produced with a piercing metallic edge with occasional saccharine off-focused almost white-voiced moments (which I suppose to be attempts at shaded dynamics). Pitch and note values were too often imprecisely handled and, judging the effort to produce what Mozart wrote, the misguided exercise in ornamentation should have been duly avoided. Chikako Ohsumi’s Elettra was an alternately admirable and infuriating experience. Nature gave her an echt Mozartian soprano drammatico: it is bright, but not light; rich but well-focused; and it runs to its high notes without any effort. One can see that there is a Donna Anna hidden somewhere there, but there are problems with technique (unsupported low registered, her natural high notes become tight with pressure, there is a lot of sharpness going on there…), with style (problematic legato, tendency to peck at notes and truly ill-advised fondness for upward transposition…) and with discipline. There were moments where everything was in the right place and the effect was indeed amazing, but those were unfortunately always short-lived. It made me sad to see such potential going awry. Takumi Yogi (Idomeneo) is in comparison technically more finished: he has very long breath and, even if the coloratura was smeared here and there, he tackled the florid version of Fuor del mar less perilously than some famous tenors. However, he is not an elegant singer and very poorly acquainted with classical style, singing emphatically and stolidly most of the time. In his invocation to Neptune, where I can guess that the conductor had said something like “please attack the notes CLEANLY”, he showed how better the whole performance could have been if the same care had been used elsewhere.

I leave the best for last. I have seen Makiko Yamashita sing small roles in the New National Theatre for a while and have always enjoyed her warm, fruity mezzo and wished to hear her in a major role. Idamante is a tough piece of singing and although her Italian is a bit lifeless, she inhabits a different stylistic and expressive world from the rest of this cast. She is a natural Mozartian singer who phrases with poise and musicianship, only challenged by the high tessitura. As it was, both arias tested her sorely and she only made it to the end out of diligence and knowledge of her own limitations. I am not convinced that she doesn’t really have the high notes – they are there begging to be used, but it seems that she should work on her breath support to accomplish that. In any case, the artistry and the loveliness of tone are already there.

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The Salzburg Festival has been for decades a reference for Mozartian singing – here the world’s greatest conductors had some of the most famous singers of their days performing for an audience paying very expensive tickets without complaining, for they knew that they were seeing the truly best. Here Ljuba Welitsch, Elisabeth Grümmer, Leontyne Price, Gundula Janowitz, Edita Gruberová sang Donna Anna; here Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Julia Varady, Carol Vaness  sang Donna Elvira; here Irmgard Seefried, Mirella Freni, Kathleen Battle sang Zerlina, Cesare Valetti, Nicolai Gedda, Alfredo Kraus, Gösta Winbergh sang Don Ottavio… and this makes me realize that this is probably the first Festival’s performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni half cast with singers of provincial level. With no reduction of price tickets. I hope that this is not a sign of times of decadence here.

Lenneke Ruiten’s acidulous and raspish Donna Anna operates very close to the edge. The fact that she can now and then soften her tone and her fluent coloratura in Non mi dir redeem a performance otherwise quite disappointing. Anett Frisch (Elvira) has a basically warm and pleasant tonal quality, but it all sounds a little bit immature vocally speaking. She is a musicainly and stylish singer, but Mi tradì for instance was all over the place. Valentina Lafornita (Zerlina) is the only soprano in the cast with a distinctive color, more than enough volume and the necessary variety to build an interpretation. She has her metallic patches and moments of dubious intonation or awkward breath control, but she sang Vedrai, carino with real seduction. Andrew Staples’s Don Ottavio is a series of variations of nasality and unintentional buffoonery. Ildebrando d’Arcangelo’s Don Giovanni is so lugubriously and charmlessly sung that you could take him for the Commendatore. Well, actually not: as soon as Tomasz Konieczny produced his first sound, the sheer power and volume were so extraordinary that you couldn’t help feeling that you were listening from someone not from this world. Luca Pisaroni stands out in this cast as a 100% stylish and engaging Leporello. Although he has been singing this role for a while, his performance has not still lost its naturalness and sense of fun.

Christoph Eschenbach seemed to concentrate in purely musical aspects of this performance – eliciting beautiful sounds from an ideal Vienna Philharmonic, elegant phrasing, clarity and transparence. Some of his tempi were utterly undramatic and uncomfortable for his singers (Zerlina’s Batti, batti or Donna Anna’s Or sai chi l’onore). In other moments, he would unexpectedly accelerate to egg-timer pace for apparently no purpose. With rare exceptions (fortunately, the appearance of the ghost of the Commendatore being one of them), one could take this for a series of concert arias.

