This is not the first time I have seen Claus Guth’s staging of Götterdämmerung for the Staatsoper Hamburg. I was able to see it right after the première when Simone Young was the conductor (as one can hear in the recording). Although I have not seen the other Ring operas, Mr. Guth, a director I usually find overambitious and all-over-the-place, seems to have pressed the right buttons in his pétite-histoire approach to the Tetralogy, in which the focus seems not to be the cosmogony and eschatology of THE world, but of one’s own personal word. It is, of course, a reductionist approach and a lot is left out, but I have the impression (I would have to see Rheingold and the Walküre to say more about it) that the idea was indeed paring it down to human size and make it a personal experience, something of a Bildungsroman. I have noticed also that the new cast and Holger Liebig’s Spielleitung have made it drier, less silly but also less forceful in terms of theatre. In any case, the sets already look worn out in a distracting way.

As much as in Munich ,conductor Kent Nagano opts for fast tempi and deals with the score almost in an abstract way, as if this the dramatic action had nothing to do with the music. I would say that one almost had the impression that Mr. Nagano believes that the music would disturb the dramatic action, so detached and unobtrusively it leaves all the job of interpretation and expression to the cast. One could conduct Bellini’s I Puritani like that. I have been careful not to use the word “symphonic”, for this would assume that structure and clarity would be the Schwerpunkt of this performance, but that was definitely not the case. The orchestral playing was mostly imprecise (the brass section particularly so) and awkward, and the sense of development very loose. This was particularly harmful in the many recapitulation scenes in this score, in which Leitmotive are showered upon the audience. There the sensation was more of cumulating than building up. The Immolation Scene was particularly short of momentum and organicity, hardly the climax of 15 hours of music and hundreds of pages of text.

I realize now I was unfair to Lise Lindstrom two days ago. The Siegfried Brünnhilde is so impossible to sing that, in the context, of a Ring performed in one or two weeks, most sopranos would simply give up the possibility of success in it and rather save resources for the strenuous but more realistic demands of Götterdämmerung (when they don’t simply delegate it to another singer, as often). In other words, it would be unfair to judge Ms. Lindstrom’s Brünnhilde’s credentials based on her performance in Siegfried. This evening she took the whole duet with Siegfried to warm, but after that sang consistently well. Saying that she is a lyric soprano in a dramatic role would be an oversimplification. There is something sui generis in the way her voice tackles some demands of the dramatic writing, but is dysfunctional in others. For instance, there are lyric sopranos out there whose lower registers are far richer than Ms. Lindstrom’s. In her lower reaches, she treads extremely carefully and some moments cannot help sounding anticlimactic (Ruhe, ruhe du Gott, for instance). Her high notes, however, have the right ping and most often than not flash in the auditorium quite firmly. Sometimes above the right pitch, truth be said. Most importantly, she is not afraid of high notes at all. This evening, she reached the end of the opera in better voice than she started. There was a moment in which one could clearly see that she decided to give the audience a little bit more just because she could. If you saw a “but” coming, you are right. She did handle some very difficult passages really adeptly, the end of acting 2 particularly, but everything generally sounds small-scaled, self-possessed and calculated. I understand that this is probably the reason why she manages her resources so well, but nobody goes to the theatre to admire energetic management. I mean, I left the theatre without a clue of what she thinks of this role.

Andreas Schager, on the other hand, is really “into” his Siegfried. Although he is not exactly an “actor”, he is very much at ease and alert on stage. This means, he is always communicating with his audience. In a very marked manner, but anyway, he is not just a guy providing sounds and making gestures. He inhabits the text and makes his points very clearly. For instance, he has a very unforgiving view of who is Siegfried. His whole performance turned around an exhibitionism that verged on nastiness. This Siegfried is like a star soccer player or a pop star. He can do whatever he wants and gets away with it. The all-out vocal approach to match is effective, of course, but less interesting than what one could hear before in Siegfried. Anyway, Mr. Schager was in rich voice and had more than enough leeway to make a show-inside-the-show in his death scene, mimicking the voice of Mime and producing the Waldvogel lines with flexibility and enough lightness. It must be said that his baritonal voice for the Tarnhelm scene is the most effective I have ever heard.

