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Archive for May, 2017

Sometimes, an opera performance in some of the leading opera houses in the world might leave the impression of another day  of work for all involved. Although the audience is supposed to be served the very best, it can often be the world’s very best at its most bureaucratic. That makes one wonder how essential “perfection” is. For instance, the Amazonas Opera Festival, which takes place every year in Manaus’s 1896 opera house Teatro Amazonas, is everything but world-class. It is something of a collective effort, on a limited budget, in which all involved make a point of giving their very best, even with forces less than ideal, to an audience that is not truly discerning.

This year’s is the Festival’s 20th edition, and the idea was to commemorate its most successful and ambitious venture, a staging of Wagner’s Ring back in 2005. In order to do that, a new production of Wagner’s Tannhäuser has been concocted.

As much as in the 2005, the master mind behind this project is conductor Luiz Fernando Malheiro, who has the alchemist touch in making something of very little. Even if one cannot overlook the fact that a great deal of his duties is to be the traffic cop, the clarity of his concept, his understanding of Wagnerian style and his enthusiasm make the experience far more inspiring than it could have been. His approach to Wagner is more Böhmian than Furtwänglerian in its structural focus and forward movement. Most of all, he has the right instincts in what regards balance. The Amazonas Filarmônica cannot dream of competing with the Staatskapelle Dresden, and yet the interplay between soloists and chorus and the sense that the orchestra would share the Hauptstimme duties with the singers made this evening surprisingly acceptable in musical terms. Sometimes, as in the act II entrance of the guests, one could feel that the conductor’s disciplinarian hand was pressing things a bit too hard. And yet sometimes he was giving his soloists more leeway that they actually needed (as during Elisabeth’s act III prayer, but, in the whole, this was very honest music-making and, above all, quite exciting in the way one could feel how important it was to these artists to be there singing and playing this Wagner opera this evening. At any rate, the orchestral playing was above the standard of what I’ve heard in performances in Wagner performances in the Theatro Municipal both in Rio and São Paulo, especially the string section.

Director Caetano Pimentel is a newcomer to this repertoire. It has been only one year since he was appointed resident stage director of the Teatro São Pedro in São Paulo. Therefore, he has understandably opted for playing safe: a traditional staging for an audience unfamiliar with this work, an unpretentious stage concept and the clear intent of allowing his singers to operate in their comfort zones. Giorgia Massetani’s elegant, cleanly built sceneries were a key element in a production  that relied very little in the acting abilities of this cast. I am not so convinced of the effectiveness of Laura Françozo’s costumes. The modest Elisabeth’s gown was too low cut and the high-waist riding coat looked anachronistic. The fact that she kept it in act III while Wolfram wasn’t even allowed shoes actually made no sense. I am not also quite taken by Tindaro Silvano’s graphic/athletic choreography for the bacchanale (this was the Dresden version with the Paris version prelude and ballet).

Probably because of limited budget, the Festival could not gather an international cast for this run of performances, a fact that brought about this evening’s main liability: these singers’ evident lack of familiarity with Goethe’s language. In the whole cast, only the Walther (Juremir Vieira) sounded idiomatic. Both women seemed to have learned their roles phonetically, the baritone and the bass clearly understood their lines but were still accented and tended to stress the wrong syllables.

The only non-Brazilian singer in the cast, Mexican tenor Luis Chapa in the title role was a step further in nonsensical pronunciation and lack of acquaintance with Wagnerian style. Although his voice is a couple of sizes lighter than the role, he could by way of distorting his singing line (beefing up the middle register and alarmingly opening his high notes) make it happen, intonation being the collateral victim. His emotional and overblown phrasing made it dangerously close to the Latino version of what one hears in that video from Munich in which René Kollo is a 100 years old. In Mr. Chapa’s defense, one must acknowledge his amazing stamina and the fact that he made a point of singing every little note even in the most complex ensembles where most tenors just cheat. In any case, he seemed to be having great fun. And that’s a first for me in what regards this particular role.

Daniella Carvalho’s soprano too is not truly the voice for the part of Elisabeth. She cultivates the art of mezza voce and did beautiful effects with it, but when she had to sing really out, the effect was raspish and hooty. Her approach too was rather externalized, and Allmächt’ge Jungfrau lacked Innigkeit and poise. Andreia Souza’s Venus first caused a very positive impression with her tightly focused Yvonne Minton-like mezzo, but she would get a bit tired by the end of her scene and the sound could then sound edgy. Baritone Homero Velho was fighting vocal problems during the whole evening, but could somehow sing a decent O du meio holder Abendstern. Anderson Barbosa did a terrific job in the role of the Landgraf, singing with the richness and roundness of a Franz Crass. He only needs to work on his German to have a truly important career. I had never see a countertenor shepherd before, but Bruno de Sá’s confident singing of the part makes a strong case for it. The chorus sang a bit too heartily and homogeneity was not its stronger quality. Nevertheless, the sopranos deserve praise for their clean high notes.

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