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Posts Tagged ‘Deutsche Oper’

The Deutsche Oper’s present Carmen is the refurbishment of Pier Luigi Samaritani’s 1979 production re-directed by Soeren Schuhmacher. It is a traditional, not really imaginative but not unpleasant staging, which has its moments of restricted budget, such as the invisible parade of a bullfighting team which should show up on stage (as shown here, only Escamillo and two other guys appear to the audience). Being traditional, however, is not the problem here: the moments when something “new” was tried were precisely the most disappointing, unfortunately concentrated on the last act, when Frasquita and Mercedes appear as black-clad angels and Carmen is shown in an extremely unbecoming and unexplainable bullfighter outfit.

Fortunately, the bad news are restricted to the stage – Yves Abel’s vital, energetic and theatrical conducting kept excitement at high levels throughout. The Deutsche Oper responded with animation and precision. To some extent, the orchestra would remain the most expressive soloist on stage. In the title role, Kate Aldrich has a fruity, seductive mezzo soprano with reserves of chest resonance that resented loud dynamics though. At the end of the Lilas Pastia scene, her appealing tone sounded bleached and even rasping sometimes. The single intermission proved healthy, for she could regain tonal quality for the final scene. She has the physique du rôle and, although her seduction looks a bit calculated, it does also look effective. Nicole Cabell’s velvety soprano lacks carrying power and her breath could be more generous, but the voice is extremely charming and she phrases with good taste and sensitiveness. Although no-one in the cast has really idiomatic French, hers came closer to the mark. Tenor Massimo Giordano also has a most appealing tone, but his whole method was too Italianate to this role and the amount of scooping and uncertain intonation was a bit dangerous. He must be praised for his attempt of producing mezza voce in the end of his aria, but things did not work really smoothly there. Most unfortunately was the fact that the usually reliable Stephen Bronk was in very poor voice as Escamillo – and he looks quite older than the role. Minor roles could be better cast too.

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The Deutsche Oper’s revival of the 1980 Götz Friedrich production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde was plagued by the same Tristanlosigkeit that has afflicted the Metropolitan Opera House’s last attempt on Wagner’s masterpiece. The original cast featured Robert Gambill, but one week before the performance the name of Peter Seiffert appeared as a replacement, but it was Ian Storey who finally showed up on stage. He is a singer I had previously seen as Ägysth in São Paulo and his performance left me wondering how he could possibly sing this fearsome role in the famous opening night at La Scala in the Barenboim/Chéreau production. The broadcast showed that my doubts were not entirely misplaced – but then the press wrote he was afflicted by understandable nervousness in the event.

 But the event is now in the past – and the role is still impossible for him. The baritonal tonal quality is certainly welcome and he phrases with good taste, but I am afraid his voice is rather backward placed, lacking therefore the necessary metal to pierce through. When he has to sing out around the passaggio and above, one feels that he has to give his 100% – the problem is that he still had to sing act III. I have to confess it was very painful wondering whether he would survive or not – he voice cracked at one point, he was inaudible for long stretches and tonal quality was something that did not make it to the final act. In lower dynamics, his voice has an instable quality, giving him practically no leeway. One must still acknowledge that it was gracious of him to perform such a difficult role on such short notice, but for his own sake he should not keep the role in his repertoire. It must not be healthy to undergo such an ordeal in a regular basis. On a positive note, although he had very little opportunity to block this production’s stage movements, he seemed quite convincing throughout.

 The evening’s Isolde, Evelyn Herlitzius, is the typical German dramatic soprano who sings the Färberin in R. Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten. The voice itself is not attractive, but healthy, big and solid and she is a compelling singer actress. A name that came to my mind during the performance was Christel Goltz’s. The overall impression is not very sensuous, in spite of a rich low register, but clear diction, powerful top notes and relatively accurate phrasing are always an asset. The absence of softer dynamics was a liability for act II and III. Her inspiration seemed to be Birgit Nilsson in the sense that indignation and rage suited her better than longing and passion. The sad truth is that act II taxed her a bit and her voice sounded a bit juiceless in the Liebestod. In any case, it is always good to hear a really big voice in this repertoire – especially in a singer with such dramatic imagination.

