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Posts Tagged ‘Elina Garanca’

Thanks to James Levine’s invaluable advocacy, the Metropolitan Opera House has probably the world record in of performances of La Clemenza di Tito, the culmination of the opera seria genre, Mozart’s black pearl where tradition is reviewed and new perspective are hinted at. This is reason enough to find interest in every revival of this work in the Lincoln Center’s opera house, where casts of indisputable glamor have been assembled for 30 years. “Revival” is no random word here – since the 1984 house première, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s production has been on duty. I myself saw it in 2008 and wondered then if it would still be around in the near future. It has been a positive surprise to found it interestingly revamped five years later.

Spielleiter Peter McClintock deserves credit for reading the libretto anew and bring to the fore so many interesting aspects in the text that made characters far more three-dimensional than in the past. Even for someone who knows this almost by heart, I could find food for thought here. Two examples:

a) I have always thought that Non più di fiori is some sort of twisted mad scene. Normally, a character would fantasize in such a moment about a happy ending that is not going to happen;  Vitellia is, however, no victim – so she fantasizes about the tragic ending that is not going to happen, the final section of her rondo some kind of acute episode of infantilization, in which she lulls herself into being passive after being dangerously active. Here, Vitellia is a spoiled brat from moment one and her childish narcissism makes the volte-face a logical conclusion – as she said, she made it all for love (for Tito), the revenge plot and also its final confession. A brilliant piece of casting made it easy to see all that.

b) Seductive as Vitellia might be, it had never struck me before today that nobody would be talked into a plot like that if he had not fantasized about it himself before – Vitellia being the liberating externalization of his suppressed desire of dragging Tito’s moral excellence to the mud. Here Tito appears to be carefree and content in the company of Sesto and Annio, who seem to be ill-at-ease near the Emperor, rather indulging him than enjoying being there. When Tito say things like “By marrying your sister, I’ll shorten the infinite gap set by the gods between you and me”, you could almost hear the “what a jerk…” in Sesto’s thoughts. The surprise here is that, when these two friends finally can express their feelings without pretty words, this is the moment when they discover how important they are to each other, an especially sad discover for Tito, whose main longing had always been to find someone to whom he could talk “at eye level”. Here casting was not very helpful to show all this, but the director’s hand could be felt at least.

By brilliant casting for Vitellia I meant Barbara Frittoli. Her voice has seen more exuberant days, especially when things get high or fast, and she has to cheat in some perilous moments, but the tonal quality is inimitably warm and full, she handles the low tessitura famously and everything has some sort of glamor. What makes her so special, though, is her ability to make Vitellia some sort of classical Scarlett O’Hara (or Rossella O’[H]ara, as she is called in Italy). The contrast to Elina Garanca’s Sesto is telling – the Latvian mezzo sings with immaculate poise, technique and sense of style and is often sensitive too (a beautiful Deh per questo), but doesn’t really inhabit the text – the important accompagnato Oh dei, che smania è questa being the less effective moment of her performance. In his first aria, Giuseppe Filianoti seemed to promise a bumpy evening, but he would eventually settle for something less awkward. His is an interesting voice for the role, but having to sing Mozartian lines takes him to the limits of his technique – the results being more accomplished than elegant, musically illuminating or just pleasant to the ears. If you want a forceful, bright sound, Gregory Kunde in the broadcast from Aix (2011) offered something far more polished. But there is a very positive side to Filianoti’s performance – his crystal-clear diction, his intent of making sense of his recitatives and some emotional urgency in his scenes with Sesto.

I have seen Kate Lindsey only once in a small role, but her Annio made me feel like hearing more. Although the voice itself lacks some personality, she makes the most of it in true Mozartian phrasing – and she is a good actress too. Lucy Crowe, a creamy-toned Servilia, lacked nuance in the exquisite act I duettino, but deserves the highest praise for her haunting performance of S’altro che lagrime, probably the most moving I have ever heard since Colin Davis’s recording with Lucia Popp (my six or seven readers will probably understand that this comparison is the top-level compliment in this blog).

Harry Bickett was the conductor I happened to see in 2008. Then I wrote that “expression and grandeur were achieved at the expense of clarity”. Not in this broadcast – the Met orchestra’s fullt-toned flexibility that evening is something to marvel. The conductor showed also deepened understand of this score’s profile, creating the atmosphere to each scene with precise accents and sense of threatre. Although the house chorus cannot compete with the level of accuracy of a Monteverdi Choir, their hushed Ah, grazie si rendano was a beautiful moment at any rate.

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Although Bellini’s operas have been now and then disputed as old-fashioned, they have never failed to catch the heart of even those who recognize their touches of saccharine (especially in what regards the plots and simplistic orchestration), such as Richard Wagner himself, who was deeply impressed by the performance of the great Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient as Romeo.

Because of its connection with the legendary singer from Hamburg, this breeches-role is a favourite with mezzo-sopranos who tackle the bel canto repertoire. In many interviews, Elina Garanca has explained that bel canto is  just a phase in her career and that her voice cries for Romantic long lines rather than fioriture, but so far she has scored her greatest successes in her recordings of Bellini’s Norma (with Edita Gruberová) and I Capuletti e i Montecchi (with Anna Netrebko), not to mention her broadcast of Rossini’s La Cenerentola from the Metropolitan Opera. I witnessed her Rosina at the Met a couple of years ago and, if I agree that coloratura is not her strongest suit (although she is definitely accomplished), she has a charming voice, a good ear for tone colouring and personality to sell.

