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Posts Tagged ‘Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore’

I remember the Met’s old production of Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore, even though I had never seen it live. One can still see it in two different DVDs, both with Luciano Pavarotti. One of them features Judith Blegen, the other one has Kathleen Battle. Having seen it on video makes for an experience for those who have the opportunity to see the “new” production at the Met. In its cardboard sceneries and kind-of period costumes and cuteness it looks a hundred years older than the “old” production.

It is also more expertly directed and truly better acted than what we can see on video. The comedy timing is almost always impeccable and even individual chorus members seem to be aware of their “motivations”. Its 2012 premiere had Anna Netrebko and Matthew Polenzani, who happens to be this afternoon’s Nemorino. It is praiseworthy that his long experience in it does not turn out calculated or bureaucratic, but rather as well-mastered and effective in his portray of the likable but unsexy.

Vocally, his performance is less persuasive. His once dulcet tenor now sounds quite grainy and open-toned. Even if a smoother legato would make all the difference in the world, he generally sings with poise and sense of style. Curiously not in his big aria, in which he sounded oversentimentalized, effortful and overreliant on falsetto. Someone like Pavarotti could get away with Verdianizing his Donizetti, but that’s an entirely different voice.

I had never seen Pretty Yende live before and YouTube videos did not made me look forward to it. Hearing her in the theatre made has the opposite effect on me. Her aim in life seems to be proving that you can sing with the full range of overtones and still sound bright and focused. There are moments when she really manages it and the sound is simply gorgeous. There are also moments when you can see that she is negotiating in her mind if she should sing the next note bright and light or full and round. Normally, the bright and light option is the right answer, but I reckon she likes the full and round better. Those are the moments when the voice sounds smoky and unfocused – and I could bet that this is when the microphone does not flatter her. Anyway, Ms. Yende got me under her spell with her unbridled joie de chant. She is on stage as if she were in the place she has always wanted to be and her singing sounds like someone who is doing her favorite thing in the world. She tackles every trill, run and mezza voce passages not as challenges but as opportunities to show the audience how thrilling these effects are. Moreover she has a lovely stage presence and an irresistible smile. She made this performance something refreshing.

Davide Luciano’s Belcore was aptly light and flexible and he managed the be funny without exaggerations. Ildebrando d’Arcangelo, on the other hand, did not seem comfortable with clowniness and tried to do his Dr. Dulcamara in his own hipster-ish way. That has somehow and surprisingly worked. There was something wild and potentially dangerous about this con guy, and that made the show more interesting. With the right director, it could even be revelatory. He sang it accordingly, without buffo effects and in an important tonal quality, forceful, firm and dark.

Conductor Domingo Hindoyan seems to have the right approach to this score. He kept the proceedings light, clear and forward-moving, but the Met orchestra (probably not in is A-team version given that there is Parsifal to be played in the evening) sounded opaque and unfinished, entirely un-Italianate. Sometimes he would try an accelerando effect to mark the change of atmosphere, but his musicians would sometimes feel ill-at-ease following his beat then. Not the singers, to whom Mr. Hindoyan was always alert. Unfortunately, the chorus was in very poor shape, especially the women. Finally, a hearable Gianetta would make all the difference in the world in ensembles .

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If Donizetti and Felice Romani could come back to life and see Japanese TV, they would be surprised to see that Dr. Dulcamara’s lines have more or less the same text of 75% of ads showed in this country: miracle formulas that make you young, beautiful, attractive if you just pay a very reasonable price – and the taste is always eccellente. Maybe for that reason, the New National Theatre decided that L’Elisir d’Amore should be staged in days closers to our own. As Cesare Lievi’s 2010 production is highly stylized, it is difficult to be precise – 1940’s? 1950’s? What is clear is that the approach looks very much like the kind of production of comedy plays one would find in Italian theatres in the 1980’s, 1990’s: the concept is rather a matter of design than of meaning; costumes and sets are clever yet simple, everybody seems to be having the time of their lives and a well-rehearsed cast move about, jump, gesticulate a lot in variations of the theme of “cuteness”. Here the recipe works well, if one overlooks the fact that costume designer Marina Luxardo decided to employ every shade in the Pantone catalog (even in the wig department). Also, the sets turning around the letters L-E-I-S-D-A-M-O-R (the ones in the original Italian title) and gigantic “Tristan and Isolde” books do not seem to be trying to make any particular point other their immediate relation to the storyline.