 Another last-minute replacement, Daniela Sindram left a very positive impression. Her mezzo soprano may be light for the role, but her voice is so beautiful, her floated mezza voce so beguiling and her musical and theatrical instincts so right that in the end she was one of the most congenial Brangänes I have recently seen (and heard). Tristan was also well served by his Kurwenal. Samuel Youn’s forceful, focused baritone made him a young-sounding faithful friend. The youthfulness made his act III behavior particularly believable. Although Hans-Peter König was not in his best shape – he seemed to be experiencing some sort of glitch that impaired his ascent to top notes (and he looked quite upset about that too) – it is an imposing, dark and big voice with touch of Kurt Moll in it.

 Pinchas Steinberg’s conducting had its on and off moments. Act I seemed to be his best moment – singers were still in fresh voice and he could unleash the orchestra now and then. Act II, however, found the orchestra wanting color and clarity (the brass section did not seem to be in a good day either). The conductor’s priority seemed to help an understandably underrehearsed tenor to make through the Liebesnacht. In one or two moments of the final act, one could see an authentic large and rich Wagnerian sound, but the need to help singers out or simply the lack of inspiration resulted in a very cold Liebestod.

 Götz Friedrich’s production (as restaged by Gerlinde Pelkowski) has some interesting ideas, especially a particularly physical approach to Tristan and Isolde, but the staging’s 28 years of age start to show in many examples of carelessness. For example, Günther Scheinder-Siemssen’s set for act I has no separation between cabin and deck, but wood platforms in different levels to show the ship’s different areas. At some points, there seem to be “imaginary” walls, what explains the fact that Isolde cannot hear what Tristan says to Brangäne three meters away, but in the next moment people can see, hear and even pass through them. Some backdrops look now drab, the lighting in act II and III do not reflect the dramatic action and at some point during one of Tristan’s monologues they simply gave out as if an eclipse had happened while Isolde’s ship followed its course.

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Although Puccini’s Madama Butterfly is said to be one of those operas in which everything depends on the singer taking the title role, the truth is that most of us have almost invariably seen sopranos who are not ideally cast from one reason or another. However, if the production is interesting, the conductor knows how to play the right effects in the score, the tenor is congenial and the soprano is a good actress, has lovely enough a voice and is intelligent enough to build an interpretation, one calls it a successful Butterfly. But what if you finally have a singer born to sing this role, but nothing else – can you call this success?

 

Chinese soprano Hui He is the real thing. Since the days of Mirella Freni, no other soprano in my experience evokes such girlishness, such naiveté and such loveliness while filling the hall with streams of bright and creamy sounds. The comparison with Freni is no coincidence – as the great Italian soprano, Hui He has an exemplary control of passaggio offering an ideal focused, crystalline and spontaneous sound in her middle and low registers. However, rich and true as her acuti are, they could be a little bit easier and forwarder. This does not affect her ability to spin exquisite shimmering mezza voce at will. When it comes to interpretation, sometimes one feels that efficiency rather than dramatic engagement is the keyword. I would have to see her in another role to make my opinion – for Butterfly, the reserve sounds authentically “Japanese” somehow. Something that deserved a bit more work is her Italian pronunciation. Although it is clear that she understands the text and offers now and then clever word-pointing, her enunciation should be crisper and more idiomatic. Some will point out that she does not look a 15-year-old girl – a problem shared by many sopranos in this repertoire. Although overweight teenagers are growing in number, audiences are only convinced by the sylphlike variety. To make things worse, kimonos are unkind to curves. Nevertheless, Hui He knows how to move graciously and, in her understated way, is quite acceptable in the acting department.

