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Posts Tagged ‘Donizetti’

I’ll be quite honest and confess I went to the Met tonight with a negative disposition. I am a bit fed up with Natalie Dessay’s recent interviews in which she tells stories about herself and her artistry different from those she used to give ten years ago (yes, I have a good memory…) and I am still diggesting her Lucia “with an attitude”. I can even tell you right away that the first 30 minutes seemed to prove me right about my intuition – the overture was pretty disjointed, Dessay’s soprano wanted focus, brightness and projection during Au bruit de la guerre… By then, the whole performance promised to be long and pretentious. And then Juan Diego Flórez appeared on stage. I knew his comedy actor skills from the Met’s Barbiere di Siviglia, but his Tonio is a step further. His acting fulfilled to perfection the image of naiveté and gaucherie designed by the director. And that man really can sing. His tenor was at it most ductile and caressing and he seemed to laugh of the impossible difficulties in Ah, mes amis. Judging from what I heard,  even if that aria had 27 high c’s, this would not cause him any trouble! 

As for Dessay, it is beyond doubt that her voice has lost its former sheen and impetuosity and that she has some grey-toned patches and moments of virtual inaudibility. That said, I can tell you that those who were in the Met tonight left the theatre convinced that they have witnessed the work of a great artist: her talent for physical comedy is phenomenal, her delivery of the spoken lines is indeed worthy of an experienced actress, her musicianship is admirable and her charisma is irresistible. Most amazing of all, during the performance itself, it was very difficult to analyse those elements in their own values since they were closely imbricated on each other. Although her flexibility in coloratura is still something to marvel, she really won me over in lyric moments such as Il faut partir, when her voice regained the hallmark gleam, her legato could flow undisturbed and ethereal high pianissimi could be floated, all in the service of expression.

In the role of Sulpice, Alessandro Corbelli not only was in strong voice and showed command of French language, but also built a most likeable stage presence, funny without any hint of exaggeration. I cannot say this virtue was shared by Felicity Palmer, but I guess the role of the Marquise de Berkenfield requires the all-out approach. Her bright vibrant mezzo soprano was the aural image of the decadent and moody aristocrat.

Once past the mess in the overture, Marco Armiliato seemed to be concentrated on finding the optimal level of volume in order not to drown his lightweight cast (those are definitely not the Sutherland/Pavarotti-style voices), something with which he had relative sucess. Tempi tended to be animated and the lyrical moments revealed some inspired playing by individual players in the orchestra.

Laurent Pelly’s production looks somewhat like an illustration for Tintin comics – the idea of representing the Tyrolese relief with mountains of map is beautiful and intelligent, to start with. The stage direction is coreographied with Swiss clockwork precision and not only do the soloists act splendidly, but also the chorus. His Einverständnis with Dessay is particularly positive – she relishes the busy gesturing required from her and often uses it to give dramatic meaning to her fioriture. Someone seated next to me mentioned he felt as if he were watching a play and not an opera – and this should be understood not in the sense that theatrical values had price of place, but as a result of a wholly integrated approach to musical and dramatical expression. Bravo to Mr. Pelly and his truly talented cast.

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My relationship with Donizetti’ s Lucrezia Borgia was love at first hearing when I first bought Jonel Perlea’ s RCA recording. I’d known Victor Hugo’ s play and thought the plot (but not the overwrought dialogues) compelling, but the truth is Felice Romani’ s inutilia truncat did a great service to the play and Donizetti’ s structural concision and theatrical understanding were at its best.  Seeing the work without costumes and sets – in concert version – and not missing the slightest prop proved my impressions right. Provided you have the cast to make it work is something one might say when we’ re speaking of a bel canto opera – but then I would have to guess the consequence of bad casting in these circumstances, because the Gran Teatre del Liceu has taken the pains to find the best group of singers one could possibly imagine these days.

Before I write anything else, I will acknowledge from the start that Edita Gruberova’ s soprano is hardly the Méric-Lalande-type of voice and, if you’ re used to Montserrat Caballe’ s recording of this role, you’ ll certainly miss the extra weight, colour and richness in the low notes. That said, differently from what she did in her recording of Rossini’ s Semiramide,  she didn’ t invariably  resort to upward variations (unless in repeats, when she were more or less “entitled” to do so, so to speak). To do her justice, I should add that she was particularly adept in managing her naturally ungenerous low register. Although one wouldn’ t hear spacious sounds in that area of her voice, focus was always there.

As in her Norma or Elisabetta (in Roberto Devereux), the amazing girlishness of her voice makes it a bit difficult for her to be truly convincing in these maternal roles, but if you like bel canto in the grand style, her Lucrezia has unending supply of high pianissimi, dictionary-perfect messa di voce, perfectly articulated divisions etc. For example, hearing the sequence of trills in the end of Com’ è bello done to perfection live at the theatre was like witnessing a miracle. As expected, she chose the showpiece Era desso il figlio mio to close the opera – and it was fascinating to see her weighing with Swiss-clockmaker precision the expressive and technical demands of this difficult scene (here made following the composite ending with the tenor’ s death and then the soprano’ s big aria).

Although the title role in Lucrezia Borgia is fearsome, this is truly an ensemble opera and Gruberova had fellow singers who left nothing to be desired and could never be overshadowed even by such an admirable prima donna.

As Gennaro, Josep Bros sang with unending graciousness, seamless legato and apollonian ease with top notes. Apart from one or two forced acuti in  T’ amo qual s’ ama un angelo (the aria written for Nikolai Ivanov), there is absolutely nothing less than exemplary in his stylish and sensitive performance. Although Ewa Podles’ s contralto has more than a splash of throatiness  these days (what makes her sometimes inaudible in ensembles), her graphical account of Orsini’ s narration in the Prologue was truly hair-raising and the panache displayed in Il segreto per esser felice (ornamented with a Spanish flavour, maybe as a tribute to the audience) was simply irresistible. Ildebrando d’Arcangelo’s bass should be a bit more flamboyant in order to make his Don Alfonso more dangerous, but he sang with firm tone and knowledge of style throughout. The minor roles were all splendidly taken.

Conductor Stefan Anton Reck was truly a positive surprise – his sense of theatricality is praiseworthy, especially the way he produced his effective orchestral effects without ever drowning his singers. He was also able to drive his orchestra through an unusually polished performance even when the dramatic situations required swift tempi.

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