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Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Davis’

R. Strauss never made anyone’s lives easier with his complex and often almost unsingable operas – and that’s what makes them so interesting! – and would not change that in his farewell to the world of opera. Capriccio’s conversational style is a challenge to singers, conductor, director but most frequently… to the audience. Not this evening, I am glad to say. Underrated conductor Andrew Davis knows and loves this score and never fails to show how beautiful and expressive it is. His judgment in what regards the balance between orchestra and soloists is ideal. To say the truth, under his bâton singers and orchestra were one organic unity that breathed together and complemented each other in one coherent musical statement. His tempi were often animated, and the cleanliness in the complex ensemble with the Italian singers deserves double praise therefore.

The Countess is probably Renée Fleming’s most interesting role. Her mannered delivery of the text fits the role’s “phraseology” and ultimately makes it more varied and interesting than it normally is. Her creamy soprano, of course, is taylor-made for the part. I can imagine that she is able to deliver a smoother closing scene than this evening’s, which was nonetheless quite satisfactory. If I have one criticism is that, although Fleming brings the necessary glamour to the role, this is not exactly the aristocratic glamour one would expect to find in it. Lets say it was rather Lana Turner than Deborah Kerr.

Next to her, only Peter Rose’s La Roche managed to create a convincing performance. The English bass’s large and dark voice retains its quality even in fast declamation passages. It is only a pity that his great solo caught him a bit off steam. The remaining singers did not spoil the show and proved to have great spirit of ensemble. I realize that I am maybe mean with Sarah Connoly, who delivered a fruity, charming Clairon, but memories of Tatiana Troyanos makes one demanding. Joseph Kaiser’s grainy tenor does not suggest a passionate or persuasive Flamand, but he sang sensitively. Russel Braun’s Oliver also wants a more appealing tonal quality. Morten Frank Larsen is even less vocally seductive as the Count, but he is vivid enough an actor. Both Olga Makarina and especially Barry Banks almost stole the show with their funny and well sung Italian singers.

John Cox’s 1998 production updates the action to pre-WWII XXth century, but the XVIIIth century château has only a telephone to show that. Regietheater-lovers would probably prefer to see it staged in a bunker, but I found that this choice allowed the director to concentrate on the acting – and I would say it proved to be a wise choice, for the whole cast responded adeptly for his detailed and subtly funny guidance

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It is fashionable to say bad things about Kathleen Battle and I would rather face the tomatos than throw one of them at her. In spite of her tantrums, her video and audio recordings preserve what is essential about her – her seductive soprano leggiero always beautifully employed in Mozart and Handel. Finding Andrew Davis’s Messiah recorded live in Canada by EMI for US$ 4.00 was a ready-made decision for me. Of course, this is the kind of performance with ponderous recitatives, large orchestra and crowded chorus we used to live with before the 80′s. That said, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir offers impressive choral singing and the conductor yelds to the coloratura abilities of his soloists by offering them swift tempi when their divisions require that. Battle’s background in gospel music pays off in her enthusiastic fully engaged singing. If some of her decoration occasionally makes one think of the Methodist Episcopal Church rather than XVIIIth-century England, her sense of religious fervour is truer to the spirit of the music than the polite oratorio approach one often find in this music. Both John Aler and Samuel Ramey offer astonishing performances, tackling fast passagework with clockwork precision. Only mezzo Florence Quivar is a bit cautious in the contralto area of her voice, but hers is a sensitive performance nonetheless. This is hardly my first, second, third, fourth or fifth recommendation for this piece – but it certainly is worth more than US$ 4.00 considering the level of the talents involved.

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