Stephen Milling offered a surprisingly subtle Hagen. This does not mean that he did not let out raw, slightly off-pitch hei-ho’s as every Hagen does, but everywhere else he seemed to run on “less is more” and this made him a little bit more sinister than usual. This also made sense for a singer not truly comfortable in the upper end of his range. As Alberich, Werner van Mechelen sounded somewhat woolly and had to resort to an emphatic attack that made his delivery closer to speaking. Vladimir Boykov’s grainy, rich baritone at first gave Gunther some gravitas, but he soon got tired and fought a bit with his high notes. Alison Oaks’s Gutrune seemed lighter and more girlish than in Bayreuth. Claudia Mahnke’s mezzo too was a bit softer-centered as Waltraute and the First Norn than I remembered. That did not prevent her from offering an alert accoubt of her narrative. Last but not least, Katharina Konradi’s Woglinde and Katja Piewek’s Second Norn are very well cast.


Although my experience of watching Claus Guth’s production of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung for the Staatsoper Hamburg back in 2010 was thought-provoking, I had never had the opportunity of seeing other installments of the Ring at the Gänsemarkt until this evening’s presentation of Siegfried. As expected, the staging offers an intelligent approach to specific issues of this libretto while keeping coherence with the concept shown in the Tetralogy’s last opera. The backbone of Guth’s idea is the burden of History as a paralyzing element in a structure of power in contrast to the unfettering and dangerous effect of ignorance. Here we see Siegfried achieve everything the gods could not because he is entirely free from the constraints in which Wotan tangled himself by building the world. This is why he can also destroy it so easily. He has not real involvement with anyone or anything, because that is how he was raised, unaware even of his own history. He is incapable of fear because ultimately he has nothing to lose.

I have seen Kent Nagano conduct Siegfried once in Munich, and my impression was that Wagner is not his repertoire. This has been confirmed by this evening’s performance. It is true that back in the Bayerische Staatsoper Siegfried was the most successful item in the package, mainly because Mr. Nagano’s low-testosterone conducting sheds an interesting light in Wagner’s highest-testosterone score. With a help of the unusually poised singing offered by the cast, the American conductor led an almost Mozartian view of a music often referred to as raw and heavy. The problem is that after a while, one could see that what seemed to be legato was indistinct phrasing, what sounded like elegance was lack of accent and what passed for clarity was nothing but an indecision of what to highlight and when. Although the house acoustics made for an almost ideal balance of voices and orchestra, the orchestral sound itself was not particularly expressive or even exciting. The final bars in the closing scene, instead of portraying any sense of building exhilaration, sounded frankly awkward and bureaucratic.

The shining feature of this performance was, without any shadow of doubt, Andreas Schager’s firm-toned, unfatigable Siegfried. The penetrating quality of his tenor and his ability to boost power without making violence to phrasing made everything he sang sound like music. Nevertheless, Mr. Schager never made the mistake of making his Siegfried too chic. He is not the most gifted actor in the operatic scene, but his natural boyishness and goofiness make him particularly convincing here. Moreover, he seems to be having fun – in a role usually seen and heard as impossible to pull off. This is also the first time I hear a Mime who is not louder than the tenor in the title role. That is hardly Jürgen Sacher’s fault, who sang healthily and intelligently, albeit in too a Charaktertenor-ish way. Maybe it is a matter of taste, but I believe that the role gains a lot by being sung straight. I’ve had some trouble in recognizing in John Lundgren the singer I heard in Bayreuth. Here his Wanderer sounded so rich and dark that one would rather label him as a bass in a bassbaritone role. It is true that some high notes were a bit short in steam, but that was forgivable in this context. He sustained the illusion really well until the last act, when his voice lost some of the admirable darkness. Then the lack of a squillo became more of a problem. In any case, his was a cleanly-sung and musical take on the part. Although Jochen Schmeckenbecher’s baritone is a couple of sizes smaller than the role of Alberich, he sings it with welcome vehemence and forcefulness, not to mention the snarling and acting with the voice that always add zest to this part. Doris Soffel is an admirable veteran whose technical mastery allows her to get away with the low tessitura, but Erda requires a contralto voice. Elbenita Kajtazi was a very clear and fresh-toned Waldvogel.

