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Posts Tagged ‘Clémentine Margaine’

The late Götz Friedrich is a director of almost legendary status in Berlin, and I wonder when the Deutsche Oper is going to show him respect by avoiding substandard revivals of his productions. A director of his reputation would never allow an old production to be shown to an audience only to be laughed at, as it often happens – and it certainly did today. If I had taken someone who had never been to an opera house before this evening, I would have apologize at the end. The sets are depressingly provincial; costumes are banal and nonsensical; the Spielleitung is so bad that you feel sorry for these people on stage trying to deal with props that they don’t know how to work or not to knock each other out in their poorly blocked interaction scenes; and I still wonder why someone would use some funny commedia dell’arte stage-hands who jump and flaunter on stage in the middle of Verdi’s Luisa Miller – a story in which an innocent girl and a decent old man are abused before she is finally killed by someone who was supposed to love her. Acting is, but for two singers, not this cast’s strong suit, but the Spielleiter just let them embarrass themselves without caring to know if this was working or not. Lamentable.

I understand that Verdi’s score is not of great help when one needs inspiration here, but the singers playing the roles in the Miller family have proved that true artistry transcends even the most hopeless circumstances. I don’t believe that the title role is meant for purely lyric sopranos, but Krassimira Stoyanova’s emotional sincerity, excellent technique, sense of style and commitment triumphed over her limitations in volume and cutting edge (especially in her high register). In the last act, she really transported me away from the prevailing shabbiness into the predicaments of poor Luisa Miller. She interacted beautifully with Gabriele Viviani, who replaced Leo Nucci, as Miller. He has a rather steely, slightly rough voice à la Paolo Coni, but his singing is so authentically Italian, his diction clear, his involvement so palpable that their last duet couldn’t help being hundreds of levels above the rest of this performance. Clémentine Margaine’s rich contralto is always a pleasure to the ears, but she had no direction to speak of and couldn’t find her way into the role of Federica. It is an ingrate part, often too low-lying, but I would say nonetheless that a mezzo with a solid low register is probably better suited to it. As it is, although one could still hear this French singer’s high notes, they did not have much color. Belonging to an ensemble is always a safe choice, but Margaine has true potential for a free-standing career in bel canto and baroque music, in which many a more famous contralto lack volume and heroic quality.

Zurab Zurabishvili was almost a late-minute replacement for Marcelo Álvarez. The Georgian tenor is not a beginner, but the voice is still fresh, spontaneous and resonant. Unfortunately, his sounds turn around different degrees of nasality and his high notes, if big, are tense and pushed, what made him more and more tired during the evening. More disturbing is his cupo phrasing, without much flowing quality and variety. Arutjun Kochinian voice might be large, but it is distressingly throaty. Orlin Anastassov’s bass is warm and dark enough, if distinctively Slavic. My neighbour this evening asked me why he does not have a bigger name – I guess there some lack of imagination, but mainly the voice lacks bulk for the great bass roles in operas like Don Carlo or Simon Boccanegra.

If I had not seen yesterday’s Macbeth, I would probably say that Paolo Arrivabeni’s conducting was all right, but I did hear the same orchestra under Ivan Repusic and, good as it was tonight, it was only a shadow of it was the night before. It is true that Macbeth had bigger-voiced singers (and a far superior score, one cannot forget), but one wants a nobler tonal quality here. Justice be made, the maestro did not linger and strove for excitement, but things often sounded just brisk. Not in the beautiful closing act, when the orchestra seemed gradually to plug in and, by the last scene, the effect was quite colourful and vibrant.

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Rossini’s first masterpiece and one of his two best serious operas (the other being Semiramide – both his first and last commission for Venice’s La Fenice) had never been previously heard in the Deutsche Oper before this run of performances conducted by the world’s leading Rossini specialist Alberto Zedda in Pier Luigi Pizzi’s 1999 Pesaro production. It would not be proper to say that the house’s rather Wagnerian orchestra had limited experience with Rossini, since his comic works are regularly performed there – but one couldn’t help noticing a “German” richer and fuller sound coming from the pit. The experienced maestro wisely did not try to Italianize his musicians by force, but rather surrendered to the Beethovenian surroundings: this score sounded at its noble and warmer, with beautifully blending of strings and wind instruments. Comparisons with Zedda’s top-recommendation recording for Naxos (with Collegium Instrumentale Brugense) shows what was missing this evening: buoyancy. While the Deutsche Oper performance operated on dignified, warm sounds and Mozartian poise, the CD recording springs into life in its bright Italian-style orchestral sound, clearly articulated phrasing and energetic rhythms. I praise the conductor for finding some sense in what the circumstances presented him and I, for myself, deemed the experience as interesting as listening to Elisabeth Grümmer sing Verdi – it might not be what it was supposed to be, but it still has something to say. The Deutsche Oper Chorus, though, basically struggled with the Italian language.

Patrizia Ciofi was not an immaculate Amenaide – some top notes flapped, the low register is unsettled and sometimes you could feel that this role is a hard piece of singing – but her performance had such musical intelligence, sense of style, gracious phrasing, dramatic awareness and sensitivity that one would need a heart of stone to resist her. Moreover, she was in very healthy voice – her usually watercoloristic tonal quality had this evening such radiance that it just flowed effortlessly in the auditorium. The conductor helped her in every tricky passage and she found a virtue in the less brisk tempi to sculpt her fioriture with expressive Mozartian quality.  When it comes to the role of Tancredi, one really missed the sensational Ewa Podles in Zedda’s CDs. I have never previously heard or seen Haidar Halévy and cannot say if she was in a bad-voice day, but her performance failed to please me except in the passages in which she could sing softly, what she does adeptly (as in the closing scene – here the Ferrara “sad” ending). When she sang above piano, I couldn’t overlook the the backward placement, the lack of focus, the bleached-out sound over the passaggio and the unclear phrasing. To make things more difficult, her figure and her whole attitude do not really work for breeches-roles. When promising contralto Clémentine Margaine sang Isaura’s aria with firm, clearly produced and deliciously dark tonal quality, I really wished she had been invited for the title role. My first impression of Alexey Dolgov’s Argirio was that he was in an off-evening*, but he would eventually settle into a very brave performance of this difficult role. If his tenor fortunately has nothing of the usual nasality and brittleness of tenorini in it, it also lacks true comfort in this repertoire (especially in the higher end of the tessitura). I wonder if he should not sing Mozart more often for a while and develop a little bit more warmth and sense of expressive phrasing instead of opting so soon for a second-choice bel canto tenor career. Orbazzano is not really a big role, but it is an important one – Krysztof Szumanski could not make much of it, the voice does not really bloom and the whole performance turned around a bad-guy impersonation.

Do I need to write something about Pier Luigi Pizzi’s production? Well, if one of my eleven or twelve readers have never seen one of his stagings, I owe him or her a brief description – take one architectural background in a painting by de Chirico, costumes from Xanadu (yes, the movie with Olivia Newton-John) and the Personenregie of a Mexican telenovela and you’ll get the picture.

* Here again Zedda has a brilliant piece of casting in the sadly too-soon-retired Stanford Olsen, one of my favorite examples of Rossinian singing from a tenor.

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