 

The rest of the cast does not reach these standards. Dmytro Popov’s baritonal tenor is desperately in need of high harmonics. His voice sounds bottled up and his high register simply does not flow or project into the hall. The tone itself is pleasant and rich, but do not expect nothing new during the performance – note one sounds exactly like all the others until the end of the opera. Ulrike Helzel’s mezzo soprano is extremely pleasant and she sings with good taste and imagination, but the role requires a voice a bit larger than hers. Veteran Georg Tichy is an engaged Sharpless, but his baritone sounds a bit worn these days.

 

In any case, even if the cast were really bad – or even if it were excellent – one would never be able to redeem this Butterfly from Juraj Valcuha’s indigent conducting. The catastrophe did not take long to be noticed – it would be impossible to realize Puccini’s creative use of counterpoint in the opening bars, so tangled and grayish the orchestra sounded there. When no famous tune was in sight, everything seemed shabby, uninteresting, lacking forward movement. The performance was decidedly below the level of the Deutsche Oper. In some sense, it was perfectly matched to Pier Luigi Samaritani’s 1987 production. Two short moments of inspiration apart, it just looked like the high-school-pantomime-version of Madama Butterfly. I know that the plot does not allow much creativity – but, once you decide to be “traditional”, please focus on detail. My advice – get a flight to Tokyo and visit the Kabuki Theatre. They know everything about doing a great job without breaking with very old and complex traditions.

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Weber’s Der Freischütz is rightly considered the most German among German operas – maybe therefore a natural work for Regietheater directors. Considering the libretto’s elaborate scenic instructions, one can always claim that the only way to stage it at all is making a series of adaptations, provided one is able to keep the contrast with heimlich and unheimlich which lies in the core of what Der Freischütz is about. In this sense, Alexander von Pfeil’s 2007 staging for the Deutsche Oper piles up both natural and supernatural aspects of the work rather than setting them apart in contrasted atmospheres, an original idea. As devised by Mr. von Pfeil, the opera has only one set – a ballroom in something of a hunting club in the 50’s. There is an opposition of masculine elements – sexy posters with girls on the walls, guns all over the place and hunting trophies – and feminine ones: a series of huge crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, a praying corner. Everbody is completely drunk, frenetically dancing and acting sillily. Only the main characters seem to be sober: Agathe and Kuno are concerned about Max, Max is concerned about work, Ännchen is concerned about Agathe and Kaspar is concerned about his plan. Among the intoxicated men and women, three apes apear invisible to anyone but the audience.  Then a man in black t-shirt and jeans who acts in an animal-like way appear. Agathe seems to feel his evil presence, but no-one else. It is Samiel. While the forging of the bullets is supposed to happen in the Wolfschlucht, here the ballroom is transformed in a place of horror through lighting, a magic circle of empty wine bottles and smoke. Plus the apes. The bottles  would be later replaced by shoeboxes when Agathe sings her prayer among women who help her wedding ceremony.  Although nothing really impressive happens here, the permanent set looks interesting and a discrete but palpable ominous atmosphere is kept throughout. I would only wish that the Wolfschlucht scene had some surprises in reserve.

Ulrich Windfuhr’s lackadaisical conducting did not add the last ounce of excitement to make this colourful score sparkle – the overture did not receive the “symphonic” treatment is cries for and, during the performance, many instances of untidy playing occured. Again, the Deutsche Oper Orchester has a noble string section who kept its refulgence in the soft accompaniment of Agathe’s arias – but the blending of all sections did not always happen in a coherent manner.  Beside various displays of abilities from many of its members, the house chorus sang their famous hunters and bridemaids’ numbers con gusto.