This is the first time I’ve seen Lise Lindstrom. I had heard her on Youtube sing dramatic roles such as Turandot and Elektra and imagined myself something very different from what I heard this evening. Maybe it is the toil of a consistent diet of heavy parts on a light voice, but live she sounded hard-pressed and edgy in exposed acuti, hard to hear in low-lying passages and ill-at-ease as rule. After she warmed, she could bring a pleasant lyric quality to her singing, but the nasal, reined-in vocal production made her sound uninvolved and small-scaled. In her defense, she really made something of the trills, her rendition of the text was admirably clear and she could often give an impression of youth, also in her personal appearance. But she is not really an actress.

This evening’s performance is the first time I’ve seen a fully staged Pelléas et Mélisande and I finally realize how difficult a job it is for the director. First, almost every scene has its own setting. Second, the libretto is really wordy and more often than not singers must remain on stage for a long time while someone else sings. Third, you can’t have a soprano as Yniold. 

I wouldn’t have guessed that the staging’s shortcomings would be so distracting for the musical experience. I have seen many poorly directed performances of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, but the music itself offers some sort of “safe place” where one can take refuge while the eyes have to go through what is going on stage. With Pelléas this seems not to be necessarily so.

At first, Iacov Hillel’s production for the Theatro Municipal de São Paulo looks intriguing enough in Hélio Eichbauer’s Wieland Wagner-ian sets, but one doesn’t take long to see that the “empty space” is filled with extremely banal Personenrégie. All actions are taken in face value and the ambiguity so dear to Maeterlinck and Debussy is reduced to Walt Disney’s depth. Not to mention the moments of kitsch and nonsense (like people opening imaginary windows or saying that they are near when they are 10 meters away). The handling of imaginary objects is particularly bothersome when the placement of the actual props on stage was so cumbersome and noisy. There were moments where I couldn’t help wishing this was a concert version.

Rosana Lamossa is a name I would have expected in the role of Mélisande 15 years ago. Although she still looks young enough, her whole attitude is now too ladylike and poised for it. Her Cotrubas-like shimmering soprano is still appealing, but her break in her low register is now abrupt and forced. The result is that many passages that should sound seductive and feminine come across as shrewish and gutsy. That said, she was still the most interesting singer on stage in terms of tone coloring and imagination. Her Pelléas, Chinese baritone Yunpeng Wang displayed a dark-toned yet perfectly focused voice, healthy and firm all the way. And the singer phrased with absolute cleanliness and commendable French pronunciation. But no nuance. He sang his last note just the same healthy and firm way as he did every other note in his part. American baritone Stephen Bronk too sang in impeccable style and dramatic engagement. At moments his singing suggested that he knows his José Van Dam’s recordings, but at this point in his career he works hard for projection and tires easily – and was often overpowered by his Pelléas. 

Lidia Schäffer was a most efficient Géneviève, but the Arkel was frankly inadequate. I felt shortchanged when I realized that Andrey Mira’s extra-rich bass was wasted in the small part of the doctor. Understandably, Yniold’s scene with the rock was cut. 

Alessandro Sangiorgi’s view of Debussy’s score is very objective and forward moving, a wise choice considering the orchestra at his service. When things start to take a more dramatic turn though, one expects an increase in tension that never came to happen. In more atmospheric performances, this can be portrayed in a more “metaphysical way”, provided that an endless supply of orchestral coloring is to be heard. And more inspired singing too.

If you are in South America in 2018 and have missed a performance of R. Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, then you really did not want to see it at all. It has been an item in the season of Buenos Aires’s Teatro Colón, São Paulo saw it staged for the first time by a Brazilian company in the Theatro Municipal and now the Teatro Mayor Julio Mario Santo Domingo offers Bogotá its Colombian première.

