Although Tokyo’s Suntory Hall is a vineyard-style concert-hall, as much as its source of inspiration (the Philharmonie in Berlin), it has decided to give staged opera a try. As in Berlin’s most notable example (Abbado’s Il Viaggio a Reims), the prestigious Japanese hall has decided to avoid tragedy and launched in 2008 a Mozart-Da Ponte series. I was able to witness the last installment.
Director Gabriele Lavia has the stage placed right in the middle of the hall, with the orchestra behind it and has ensured that those seated behind and on the sides were able to have some scenes staged facing them too. Although I am not crazy about the art-nouveau-like mirrors through which entrances and exits were made, the sets looked rather elegant in the pale colours of wicker furniture and white fabrics. I am not so sure about the numerous extras in commedia dell’arte-style costumes – although the choreographies and changes of set were nimbly performed, sometimes I felt that their presence in scenes which were supposed to be intimate was unnecessary. Maybe if they interacted with the cast in less collective a manner, the effect would be less cumbersome. In any case, Lavia is a great director for actors, who profited of the personalities of each member of the cast and produced a lightly funny, flowing and pleasant stage action.
It has been a while since I have last seen such a spontaneous performance of a Mozart opera – and conductor Nicola Luisotti is a central piece of this concept. He obviously loves the score and lovingly conducts it: all rhythms flow naturally, all dramatic effects are played without tampering with forward movement, clarity abounds, woodwind blends with soloists beautifully. This is exemplary Mozart conducting and Tokyoites were lucky to have all three Da Ponte operas conducted by Mr. Luisotti. Although the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra lacked the last ounce of brilliance and nonchalance, their playing was never less than accurate, polished and energetic. All solos, including French horn in Per pietà were perfectly performed. I am not sure how authentic the idea of having the continuo alternately played by fortepiano, harpsichord and theorbo (plus the cello) is, but Luisotti (who played the fortepiano himself) made these choices sensibly and the effect was quite interesting.
Serena Farnocchia has an ideal voice for Mozart – her soprano is bright, elegant and flexible and she has fluent divisions and beautiful pianissimo. You may be asking yourself why you have not heard from her before then. The answer is a certain lack of discipline that stands between her and complete success. She is the kind of singer who will cheat in the least difficulty if she believes she will get away with it without everyone noticing. As a result, many a top note in ensembles was rather hinted at than truly sung, trills were left to imagination, awkward breath pauses were made and mezza voce was rather an obligation than a pleasure. That said, her tone is so pleasant, her diction is so crystal-clear and the natural use of her native Italian so rewarding that one finally surrenders to her artistry, even regretting that she is not a bit more hard-working. On the other hand, Nino Surguladze is entirely foreign to Mozartian singing. One can see that she tries to produce the most “instrumental” quality available to her, but what she does is unfortunately not really sufficient. To make things worse, she seemed uncomfortable with the tessitura, both in its lower and higher ends. Davinia Rodriguez’ s quicksilvery soprano is taylor-made to Despina. Although hers is a very bright and high-placed voice, she has no problem with her bottom register, which is always forward and natural. She is also a very good comedy actress. It is only a pity that she got a bit lost in the middle of her second aria.
Among the men, bass Enzo Capuano takes pride of place with his spacious voice, excellent acting skills and charisma. As Guglielmo, Markus Werba seemed not to be in a very good evening – he lacked resonance in his lower register and failed to project his high notes. As a result, the decision to present Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo proved to be problematic. Francesco Demuro’s Ferrando also benefited from native Italian and also clear passagework. However, his tenor has too open a quality and finally sounds rather glaring than mellifluous. There is also some lachrymosity and uncertain intonation. As a result, Un’aura amorosa sounded a bit unseductive and Ah, lo veggio somewhat tentative. Although he is not a gifted actor by nature, the director found in him an endearing gawkiness that ensured many a funny moment in the evening.