In the difficult role of Agathe, Michaela Kaune sang with affection, tenderness and good taste. She seems to be in one of those moments in a singer’s career when one really does not know what lies ahead. Her lyric soprano has an attractive creamy quality and floats beautifully, but maybe some heavy usage has robbed her of any spontaneity above mezzo forte, when the voice looses focus and acquires a smoky and colourless quality. I hope she understands the message from nature and stays within the limits of lyric soprano repertoire in the future.  Martina Welschenbach’s bell-toned soprano is taylor-made for Ännchen – the voice is very pretty and flexible, her top notes are full-toned and she is extremely vivacious. When it comes to Clemens Bieber’s Max, his big aria was coldly received by the audience, mainly because of a recessed high register, unflowing and lacking resonance. That said, if one likes Peter Schreier’s (otherwise far more penetrating in his top notes) Max, one would find interest in Bieber’s boyish, pleasant-toned and ultimately Mozartian performance. Jörn Schümann had everything to be a very good Kaspar – the darkness of tone, the control over a long range, the intensity of utterance – but his voice is two sizes smaller than the role and  he had to work hard to cut through the orchestra. Ante Jerkunica’s bass was a bit too slim to produce the right paternal effect, but the production shows him rather like a TV preacher than a benign hermit anyway. Small roles were all cast from strength. The menace in Prodromos Antoniadis’s Samiel was reduced to his powerful and varied speaking voice – the whole ape-like coreography devised for the role was more curious than frightening. In the end, the invisible but omnipresent apes – far more circunspect than the humans in this production – were far more effective.

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Why is that British opera stagings are all so beige? We all know that one week of Komische Oper makes one eager for some dreariness, but, really, what is the point of importing Peter Hall’s unimaginative production from Glyndenbourne? Take Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s film with Frederica von Stade and replace all colours for pastels and you can tell everyone you had the pleasure of visiting the English countryside in your tuxedo while watching this most agreeable performance of Rossini’s masterpiece. The lack of imagination applies to the stage direction too – all the clichés of Rossini staging are unashamedly paraded in front of your eyes. As Morticia Adams once said, one can forgive everything but pastels. Maybe that is why Angelina has a full-golden wedding dress in the closing scene. Her revenge might be her forgiveness, but it seems she will do some redecorating in the Prince’s palace.

In terms of casting, some replacement has happened before the première. Conductor Paolo Arrivabeni has fallen ill  and was replaced by Guillermo García Calvo, who could not resist the house orchestra’s richness of sound. Although that meant that singers would now and then be overshadowed by breathtaking vortices of string passagework, I have to confess that rarely have I paid so much attention to Rossini’s colourful orchestral writing. Maybe if the cast counted with larger-sized voices, this could have been an unforgettable Rossinian night. In any case, one will not forget the orchestral display – even in the conductor’s agile tempi, the sound was always full and flexible.

Sometimes one has the opportunity of hearing something so overwhelming that his or her future experience will be forever touched by that. And I could not help thinking of Olga Borodina’s Cenerentola at the Met in 2005, which was one of the most impressive vocal performances I have ever seen. That was a voice of real depth and volume flowing through Rossini’s fioriture with no hint of effort. That was a voice large enough to preside over ensembles and to create a truly regal effect in the rondo finale. I remember I wrote back then “rarely has the triumph of virtue sounded so triumphant as in Olga Borodina’s voice tonight”. I am sure that Ruxandra Donose’s lighter and smokier mezzo-soprano must work to perfection in Glyndenbourne. Although the Deutsche Oper is no Metropolitan Opera House,  it is a large theatre for European standards and she took a while to warm. Until then, she tended to disappear in ensembles. Once she adjusted to the hall’s size, she never failed to impress in clear coloratura and in her seductively dusky low and medium register. Her top notes tend to sound bleached out and the closing scene was more efficient than astonishing. But – and this is a big “but” – she won me over nonetheless. She is a skilled and intelligent actress who projects a lovely personality throughout and never forgets that hers is one of the “serious” characters in the opera. At the end, one remembers her performance as extremely touching and the less than deluxe vocal resources seem to be part of her Angelina’s modest sweetness.

