Donizetti’s favorite melodramma giocoso is a vehicle for star tenors. Its hit aria, Una furtiva lagrima, almost compulsory singing for any tenor, even when it does not sit properly in their voices. Looking at the discography, you’ll find recordings with singers ranging from Luigi Alva to Plácido Domingo. And Rolando Villazón has made his name as Nemorino, his video from the Vienna State Opera with Anna Netrebko a best-seller. Since then, the Mexican tenor has ventured into heavier roles, developed problems in his vocal folds, endured surgery and returned to the theater where his Nemorino first got wide acclaim.When one speaks of his performance this evening, one must tackle each side of it separately. Villazón is a great comedy actor, he has the right instincts, endless imagination and… well, he is a funny guy. I’ve had a great time seeing him on stage – he is truly someone who is ready to do anything to please his audience and does it very naturally and engagingly. Now when it comes to his singing, I am afraid he was not in good voice this evening. Although the tone is consistently pleasant, his high register was tight and bottled-up, failing to run into the auditorium. His big aria was more a result of persistence and a tiny little bit of cheating than of grace and expression. For someone who has recovered from the above-mentioned surgery, I find it worrisome that he pushes his high notes so recklessly instead of truly supporting them more flexibly in a round and full-toned manner. Legato was not his forte this evening and one would accept the shortcomings as part of a far more attractive whole that includes his acting. I sincerely hope it was an off-night, for this is a truly gifted and generous artist.
His Adina, Anna Samuil, whose metallic soprano suggest very little charm and sensuousness, was able to make little of the Schiller Theater’s difficult acoustics, often drowning other singers’ on stage with her vocal health. Her interpretation turned around coyness – and the qualities of morbidezza, tone colouring and poise that lie in the core of what bel canto is about were not entirely there. I am not crazy about Alfredo Daza’s grainy baritone, but he too is a good actor and could deal with the intricacies of Donizettian phrasing in a way that made sense with the boorish role. Alfonso Antoniozzi is the kind of buffo who would rather make comic voices and shift to parlando and other disfiguring effects instead of using his substantial voice in a more regular manner. That used to be the rule in this role until some basses have tackled it in a more musical approach that retained the perkiness nonetheless. He too is at ease with the requirements of comedy acting and is very much at ease on stage. Finally, Narine Yeghiyan was far more attentive to the text than most Gianettas, but a brighter tone would make it easier for her in ensembles.
Although Antonello Allemandi could offer the right animation and produce a more Italianate sound for the Staatskapelle – I don’t know if my parterre seat was in a bad spot acoustically speaking – I found the orchestra dry-toned, brassy and band-like. There were interesting moments with beautiful woodwind solos, but the results were too often unpolished, especially in ensembles where the amount of mismatch was rather high.
Percy Adlon’s 2002 production is agreeably unpretentious and involves a very deal of spontaneity. The chorus has plenty of opportunity for acting and does it very convincingly, Villazón’s many ad libs do not stand out, since his colleagues respond to it most willingly – and by the end you’ll find the show far more entertaining than many a more ambitious production.