Julien Salemkour proved to have good instincts for bel canto. Although a smoother orchestral sound would have made all the difference in the world, the conductor could keep everything clear, ebullient and consequent, choosing his tempi  from what makes sense structurally rather than from the mere intent of making everything fast and bright.

Nicole Cabell is a puzzle yet to be solved: her light velvety soprano is homogeneous, flexible and easy on the ear, but seriously lacking projection; she has clear diction, very good Italian and can sing really musicianly, but cheats whenever things get difficult for her. Adina is a role on the high side for her voice and she would often run out steam in tricky passages. For instance, although Prendi, per me sei libero was sensitively and beautifully sung, the cabaletta involved a great deal of adaptation. All in all, it was a congenial if superficial performance, but I do not really believe this is her repertoire. I wonder what is her repertoire – Mozart? Maybe, but that is not the kind of music one can get away with make-do.The second soprano, Kanae Kushima, showed a more typically bright Italianate soprano and, in spite of a very light voice, could be more easily heard in ensembles.  Tenor Antonino Siragusa too has a voice of reduced substance, but still very spontaneous, easy and pleasant. He sings with amazing clarity and cleanliness of line and makes very good use of the text. He could have offered a tad more mellifluous Una furtiva lagrima, but that did not make his light, uncomplicated and funny performance less attractive. Hiroyuki Narita has a forceful baritone and tackles his divisions better than most, but he is often rough-toned in voice and faceless in interpretation. Renato Girolami is quite economical with buffo disfiguring “comic” effects and has both the personality and voice for his role. Finally, the house chorus deserves praise for both their singing and acting.

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Donizetti’s favorite melodramma giocoso is a vehicle for star tenors. Its hit aria, Una furtiva lagrima, almost compulsory singing for any tenor, even when it does not sit properly in their voices. Looking at the discography, you’ll find recordings with singers ranging from Luigi Alva to Plácido Domingo. And Rolando Villazón has made his name as Nemorino, his video from the Vienna State Opera with Anna Netrebko a best-seller. Since then, the Mexican tenor has ventured into heavier roles, developed problems in his vocal folds, endured surgery and returned to the theater where his Nemorino first got wide acclaim.When one speaks of his performance this evening, one must tackle each side of it separately. Villazón is a great comedy actor, he has the right instincts, endless imagination and… well, he is a funny guy. I’ve had a great time seeing him on stage – he is truly someone who is ready to do anything to please his audience and does it very naturally and engagingly. Now when it comes to his singing, I am afraid he was not in good voice this evening. Although the tone is consistently pleasant, his high register was tight and bottled-up, failing to run into the auditorium. His big aria was more a result of persistence and a tiny little bit of cheating than of grace and expression. For someone who has recovered from the above-mentioned surgery, I find it worrisome that he pushes his high notes so recklessly instead of truly supporting them more flexibly in a round and full-toned manner. Legato was not his forte this evening and one would accept the shortcomings as part of a far more attractive whole that includes his acting. I sincerely hope it was an off-night, for this is a truly gifted and generous artist.

His Adina, Anna Samuil, whose metallic soprano suggest very little charm and sensuousness, was able to make little of the Schiller Theater’s difficult acoustics, often drowning other singers’ on stage with her vocal health. Her interpretation turned around coyness – and the qualities of morbidezza, tone colouring and poise that lie in the core of what bel canto is about were not entirely there. I am not crazy about Alfredo Daza’s grainy baritone, but he too is a good actor and could deal with the intricacies of Donizettian phrasing in a way that made sense with the boorish role. Alfonso Antoniozzi is the kind of buffo who would rather make comic voices and shift to parlando and other disfiguring effects instead of using his substantial voice in a more regular manner. That used to be the rule in this role until some basses have tackled it in a more musical approach that retained the perkiness nonetheless. He too is at ease with the requirements of comedy acting and is very much at ease on stage. Finally, Narine Yeghiyan was far more attentive to the text than most Gianettas, but a brighter tone would make it easier for her in ensembles.

Although Antonello Allemandi could offer the right animation and produce a more Italianate sound for the Staatskapelle – I don’t know if my parterre seat was in a bad spot acoustically speaking – I found the orchestra dry-toned, brassy and band-like. There were interesting moments with beautiful woodwind solos, but the results were too often unpolished, especially in ensembles where the amount of mismatch was rather high.

Percy Adlon’s 2002 production is agreeably unpretentious and involves a very deal of spontaneity. The chorus has plenty of opportunity for acting and does it very convincingly, Villazón’s many ad libs do not stand out, since his colleagues respond to it most willingly – and by the end you’ll find the show far more entertaining than many a more ambitious production.

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