She was ideally paired by Mario Zeffiri’s Don Ramiro. Nobody wants to be called tenorino today, but it seems Zeffiri is comfortable with being something like our day’s Luigi Alva. His voice has nothing of the metallic quality most Rossinian tenors have today – there is an easy, smiling quality in his tenor and his facility with mezza voce makes his lyric moments particularly effective. He has an amazingly long breath and often shows off his ability to fly above high c, sustain it and then go on singing without pause. His big aria was a showcase of ornamentation, including a perfect trill. His acting abilities are not in the level of his Angelina, but he seems comfortable with what is required from him and – being the prince charming – his more discrete manners made sense in comparison to Dandini and Don Magnifico.

One always speak of how difficult the mezzo and tenor parts are, but one must never forget that Dandini is hard work. I do not remember having ever heard live or in recordings an immaculate performance of this role. Simon Pauly has no reason to be ashamed – although the voice is rather dark, it is always well-focused. He works hard for passagework and, once his voice starts to move, the sound is not always really pleasant. In this sense, the contrast with Lorenzo Regazzo’s Magnifico was quite telling, since the Italian bass-baritone offered crystal-clear divisions. I have to say that this is probably Regazzo’s best role. I tend to find him hyperactive, but Magnifico requires that. As a result, he seems to have limitless supplies of energy and is never caught short in any of Magnifico’s hyperbolic arias. Although Wojetk Gierlach’s high notes are a bit woolly, he sang Alidoro’s big aria with real bravura. I tend to be picky about the role of Clorinda – if the voice does not shine in the ensembles, than the part is rather pointless. I do not believe Martina Welschenbach was properly cast – her voice is charming, but not glittering enough up there. On the other hand, Lucia Cirillo’s sexy and fruity mezzo-soprano shows some promise.

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Some 50 years ago, a performance of Puccini’s Tosca as seen this evening in the Deutsche Oper would probably not be in italienische Sprache gesungen. With one notable exception, there was no Italian singer on stage. More than that, the leading soprano and tenor were born this side of the Alps. Not even when Deutsche Grammophon decided to record highlights in German (curiously in Rome), something like that could not be achieved, since James King had to be “imported” to sing the part of Kavalier Cavaradossi.

Nothing like that this evening, for the brightest star tenor in the world of opera these days is Jonas Kaufmann – and Berliners were so eager to show their appreciation that he could barely finish Recondita armonia: before the aria’s last note, applause burst in the hall. Deserved applause, I rush to say. The German tenor sang with unfaltering elegance throughout, exploring softer dynamics more readily than most singers in this repertoire. The role poses him no difficulties, but his dark tonal quality sometimes prevents him from piercing through thick orchestral textures – a problem that never afflicts his ringing top notes, which acquire the necessary squillo to run to the last seat in the auditorium. If I had to produce some criticism, it would be that there is something calculated about his approach to Italian roles that stand between him and true excitement. In comparison, even the aristocratic Bergonzi sounds aflame in sacro fuoco. Maybe if he relaxed and just let himself go a bit more, he would find the emotionalism that lies in the core of Italianate tenor singing, especially in verismo works.

The dark-hued tonal quality is a feature shared by the evening’s prima donna, Nadja Michael. I have to confess that, after last week’s Tannhäuser, I was not really excited about her venture into Italian opera. To my surprise, the role of Tosca highlights her qualities more advantageously than jugendlich dramatisch ones. First of all, considering her indistinct pronunciation, cantabile serves her better than declamatory passages (not to mention that her intonation was greatly improved tonight). She still has problems with long lines and needs to butcher phrases to make space for breathing, sometimes between syllables of one word. In any case, I found more variety in her phrasing tonight – she even tried mezza voce and some well judged Italianate portamento. But do not mistake me – her voice is really foreign to Italian style. What is beyond doubt is her ability to produce powerful acuti, an asset for act II. If it were not for an all-over-the-place Vissi d’arte, I would even say that this was truly commendable. Her use of chest voice was rather natural too and helped her in many key moments. It is curious that her stage performance was rather muted, what confirms my first impression on her. Although she is a committed actress, she is no te de scène. Without the help of her stylized stage postures, she seemed devoid of natural charisma and lost in the proceedings. I suspect that the performance was underrehearsed – an evidence of that was her constant fight with the trail of Tosca’s hallmark “Empire” dress.