In its season opening performance, the Deutsche Oper was bold to cast Bellini’s take on the ill-fated lovers from Verona, but not brave enough to stage it. So, in this concert version, we have both Romeo and Giulietta en escarpins. That has not prevented these singers to produce the minimally required brushstrokes of acting to give life to the proceedings. The high heels had no influence on Garanca’s Romeo. Although the part ideally requires a more penetrating low register, this Latvian mezzo knows the role from inside out and is never caught short in it. Her ability to spin seamless legato is an asset in Bellini and she knows how to use the text to dramatic purpose, especially at her dying scene. This is a singer who goes to the heart of the matter in terms of dramatic and musical requirements and never cheats with expression. In this sense, she was ideally partnered by the lovely Ekaterina Siurina.

A stylish Mozartian, Ms. Siurina has a light silvery soprano that lacks at first Italianate morbidezza and in alts for the traditional puntature. But she has almost everything else – a very long breath, a positive low register, spontaneous Italian pronunciation, perfect trills, breathtakingly floated pianissimi and unfailing musicianship. However, her greatest talent is to evoke almost palpable emotions on stage. She does not express feelings, she lives them through as if the music and text were created by herself. Her stage presence is also mesmerizing. She has a doll-like charm, but her seductive eyes cast a powerful and irresistible spell on the audience. I do not know if Italian roles are her habitat (I have read that her Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto was highly appreciated at the Metropolitan Opera), but she is certainly one of those singers who work their way in whatever repertoire. I personally believe she still owes the world some Mozart.

The evening’s Tebaldo, Argentinian tenor Dario Schmunck, is also technically refined and theatrically engaged, but he often failed to pierce through the orchestra and had his tense moments when things get too high or fast. Ante Jerkunica was a resonant Capellio and, even if he had his over-Germanic moments, Reinhard Hagen’s voice is so noble and beutiful that one cannot help being convinced by his Lorenzo.

Conductor Karel Mark Chichon, Elina Garanca’s husband, takes his Bellini very seriously and invested each note with meaning, musical and theatrical purpose. Every hidden music-dramatic possibility in Bellini’s score have been unearthed this evening and many an audience member expecting a boîte de bonbons  has been surprised by the white-heat performance, in which the maestro’s enthusiasm contagiated the Deutsche Oper Orchestra members to engage into the drama. The occasional mismatch is a minor price for the extra sparkles.

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I have to confess I was first unimpressed by Bartlett Sher’s production of Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia for the Met – I thought that there was too much cuteness going on and that the sceneries did not work very well for those who were seated in the upper levels of the theatre. Maybe because my seat was very close to the stage this time, I finally warmed up to its all-for-laughs charm, especially when the level of acting was as good as seen today. The music values were better preserved this time. After a rather unclear overture, Frédéric Chaslin showed excellent control over the complex ensembles and led his soloists with helpful and attentive conducting. However, the 1,000,000.00 dollar-question will always be – how tonight’s singers compare with a cast that I myself called to be of “golden age”-quality last year?

I won’t lie – Elina Garanca cannot compete with Joyce DiDonato’s extraordinary flexibility and technical abandon, but she proves to be a worthy successor in any other aspect. Her warm and creamy (and fuller) mezzo-soprano is always pleasant in the ear, she has a solid technique for the passagework, extraordinary ease with high notes, very good Italian and is also capable of producing exquisite piano singing when necessary, not to mention that she phrases stylishly. She also possesses excellent comedy timing and a most graceful stage presence. Although DiDonato was an engaging Rosina, I believe Garanca understood that her character is a Spanish girl and offered the kind of natural sexiness typical of Mediterranean women that has nothing to do with vulgarity .

The comparison between José Manual Zapata and Juan Diego Flórez is even more unfavourable in what regards technical finish. While the Peruvian is impressively accurate in passagework (let’s not forget he would sing Cessa di più resistere without any hint of difficulty) and commands in alts as few tenors these days, the Spaniard does only justice to his runs and often lacks support both in extreme low and top notes. His trump card is the natural beauty of his voice and his good taste. While Flórez cut a more Romantic figure last year, Zapata finally convinced the audience with his irresistible sense of humor and vitality in spite of his absence of physique du rôle.

There is no doubt about Franco Vassallo’s exceptional vocalism. His baritone sails through the tessitura from bottom to top notes with impressive confidence and his adeptness with fioriture is truly impressive. He is also a funny guy entirely at ease in such a showman’s part. However, I can’t help missing Peter Mattei’s intelligent and hilarious performance, far richer in detail than Vassallo’s. If the Italian baritone displays more flamboyant vocalism, Mattei’s singing was similarly accomplished and satisfying.

Replacing an ailing Maurizio Muraro, Paul Plishka proved he still has the energy of a man half his age. I was particularly impressed by the way he mingled in such finely knit teamwork, which is the hallmark of this production, and interacted with his stage partners. His voice is still firm and spacious (actually, he was in very good voice), but the patter of his big aria will always be a test for anyone born outside Italy. Ruggero Raimondi also showed some rusty edges in the part of Don Basilio, but this singer’s amazing presence, forceful voice and dramatic intelligence never lets the audience down. I finally must point out that Jennifer Check’s exquisitely crafted account of Berta’s aria would be a serious threat to the sale of ice-cream in any opera house in the days of Rossini.

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