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The third and last installment of the Vienna State Opera’s Japanese tour is Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, as seen on video with Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca. Eric Génovèse’s is the most recent and most complex production from Vienna in the series brought to the Japanese audience – and considering the improved quality of the choral singing – probably the “premium” item (it looks also better live than on DVD). The reason is the long and faithful appreciation for Edita Gruberová’s artistry in Japan. Although this has been announced as the Slovakian diva’s farewell operatic performance in Japan, the truth is that her later appearances in Tokyo have all of them been marketed as such. I have to confess that the last time I saw her (as Norma, in Berlin) left me a bitter aftertaste – that evening showed her below her usual standards and I wondered if she should not consider preserving her reputation by leaving the stage while still remembered by her qualities, not her flaws. In that sense, this afternoon proved that either she was in a very bad day that day or that she was in an exceptionally good day today.

Before the nay-sayers say anything, I will acknowledge that Anna Bolena requires a voice different from Gruberová’s – and her approach arguably is not what a bel canto specialist would consider “authentic”. But, even in her present vocal condition (i.e., although the tonal quality is still crystal-clear and young-sounding, legato is now imperfect, some runs are imprecise and intonation has its dodgy moments), she has practically no rivals these days in some very tricky passages, especially those involving trills and high mezza voce. What many critics overlook too is the fact that hers are fully-engaged performances, dramatically committed and intelligent: if her approach to interpretation is often more Straussian than Donizettian, at least she is truly investing the text with a wide tonal palette (and very clear diction), what is a sine qua non condition for true bel canto phrasing. I only wished that she did not try to prove herself with some showy embellishment and laborious in alts (why?) – when the matter is technique and insight, hers is still a convincing performance – at some moments, (such as Cielo, a’miei lunghi spasimi) even haunting.

Sonia Ganassi (Giovanna Seymour) was not at her most focused and took some time to warm. I am not sure if this is a good role for her, but that did not prevent her to offer her customary intensity of expression, attention to the text and sense of style. In any case, her contribution in her big duet with Anna was sensitively handled and she coped with the fast tempo in Ah, pensate che rivolti with aplomb. Although Elisabeth Kulman was in more incisive voice in the video, she still sang with irresistible charm – hers is a truly lovely voice. I would really like to hear her in Der Rosenkavalier (unfortunately not in her repertoire). As Percy, Shalva Mukeria proved to be something like the poorman’s Josep Bros – and that’s being really, really poor. I have to believe that he was indisposed or something like that. As much as with  Sonia Ganassi, I do not believe that Enrico is really Luca Pisaroni’s role and yet he sang very well. The necessary weight and menace were not really there, but what he offered was elegant, technically accomplished and connected to the drama.

Evelino Pidò is an ideal Donizettian conductor – the Vienna State Opera Orchestra offered him its most Italian sound and the extra polish of an orchestra used to Mozart and R. Strauss. He produced the ideal balance between orchestra and singers, never let rhythms sag, found excitement in buoyancy rather than in weight (as this repertoire demands) and made his musicians sing with the singers, not only in solo passages. This alone would have made this performance worth the while.

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