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Archive for May, 2018

For someone who has fallen out of love with Verdi’s La Traviata, it seems that I have been writing about it more regularly that I would prefer. As Violetta Valéry says herself, the heart has nothing to do with it, but rather a morbid curiosity to see a singer in a part that requires everything a singer can do. Last time, I had a ticket to see Sonya Yoncheva in Berlin, but she cancelled the first performance and I wouldn’t see this of all operas twice in the same week, especially with a soprano I had never heard about. A ticket for another performance with Yoncheva was bought and that was it.

Some months later, on listening to an exquisite rendition of Rachmaninov’s song Zdes choroso with the 2015 Cardiff Singer of the World first prize winner Nadine Koutcher, I couldn’t wait for an opportunity to hear her on stage. That was the moment I realized that she was the stand-in for Yoncheva I had snobbed in Berlin.

After a failed attempt to see her as Amenaide in Santiago de Chile, I’ve finally had the opportunity to settle this affair when the Theatro Municipal de São Paulo cast her in the title role of Verdi’s La Traviata, a coproduction with the Fundação Clóvis Salgado in Belo Horizonte. Veteran director Jorge Takla concocted a very traditional performance the wow factor of which is Cássio Brasil’s glamorous costumes framed by Nicolás Boni’s pale-colored elegant sets. Everything else is predictable but for the unusual omnipresence of ballet dancers throughout the third act. Their choreography during the prelude was of dubious effect, but the idea grew on me when their rather outlandish presence brought about an unsettling touch to the prevailing coziness.

Ms. Koutcher’s control and focus in an extra slow account of Télaïre’s Tristes apprêts in Rameau’s Castor et Pollux conducted by Teodor Currentzis made me expect a performance of absolute purity of tone and polish of phrasing. However, expectations are a tricky thing. Although the Belorussian soprano is a model of clear diction and is incapable of doing anything unmusical, the voice has an acidulous tonal quality and lacks core, often sounding a bit tremulous. Her act 1 was more efficient than exhilarating. By the end of Sempre libera, there was a hint of effort, what is understandable for a voice a bit on the small side for the role.

Act 2 was surprisingly bureaucratic and monochromatic, the use of portamento more calculated than spontaneous. Curiously, act 3 seems to have pressed all the right buttons on the evening’s prima donna. Only then she caressed her lines with genuine feeling and even the instability added credibility to the character’s decaying health. To this point, her acting had more to do with looking and moving with charm (something she has indeed), but here she read her letter in idiomatic Italian and with the languor of someone who has already said farewell to this world. She also handled her dying scene in the most musical and effective manner. 

I saw tenor Fernando Portari as Alfredo in 2001 in Rio (with Eteri Lamoris and Eduard Tumagian) and even back then was not very convinced this showed him in advantage. Seventeen years later, he seems in better control of his instrument, offering beautiful mezza voce and reasonable flexibility, but the tone is even more nasal and open than it was and the overall impression of a Charaktenor in a lyric role. He also looks too old for the part and hams in dangerous levels.

Baritone Paulo Szot too is somewhat overparted as Germont, père, but his technique is admirable. His Mozartian baritone has a splash of Hermann Prey in its velvetiness and yet he could  shift for a while to fifth gear to emulate a Verdian voice. By the end of his long duet with the soprano he was evidently tired and the voice started to grate and have its wooly moments. In any case, in spite of two episodes of wayward intonation, he sang with unusual rhythmic accuracy, sensitivity and imagination. The way he colored the second version of Di Provenza Il mare is truly praiseworthy.

Maestro Roberto Minczuk‘s heroic intent of treating the score with the respect a conductor shows to a symphony by Beethoven is even more laudable in view of the limitations of the house orchestra. Given the restricted volume of his soloists, he kept the sound picture almost chamber-like and took profit of the extra transparency to highlight orchestral solos in almost concertante perspective with the singers and tried to be faithful to the composer’s instructions in terms of dynamics without affectations. However, strings lacked tone throughout and resented extremes of dynamics while his woodwinds seemed unable to scale down. This particular problem ruined an otherwise well-judged prelude to act 1. Other than this, the only moment in which his concept seemed problematic was the concertato in the end of act 2, when the pace was simply too slow and unfit for a soprano who lacked the reserves of power to preside over the ensemble as she should.

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