Spanish conductor Josep Caballé-Domenech, artistic director of the Orquesta Filarmónica de Bogotá, is the man behind the Colombian première of R. Strauss’s Salome in 2016 and renews his advocacy of the Bavarian composer’s music introducing the Feldmarschallin to the audiences in the Teatro Mayor. His view of this score is very objective in a non-Karajanesque way. His main purpose seems to be clarity and, if he allows his singers enough flexibility, he never seems to loose sight of forward-movement. This is actually a sensible choice if one keeps in mind that his orchestra lacks tone. When things are loud and fast, it acquires something of an edge that carries across the auditorium. Below that dynamic level, it sounds very much in the background, leaving singers to fend for themselves. This has been particularly harmful in the Presentation of the Silver Rose. In terms of articulation, the string section was often left wanting, what make the third act something of a blur until a final trio in which the conductor demanded everything from his musicians and got enough to produce some excitement. In any case, if one did not had the Vienna Philharmonic in mind, the performance did not fail to show the complexities of R. Strauss’s orchestral writing but rarely delivered its emotional content as it should.

In terms of casting, this is a group of singers one could have seen in a non-festival evening in the Bavarian State Opera, some of them in A-casts in Berlin and Salzburg. Michaela Kaune, for instance, is an experienced Marschallin who knows music and text inside out. In purely vocal terms, this is probably her best part. Its rather central tessitura flatters her warm middle register and does not expose too much her unfocused high notes. Her interpretation is often Schwarzkopf-ian in her intent to point out the meaning of every syllable, but she knows the moment to let things more spontaneous. This was particularly effective in Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding, when she could find a very particular and intimate vocal coloring that worked the magic by itself. No wonder it inspired her Octavian to produce her best singing after that. Although Angela Brower is billed as a mezzo soprano, her basic sound is that of a lyric soprano and not a particularly heavy one. In terms of weight and color, it sometimes made me remember Irmgard Seefried’s recording with Karl Böhm. Ms. Brower, however, is not as crisp clear in her delivery of the text, but wins the audience over with the artlessness of her phrasing and the beauty of her mezza voce. She is too girly an Octavian, what makes the Mariandl episodes a bit confusing for the audience. The fact that she handles soft dynamics far better than her Sophie could also be a bit puzzling. Anna Virovlansky’s bell-toned soprano shines in most of what Strauss wrote, but high mezza voce eludes her entirely. She rushed through the delivery of the silver rose and her attempt to float high notes often sounded wiry and sometimes below pitch. This is a pity, for she handles the conversational passages most efficiently and the tone itself is pleasant and silvery as it should. Although Franz Hawlata’s bass has lost resonance in both ends of his range since the days where he was omnipresent in the role of the Baron Ochs, it is still dark and firm. Even in his prime, he never was very precise in it and rather concentrated in the theatrical aspects of the role. In this sense, he is still efficient in his delivery of the text and in tone coloring. After a lifetime singing this opera, his paintbrushes are now rather broad, but that does not seem to bother the audience, who had fun with his comedy timing and acting abilities.

Among minor roles, one must mention Robert Bork’s Faninal, forcefully sung without the usual disfiguring exaggerations and Martina Dike’s very hearable Annina (a rarity in this part). Sara Caterine’s Marianne Leitmetzerin deserves mention for her firm top notes and very expressive face too. Humberto Ayerbe was a warm-toned Valzacchi, a bit too discrete, and César Gutiérrez did not seem to find the Italian tenor’s aria too high-lying.

Alejandro Chacón’s staging is extremely traditional in terms of Personenrégie and veers dangerously close towards cuteness. Many scenes that would gain a lot in terms of expression are underplayed for business and overexplanation. The visual aspect of this production is hard to define. It is rather poorly executed and sometimes amateurish, especially the sets. I still do not know what to make of the concept of having the boiseries painted with tropical motives, although there seems to be something there. Seeing the grand-monde’s small dramas unfold among the images of the jungle is an idea that could work in more expert hands, but the concept was polluted by lack of clarity to start with. Costumes, on the other hand, were quite correct and well-fitted to these singers.

Nobody has to cry for Argentina because of the World Cup: they still have Daniel Barenboim, who brought them not the championship, but the Deutsche Staatsoper for a Gastspiel at the Teatro Colón involving a whole series of Brahms symphonies and Harry Kupfer’s staging of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.