The one Italian in the cast, veteran Ruggero Raimondi is, as always, the most patrician of Scarpias. His voice is still solid and powerful, the occasional rusty moment rounded off with the expertise of someone who has been around on the greatest stages in the world for decades.

Considering the personalities on stage, the Deutsche Oper has probably decided that a conductor “with a personality” would be too much. Maestro Pier Giorgio Morandi offered a kapellmeisterlich performance – a score rich in possibilities somewhat reduced to a narrower expressive spectrum – with rich but less than perfect playing by the house orchestra.

Boleslaw Barlog’s old staging (with Filippo Sanjust’s sets and costumes) alternates moments of endearing souvenir of the stand-and-deliver days and others that look just sloppy – have these people ever visited the Palazzo Farnese? I am sure that Scarpia’s apartments there should have looked far more glamorous than the dungeon-like room showed there. Similarly, the Castel Sant’Angelo’s top-floor is so small here that Tosca had to be blind not to see the bullets piercing Cavaradossi’s chest… 

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Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin is considered an opera in which very little happens and that is true if one limits his or her observation to actions. When it comes to feelings, the whole spectre of sentiments is generously poured on stage. It is a very emotional score – and conductor Andris Nelsons decided to spare nothing: the orchestra played with real passion, an extremely supple use of dynamics and tempi guaranteed that the last ounce of expression were extracted, sometimes to frantic effects. The word “blandness” would never occur to anyone in the theatre, but I wish that passion were achieved with a bit more polish for the musicians on stage. Although the orchestra achived a remarklable degree of intensity, that rarely tampered with precision. Unfortunately, the chorus did not often seem to follow the same beat from the orchesta and ensembles with soloists were poorly balanced. I have Jiri Belohlavek’s performance at the Metropolitan Opera House fresh in my ears and the Straussian grace with which the Czech conductor made his distinguished cast (Mattila, Semenchuk, Beczala and Hampson) blend their voices was truly admirable in comparison.

Olga Guryakova was an engaged and touching Tatjana – her basic tonal quality has the necessary young-sounding tonal sheen, but a sour edge to her tone spoils part of the fun, especially when she is hard pressed in more dramatic moments. As Olga, Ewa Wolak’s contralto seemed too dark in a cast where the contralto parts were taken by higher voices: the veteran Karan Armstrong (Larina)’s still bright-toned considering her age and easy on the passaggio and Lieane Keegan (Filipjevna). In any case, Wolak has an impressively deep low register. Andrej Dunaev’s tenor is pleasant all the way. His top notes lack a brighter edge and he sometimes disappeared in ensembles, but, with the help of the conductor’s attentive accompaniment, he gave a sensitive account of his big aria. At first, I found Boje Skovhus’s Onegin a bit hectoring and uncharming, but it soon became clear that this was a theatrical effect. Later in the Moscow act, his singing was exemplary in its clarity, beauty of tone and forcefulness. In comparison with the impressive cast offered by the Met this year, I would say I prefer his performance to Thomas Hampson’s, who was caught a bit short by the more dramatic passages. As for Paata Burchuladze’s Gremin, his voice is powerful as always, but I could never warm to his unclear diction and suspect sense of pitch.

Götz Friedrich’s production, which premièred the opera at the Deutsche Oper in 1996 has its moments of cold aestheticism in its light colours and geometrical cleanliness, but some moments are particular effective, such as the duel between Onegin and Lensky. What is beyond doubt is that the recreation of this production was extremely attentive to stage direction. All singers and choristers acted with conviction – Guryakova and Wolak were particularly believable. Skovhus tends to be overemphatic, but Onegin is everything but a spontaneous fellow anyway.

