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Posts Tagged ‘Dmitri Hvorostovsky’

Die Zeit, sie ist ein sonderbag Ding…  Hugo von Hofmannsthal was not wrong about that, but since his days Vienna has lost a bit the touch in what regards timing, particularly when the matter is Falk Richter’s production of Tchaikovsky’s Evgeny Onegin’s for the Wiener Staatsoper. In his interview, Richter says his production is zeitlos, but I have the impression he should have checked the word in the dictionary before this statement. “Atemporal” means something that is connected to no particular time, while this staging makes references to different moments in time – from the 60’s to the present days – without any coherence or any discernable reason for that.  Tatjana, Larina, Filipyevna and Lensky (in spite of a very modern-style outfit) seem characters from Elia Kazan’s Splendor in the grass, while Onegin, Olga and the guests in Tatjana’s birthday could have appeared in David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises – the peasants in act I remain quite Sovietic themselves though – and Monsieur Triquet’s old-style couplets make no sense in the videoclip approach.  To make things worse, characters behaved in a nonsensical way – Tatjana too grown-up for her “last-virgin-in-town”-attitude, not to mention that the vamp-looking Olga seemed quite mentally-challenged hopping around Lensky in girly (?) enthusiasm.

Kirill Petrenko’s conducting suggested agitation rather than intensity – the house orchestra’s beautifully transparent sonorities particularly different from the dense strings usually associated to Russian music. While the multicoloured impression is quite welcome, I am not sure if I prefer the zipping pace to the full bloom of a rich orchestral sound. In any case, the febrility worked really well for the closing scene, when both soloists responded accordingly in engagement and slancio. Although Olga Guryakova’s soprano has more than a splash of edginess and tends to the emphatic and unflowing when things get high and fast, it has an aptly youthful sound and, when you least expect, flashes up in some forceful acuti. Vocal aspects aside, Guryakova’s Tatjana is the work of a true artist. Every inflection, every gesture, every look has meaning and speaks directly to the heart.  In that sense, it is the opposite of the leading baritone’s performance, since Dmitri Hvorostovsky seemed to be posing for publicitary photos during the whole evening.  There were moments when I feared he would wink and wave to the audience. Fortunately, the voice was in very good shape and creates in its rich, velvety tonal quality the right impression of attractiveness and impetuosity. Pavol Breslik was a sensitive if small-scaled Lensky and Nadia Krasteva was a reliable if unexceptional Olga, but the audience’s favourite clearly was Ferruccio Furlanetto, whose dark, spacious and expressive bass filled the hall in a noble account of his aria. Both Zoryana Kushpler and Margaret Hintermeier deserve mention for their convincing accounts of the small roles of Larina and Filipyevna.

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Il Trovatore is widely acknowledged as opera’s most ridiculous libretto – an opinion I do not share. If you know something about Spanish theatre, you happen to know that the idea is really going over the top – especially during the days of Romanticism. And I tell you – Spanish language does make the 100% emotionalism believable. Verdi was well aware of this – and denied no expressive tools to produce raw, gutsy depiction of strong feelings on the stage. If you try to polish the proceedings, then your Trovatore is a lost case.

I would not say that the Met’s new Trovatore is a lost case – there is a lot to be cherished there, but the overall impression is of misfiring. A new production has been ordered from David McVicar, who claims to have found inspiration in the paintings of Goya. I am sure he is telling the truth, but the staging looked just like every other Trovatore you have seen in your life. And this may mean that he was respectful to the libretto (a rare quality these days), but the politeness we could witness at the Met – that, I am sure, does not come from Goya.  One must recognise that McVicar tries to throw in some spice by adding some prostitutes to the Soldiers Chorus and by having his prima donna throwing herself on the ground, crawling and panting at the least opportunity – but everybody seemed to be working hard for intensity and also a bit uncomfortable about the whole thing. Intensity is something you cannot fake – if you do not have it, better go for dignity, something Italian operatic directors are well aware of.

As much as Gianandrea Noseda’s conducting showed a loving eye for the score, trying to highlight accompanying figures, to keep rhythms precise and flowing and to highlight dramatic gestures, the orchestral sound was too recessed to produce any kind of true excitement. Noseda was an attentive conductor for his singers, helping them in every moment of need – and keeping the orchestra in medium volume levels was essencial for a cast almost devoid of dramatic voices, but other maestros have been able to keep a brighter edge to their orchestral sound that keeps the sparkles going when sheer volume is impossible. I would mention Riccardo Muti’s live from La Scala, where a similar lighter-voiced casting was employed.

Sondra Radvanosky’s abilities as a Verdian soprano have always been an object of dispute.  It is undeniable that she fulfils some key requirement – it is a sizeable voice, capable of morbidezza (even if the tone is too veiled for this repertoire), flexibility, mezza voce and some stunning high notes (she took every optional in alt available and some more). However, her low register is not positive and projecting as the role requires, she is a bit challenged by trills (a fault shared by many a soprano tackling this role) and her soft singing is not always true on pitch. Her Tacea la notte was a bit uneventful and its cabaletta (reduced to one verse) was uncomfortable. On the other hand, she achieved some soaring efects in D’ amor sul’ ali rosee (although true abandon was not really there), showed real purpose in the Miserere and, a few notes barred, was quite impressive in Tu vedrai. What is beyond doubt is her intelligence, she has a good ear to find musical-dramatic effects in the writing of the role of Leonora, to chilling effects in her dying scene.

Dolora Zajick is an acknowledged Azucena and, although she was not in her best voice (the basic tonal quality seemed too nasal and somewhat recessed), she did not pull away from any challenge thrown by Verdi – she tried every trill in Stride la vampa, offered some big chest voice low notes and some really powerful top notes (she even tried a not entirely successful high c in her big scene with Manrico). Although her diction was a bit cloudy, she never refused her phrasing the necessary tone colouring and showed no problem with high mezza voce.  If I have some remark about her Azucena, it would be that, although her anguish was palpable, her madness seemed a bit artifficial and there was no sense of danger in her.

I had doubts about Marcelo Alvarez’s Manrico, soon dispelled. His medium volume lyric tenor has enough projecting quality for a big house and he phrases with such musicianship and good taste that you cannot resist him. One feels he is a bit cautious with the heroic moments, but he never produces an ugly or unmusical sound. I doubt there are many tenors around who can offer such a sensitive and dulcet-toned Ah, si ben mio these days. The problem is that Di quella pira does not come in the combo – even if the aria is transposed down a half-tone, he still feels uncomfortable about it. He commendably dealt with articulating the tricky divisions most tenor just glide through, but in order to achieve his matte high b, he had to let his interventions with the chorus unsung and the repeat was avoided. It is true that he was announced to be indisposed, but his problems with this fearsome aria seemed to be more an issue of Fach than of health.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s velvety baritone is still a treat to the ears – his stylish Il balen is an example of that – but his ease with big high notes is not entirely here anymore. He has charisma and gets away with some awkward moments – he is also the person with more panache on stage (although the stage direction reduced much of his menacing attitude).  Finally, Kwangchul Youn is glamourous piece of casting in the role of Ferrando.

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