I have seen Barenboim conduct Tristan at the Lindenoper and at the Schiller-Theater, but the experience of hearing him in a different venue, especially in the famous acoustics of the Colón, made the experience of listening to the Argentinian maestro in this work even more illuminating.
In my opinion, Barenboim has no rivals in this score, unless we are speaking of recordings by the likes of Wilhelm Furtwängler, Herbert von Karajan or Karl Böhm. This evening’s performance was probably the most balanced Tristan I have ever heard from Barenboim, if not necessarily the most emotionally overwhelming. The more spacious and analytic acoustics may have something to do with that: one could hear an ant walking on stage. In terms of clarity, it felt like reading the score, but the sound picture was a bit more distant than one would experience in smaller venues such as those used by the Deutsche Staatsoper in Berlin. In any case, after a prelude in which the maestro took a while to fit in the brass section, the first act moved with a daringly – and difficult to pull off – gradual heightening of tension. There was no Birgit Nilsson or Jon Vickers in the cast and at first the atmosphere seemed almost casual in airy orchestral sound and leisurely tempi. Only when Tristan and Isolde were alone at last, the audience could feel that this was a culmination of an unbroken line that started on the first bar in the prelude.
Act 2 flowed most naturally in unexaggerated buoyancy and plenty of leeway for lyricism. The entrance of King Marke felt therefore like a reality shock. Truth be said, that scene lacked pathos and had to be electroshocked back to life in the last five minutes.  The final act, unfortunately, involved some adjustments to help singers, but one has to admire the conductor’s mastery in making the orchestra his main soloist nonetheless. The musicians in the pit alone were able to tell everything you need to know about Tristan’s spiritual anguish, and the strings, in soft yet rich sound, sang the Liebestod in a way that made the soprano unnecessary.
Anja Kampe is a singer I like in spite of her hard-to-overlook imperfections. Today both her assets and liabilities were pretty much in evidence. Her sensuous-toned soprano, particular warm in its lower reaches, is apt for the role of Isolde and she produced some powerful acuti when necessary, but she lacks projection and the middle register was often hard to hear. She is an expressive artist who never fails to communicate the meaning of the text in her singing either through tone coloring or word-pointing and offered many new insights. I was satisfied with the trade-off, but grey tonal quality and effort finally turned me off. The Liebestod sounded as if she was marking, and, well, as the saying goes, if you mess the last act, then you’ve messed the whole opera. In terms of acting, I confess I’ve seen a more dignified and feminine Waltraud Meier in it, and Ms. Kampe sounded a tad prosaic in comparison.
Angela Denoke is my first soprano Brangäne, and this evening I could understand why there are advocates of casting a high voice there. First, the role sounds less regal and some testing passages (such as the warnings in act 2) easier and more natural. Denoke has had her ups and downs I n her career and she seems to have found a middle ground this evening. Her voice is still appealingly natural in sound, but she sounds a bit desperate when things get high and loud. Then she sounds hooty and pitch can be approximative. In compensation, she has very clear diction and acts famously. I would often find myself looking at her when other singers were in charge.
I have to confess that I was not eager to hear Peter Seiffert as Tristan once more. I had seen him both at the Deutsche Oper and in the Staatsoper in Berlin and it never ended very well. This evening, however, he was in good voice and avoided as much as he could to force his high g’s in an open tone as he has done as Siegmund in Salzburg . For the first two acts, he sang in youthful voice and with a welcome lyric quality and I even hoped he would go through act 3 unscathed. To his defense, I can say that once things went awry around his second big “monologue”, he was admirably cold-blooded enough to recover and sing more or less what he had to sing until his death scene. In terms of acting,  the interaction with the soprano and the baritone seemed to have had an effect on him. Although one still cannot use the word “engagement”, this showed undeniable improvement.
Boaz Daniel (Kurwenal) beefs up his baritone, but he sings with unshakable focus and has a very likable personality. Moreover, his voice, even darkened, is pleasant. Unfortunately, Kwangchul Youn was in an off-day and sang the part of King Marke in a tremulous and grainy voice.

