Posts Tagged ‘Anna Bonitatibus’

Only twenty years ago, one would never fancy to see any of Claudio Monteverdi’s operas in an important opera house, but the increasing popularity of baroque music and (most probably) the colorful libretto of L’Incoronazione di Poppea has brought the work of this Italian composer to the general public in places like Paris* and Madrid. The less theatrically flamboyant L’Orfeo has not had the same luck. The Bavarian State Opera decided last year to take the lead by presenting a new staging cast from its own roster. The première conductor, Ivor Bolton, opted to be mostly faithful to the instrumental forces used by Monteverdi himself back in 1607. For that purpose, a continuo ensemble has been added to a group of members of the Bavarian State Orchestra.

For many, the main source of interest is the casting of the German Lieder-singing “superstar” Christian Gerhaher in the title role. This is a repertoire he is not usually associated to. I, for instance, have never heard him say let alone sing a word in a language other than German. I had very low expectations and, therefore, cannot truly vouch for my mostly positive impression: his Italian is not idiomatic, but more than acceptably delivered; his coloratura is not a model of accuracy, but is fluent and generally effortless; his purity of line stands for baroque style, except when he verges on veteran-Fischer-Dieskau-like hectoring in high and louder-than-piano passages (truth be said, rarely); his fastidiousness and lack of fondness for legato less problematic in this more declamatory music. At any rate, taking in consideration the variety of his repertoire and the difficulty of the task, one can easily deem this performance successful, especially from a baritone. His Euridice was the sensuous sounding Elsa Benoit, while Anna Stéphany was grainy yet sensitive and stylish as Musica and Speranza. Having Anna Bonitatibus as the Messaggera and Proserpina, however, had the effect of exposing the liability of the performance as a whole. Monteverdi’s music requires an absolute mastery of the natural rhythm of Italian language. This is particularly noticeable in florid passages, where inexpert ears fail to distinguish the “main” notes from embellishment. One just needs to turn to  Jordi Savall’s video where the not truly impeccable Furio Zanasi is rhythmically always right on the mark and therefore fully understandable even during extremely florid passages. Accordingly, Savall responds to his cast with more vivid and contrasted tempi and more expressive playing. But it would be unfair not to praise conductor Cristopher Moulds and his instrumentalists – this was stylish and beautiful music-making.

David Bösch’s imaginative production never ceased to offer the audience something to watch, by virtue of detailed stage direction to soloists and choristers and use of stage devices. His re-interpretation of the libretto is intelligent and subtle if very depressing. I only wish the lighting could add a little bit more difference between what goes in the world of the living and that of the dead. Unless this was a dramatic point I did not notice…

*It would be unfair to overlook the fact that the Opéra de Paris dared to stage it in 1978… with Gwyneth Jones, Jon Vickers, Christa Ludwig and Nicolai Ghiaurov.

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Inutilia truncat is one of the most representative “slogans” of Classical art, one Dieter Dorn could have claim to follow when creating his 1997 production of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro for the Bavarian State Opera. There is no lack of action in Beaumarchais’s story as told by Lorenzo da Ponte, but the truth is that you should take good care of what you are showing on stage when you are showing basically very little. Jürgen Rose’s sets never suggest anything clean and elegant, but rather lack of imagination and limited budget. As if saggy white fabric walls were not disappointing enough, the Countess is denied furniture but only a couple of blue chairs on a blue linoleum (Susanna has to write her letter to the Count on the floor with an instrument the handiness of which can only suggest a ball pen miraculously sent from the future) and the whole garden scene is reduced to three large pieces of white cloth under the most glaring lighting one can think of. If the Count does not recognize his wife as thoroughly lit as she was there, it was probably because he was dazzled by followspots. After 13 years, it is impossible to speak of the director’s original ideas for his actors, but the most positive aspect of this performance was the overall very good stage performances from all involved. Although there is probably nothing original going on here, this was nimbly performed by the cast.

The only character who seems to have deserved special consideration seems to be the Countess, here shown as the mistress of her own household ready to use Susanna and Figaro for her purposes (i.e., winning her husband back) almost as selfishly as the Count. It was most fortunate that Barbara Frittoli could perform the concept as believably as she has done this evening. Although her attitude towards her servants was quite liberal, this tampered nothing with the fact that they were supposed to obey her orders. Also, even if she longed for her husband attentions, this did not prevent her from loosing her temper at him whenever an instance of his misbehavior had been found out. The Milanese soprano’s vibrant soprano has always required some time for a demanding ear to adjust it to the needs of Mozartian instrumental purity and, even if these days it is running dangerously close to unacceptability, it still remains inside the realm of admissibility. Once you get used to it, you will find a stylish singer able to very clean attack in testing moments such as Porgi, amor, easy ascent to her high register (she sang her own high notes as written by Mozart, instead of delegating them to her Susanna) and a very homogenous tonal quality throughout her range. More than that, a singer who handles the text intelligently and whose soprano is large enough to tackle a lyric role in a larger house without forcing and capable of shading without holding back. Although her singing this evening was hardly immaculate, it was nonetheless engaging, expressive and spirited.

Camilla Tilling is the owner of  a pretty voice and has a strong sense of Mozartian style, but lacks projection and tends to be overshadowed by the orchestra and other singers. She was also an austere, rather charmless Susanna, but still spontaneous and surprisingly quite realistic. In the end, even if I missed some vivaciousness, I could not help thinking that the trade-off for the usual commandingness and cuteness was somehow positive. As Cherubino, Anna Bonitatibus was, on the other hand, vivaciousness itself. Hers is an irresistibly warm voice and she has temper to spare. After some problems during Non so più , she offered a memorable Voi che sapete, desire, anxiety and seduction perfectly balanced. The Almaviva family was quite well represented this evening, for Mariusz Kwiecien proved to be an exemplary Count. His strong baritone finds no difficulty in this writing and he knows how to convey bossiness while keeping some charm. Although Ildebrando d’Arcangelo proved to be less creative as Figaro, his is a firm, generously and vigorously produced voice and, as Frittoli and Bonitatibus, could make recitatives sparkle in the idiomatic usage of their native language.

Juraj Valcuha seems to have a good idea of how this opera should be performed within the limits of Mozartian style and the house orchestra is adeptly flexible and clear, even if the sound was not terribly beautiful, but the idea behind the gesture was not always there. Too often, the proceedings suggested the mechanical rather than the spirited. To make things worse, now and then one would suspect that a couple of extra rehearsals could have been helpful – ensembles were often poorly timed and every member of the cast, in various degrees, would occasionally experiment some trouble in following the conductor’s beat.

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