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25% of your ticket price? Every opera house states that there is no guarantee in what regards casting: you may pay a fortune to see a dream-team and ultimately have to put up with a second-rate assortment. In this sense, one should praise the Deutsche Opera for its policy of giving a 25% discount-voucher for those who purchased a pricier ticket to see Angela Gheorghiu and were finally surprised (?) by her cancellation, but the underlying question is – in an opera like Verdi’s La Traviata, how much is the prima donna worth? 

I have had the chance of seeing Angela Gheorghiu as Violetta Valéry and found her vocally and scenically compelling, but hardly electrifying. What is beyond doubt is that her stardom has to do with a generalized sense of glamour hard to explain but immediately palpable. Considering how difficult the role is, the Deutsche Oper has done a good job in finding Carmen Gianattasio for replacement.

At any rate, this Italian soprano has offered a praiseworthy performance – the animated applause at the end (especially by orchestra members) is an evidence of that. She seems to belong to the kind of Italian sopranos who are not really concerned about producing beautiful sounds but still respect the basic rules of bel canto somehow.  Although Gianattasio’s soprano has a somewhat veiled tonal quality, her squillante top notes can be quite forceful. She is not entirely adept in coloratura, but is rarely caught short in the key moments for she always finds a musicianly and/or dramatically effective way of dealing with them. Unfortunately, she does not count with mezza voce among her expressive tools, a liability for Addio del passato. As a matter of fact, her Violetta was more incisive and less touching than most. Contrarily to the libretto seems to suggest, she eschewed Germont’s patronizing in their long duet and, when she asks him to hold her as if she were his daughter, it seems more like a fleeting moment of weakness. In act I, there is not much room for loveliness either – her Violetta is more feisty than beguiling and one would not have a doubt about her line of business here. That said, intelligent as her portrait is, Violetta is a prima donna role and the last sparkle of charisma was not there – was it the lack of a more charming tonal quality? It is hard to say, specially when we are speaking of a last-minute replacement performance. But what happens to a Traviata when there is not a prima donna?

I do not believe an Alfredo could make a Traviata memorable, but it certainly helps to have a first-rate tenor in the role. That was not exactly the case this evening. My first impression of James Valenti was extremely positive – his voice is really pleasant – it s a truly dulcet sound, firm, a little dark and easy on the ear. However, it progressively became clear that his comfort zone seats a bit low for a tenor in the Italian repertoire. While his low register was very positive, his top notes were clearly less powerful than the rest of his voice. At first, this was not a problem; he is an elegant singer who is not afraid of softening his tone, but O mio rimorso was a complete misfire. His breath control did not resist his intent of producing a larger sound and, when he abandoned his lines to prepare for the interpolated final note, I feared the worst – and the worst materalised in the shape of a tiny, recessed, nasal and unfocused high c.  I wonder if he is not in the wrong repertoire. To make things worse, he did not seem very comfortable with the stage direction and looked quite goofy making big gestures with his kilometric arms.

Lado Ataneli was the single “important” voice in the role. Although his phrasing has too many cupo moments, his dark, firm, forward-placed baritone finds no difficulties in this role. No wonder he was clearly the audience’s favourite.

La Traviata is a score that tends to sameness and, in the hands of a bureaucratic conductor such as Marco Armiliato, it seems to last forever. To start with, the orchestral sound was kept in such recessed volume throughout that there were moments you could hardly hear it. Even in the preludes to act I and III, no concern about subtlety and variety seemed to exist. The ensemble in the end of act II was such a mess as I have never seen in an important opera house before.

Götz Friedrich’s production was premiered in 1999, in what seems to be the begin of the strange Berliner fashion of  mixing costumes of different decades in the same staging. Here garments that ranged from the 1900 to the 1990 were paraded in one only all-black set that shifted from Violetta’s house to her country villa and to Flora’s place with minimal changes (but for serious decay – in the end, it looks as if a typhoon had visited the place). Maybe that explains why everybody goes and comes back from Paris so fast in act II. Other than this,a hospital bed seems to be “the concept” – disguised as a divan in act I, as… a divan in act II… until you finally see it as a hospital bed in act III.  Do I need to say more?

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