Although Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier had already been performed in São Paulo before, first by a visiting German theatre on tour in 1959 and 10 years ago in concert with Anne Schwanewilms and the OSESP, this run of performances in the Theatro Municipal are its first local production. Even if Richard Strauss himself conducted the Vienna Philharmonic in Brazil in the 1920’s, this was not enough to make him a household name in opera houses deeply rooted in Italian tradition, such as those in Rio or São Paulo. There have been occasional incursions in his operatic works, especially Elektra and Salome, and the new Rosenkavalier might represent a renewed interest in the music of the Bavarian composer in these shores.

Roberto Minczuk is an experienced conductor in this repertoire who has been nurtured in the right tradition in his days in the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig. This evening he has shown his deep understanding of the score in a performance that flowed in natural tempi, structural clarity, preference for warm sonorities and feeling for highlighting the Hauptstimme in almost Mozartian dialogue with his singers. The fact that the complex writing challenged his orchestra was never an issue in terms of putting across his vision. One could see that his strings left a lot to be desired in terms of articulation, but whenever it has to produce a key effect, such as in the closing of acts 1 and 3, this was never an impediment, even if one could wish for improvement. In any case, the brass section offered playing above its usual level and blended naturally with woodwind.
If act 1 lacked some atmosphere in the Marschallin’s monologue (the house orchestra’s strings tend to loose color in softer dynamics), the delivery of the silver rose proved to be the major misfire in the evening. In the slower pace chosen by Mr. Minczuk, a soprano ill at ease and meager orchestral sound just hanged fire. The ensuing duet showed everyone in better form. Act 3 made me think of Karl Böhm’s Dresden recording in the way it integrated comic and lyric moments. It can sound a bit all over the place, but not this evening, crowned by a final trio that built up steadily in a slower pace in a powerful conclusion.
I am not so enthusiastic about Pablo Maritano’s staging, the bureaucratic sets and anachronistic and often ugly costumes of which did not added up to any particular dramatic purpose other than fitting into a limited budget. The Personenregie tended to be overbusy, but the director benefited from the cast’s above-average acting skills. To his credit, he seems to have read the libretto from scratch and offered some fresh ideas. I have particularly enjoyed the end of act 1. Here the Marschallin sings very expressive music while she explains transportation arrangements. This has always puzzled me, but not this evening. As conceived by Mr. Maritano, the Marschallin is just trying to prevent an emotional breakdown by keeping things as objective as possible. When she is finally alone, she can’t hold back her tears anymore.
Argentinian soprano Carla Filipic Holm has acted here and elsewhere very convincingly. She has an expressive face and, although her voice and attitude are rather Germanic, one can see her South American emotional generosity behind that. This has made her a particularly multidimensional Marschallin. In terms of singing, Ms. Filipic has a creamy tubular soprano à la Angela Denoke that soars in high mezza voce without effort but and yet can acquire  a splash of hootiness at moments. She is sometimes a bit imprecise with pitch, especially in the end of phrases and her delivery of the text is not truly clear. Yet she knows the style and can produce beautiful sounds, such as in the opening phase of the final trio.
I have always enjoyed the artistry of Brazilian mezzo Luisa Francesconi, especially in Mozart, and was curious about this Straussian venture or hers. It is true that her voice is a bit on the light side for the role, but her fruity, firm-toned mezzo is appealing, her diction is crystalline and her German is very good. She floats pianissimo beautifully and, if she can sound cautious in exposed high notes, she compensates with ideal illusion of boyhood (she actually looks very “handsome” as Octavian) and her Mariandl was quite effective.
Elena Gorshunova’s soprano is pretty enough for Sophie, but she doesn’t master the art of high mezza voce and messed things up in the beginning of act 2 and at the end of the opera. Elsewhere, she could be s little bit more engaging if she were a little bit more engaged, especially in the acting department.
Dirk Aleschus knows everything one is supposed to know about the role of Baron Ochs, but at its present state his bass lacks tone and volume, especially in both ends of his range and he can be really imprecise in what regards intonation. He is a funny guy and had the audience at his side nonetheless.
Annina, Valzacchi and Faninal are not minor roles and require singers more adept than those cast for these performances. This was a serious if not major drawback in the overall effectiveness of this evening’s performance.

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.