Sven-Erich Berchtolf stages this Don Giovanni in a hotel. The Commendatore seems to be a military prominent figure staying there. This seems to justify some parallel actions involving some secret police agents invading rooms, molesting women in underwear and throwing bedclothes in the staircase. There is also the devil who doubles here as a bartender. Some of it is nonsensical and silly, but with the help of Rolf Glittenberg’s sets and a detailed Personenregie, much of this actually works, if not really memorably.

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This time I won’t reproduce Caruso’s quote, but only mention that the Salzburger Festspiele presented Verdi’s Il Trovatore only once in 1962 when Karajan had Leontyne Price, Giulietta Simionato, Franco Corelli and Ettore Bastianini (and the next year, without Corelli). Some would say that you will never have a cast like that again, but the Festival has decided that you can always try something different when you cannot offer the traditional choice. Their bold move has paid off – this was a performance that showed the audience many interesting possibilities about staging an opera by Giuseppe Verdi in our days. But let’s start with the cast.

Since she has become a mother, Anna Netrebko’s voice has developed in an interesting direction – her middle and low registers have become truly luxuriant and, if her extreme top notes have become less reliable, how many sopranos in lirico spinto repertoire actually venture above a high c these days? I am not sure if Lady Macbeth is her repertoire, but – if you have in mind that probably only Zinka Milanov or Maria Callas were truly beyond reproach as Leonora – Netrebko is a Leonora to be reckoned with. First, the voice as it is now is extra rich, surprisingly voluminous and still flexible enough. The velvety tonal quality, especially in her mezzo-ish, well-connected low register is particularly appealing. She has tried all trills and was successful more often than not, her mezza voce is a bit smoky, but in a good way and, even if one can notice that florid passages require her full attention, she tackles them if not with poise, certainly with diligence. If something requires some extra work, this would be staccato, which could have been tackled with a little bit more roundness and spontaneity. Maybe breath control too – even if she disguises it expertly, some phrases were too often chopped for extra intakes of air. In terms of interpretation, things are rather generalized, but there is passion and animation. In moments such as D’amor sull’ali rosee, one feels that spiritual concentration was secondary to getting the notes done. All that said, the glamor is there, and this is an underrated requirement in this repertoire.

I’ve read the name of Marie-Nicole Lemieux as Azucena with skepticism. I had seen her in Verdi only once as Ms. Quickly and found her light-toned for this repertoire, but today she has shown some unexpected possibilities of her voice. Although her middle register is soft-grained, she opens up in some very rich and forceful mezzo soprano top notes, while still retaining her dark contralto bottom register. Her voice is not Italianate either, but this gave her Azucena a very particular color. Her performance never had a dull moment – she is an experienced Lieder singer and never sang a word without considering its musical-dramatic weight, but did not succumb to the trap of making it fussy and too subtle: she managed Italian emotionalism very well. Actually, I have found many of her Handel roles exaggerated in an almost expressionistic way – but this was put to good use in this role. A compelling and intelligent performance.

Francesco Meli too is light-voiced for the role of Manrico. He is what one calls “a natural tenor”, his voice is spontaneous and appealing and has a good volume for a lyric tenor. He beefs it up a bit for this repertoire, and his high notes sound a bit straight sometimes. However, there is no hint of ugliness here. He is an elegant singer, capable of tone coloring and dynamic variety, what made his Manrico more vulnerable and sensitive than usual. Di quella pira, as predicted, even with adaptations to accommodate the unwritten top note, does not really come in the package, even if he cannot be accused of disgracing himself in it.

Replacing an ailing Plácido Domingo, Artur Rucinski too proved to have had interesting developments since I last saw him as the Count Almaviva in the Schiller-Theater. As the Count di Luna, he sounded like a lighter version of Giorgio Zancanaro, singing with unfailingly firm-tone and bel canto-ish poise. His extremely long breath is particularly amazing. He deservedly received thunderous applause this afternoon. Riccardo Zanellato offered a vivid account of Ferrando’s aria, and Diane Haller was a bright-toned and well-focused Ines.

Daniele Gatti found a good balance between a musically detailed approach, bringing to the fore many hidden niceties in the score, and the need for raw energy in strong accents, animated tempi and richness of sound. In this, he had the world’s ideal orchestra for this music: the Vienna Philharmonic at its most crystalline and flexible, singing together with singers on stage. This was Verdian music-making of the highest level.

Il Trovatore is an opera that resents the “régie”-treatment, but Alvis Hermanis has found a very particular niche where this works: the opera opera is staged in a museum in which museum guides and guards mix fantasy and reality under the influence of the paintings they “live” with. Not only these paintings in their red wallpaper museum walls are very atmospheric, but Hermanis has studied the score to find the right moments to shift from present to the past. For instance, Azucena is first seen in modern clothes leading a group of art students when she sings the more “conventional” verses of Stride la vampa, but is transformed in a gipsy woman when telling the more “realistic” and modern music of Condotta ell’era in ceppi.

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