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Posts Tagged ‘Gustavo Dudamel’

Taking profit of the Japanese tour of the Teatro alla Scala, the NHK Music Festival has invited the Milanese opera house for a concert performance of Verdi’s Aida, which was actually taped (both in audio and in video by NHK). Last week, Dudamel has proved to be an exemplary Verdian conductor in a staged performance of Rigoletto. This evening he proved he can be even better than that. During the first half of the concert (acts 1 and 2), I could not help thinking of how the audience reacted while hearing to Karajan’s Aida back then in Salzburg, in the sense, of hearing a great conductor who has seriously studied the score and, with the help of a fully engaged team of musicians, produced a revelatory (even if often slightly flawed) experience. I don’t think that I will be able to explain everything I could admire this evening – the ideal balance (upfront woodwind, perfectly blended brass and strings, even in large ensembles), once again the complete eschewal of vulgarity, the always dramatically alive accent, the control of rhythmic flexibility (masterly transitions, even those usually accepted as abrupt), the singing string section and the knowledge of the right moment to become Toscaninian in excitingly precise ensembles in very fast pace. The fact that the chorus from La Scala has such full-toned tenors, sopranos and altos with rock-solid bottom notes makes it even more admirable. I mean, this was TRULY exciting.

However, if I have to be honest, burning from both ends, this candle ran dangerously short after the intermission. First, singers began to give signs of fatigue. That required some adjustments, especially in what regards volume from an orchestra playing on stage. Although the whole cast had big enough voices, some of them had a lyric quality that already required adjustments. Act IV was a lesson of how to produce exciting orchestral sound without drowning singers in voluminous orchestral sound, La Scala’s bright and flexible strings coming up handy at these moments.

I have seen Hui He’s Aida here in Tokyo last year. I understand, therefore, she was not in her best voice today – intonation had its dodgy moments, the not entirely comfortable passaggio downright problematic this evening, a very evident physical effort entirely new in my experience with this singer. The problem became more evident after the pause, but she took profit of her late entrance in act IV to recover in time for an exquisite closing scene. All that said, even by this evening’s standards, Hui He is still my favorite Aida these days: her voice is lovely, her mezza voce is soaring, her Italian is now beyond suspicion, she phrases with the mastery of portamento of a Caballé and – even if her engagement is a bit artsy – it is far preferable either to the cold cleanliness or the anti-musical, supposedly Italianate histrionics usually accepted as Verdian style. This evening’s Amneris was Daniela Barcellona, a singer I would not expect to find in this role. Although her mezzo is sizable, it is not a dramatic voice in any way. She does have very strong technique and is a singer incapable of anything unpleasant to the ears. As a result, with great help from the conductor, she offered a sensuous, dignified and elegant Amneris this evening, who managed to be vulnerable without any loss of strength in the Judgement Scene, after which the performance was interrupted for thunderous applause. For those used to the likes of Dolora Zajick, that might have sounded too elegant, but the point is: she did not tried to sing against the grain of her mezzo and thus was able to offer something convincing and coherent to her voice and personality.

Spanish tenor Jorge de León has a very solid voice, capable of some very powerful high notes, but very limited in dynamic or tonal variety. He has clearly listened to Franco Corelli’s recordings as Radamès, but cannot emulate his ability to effortlessly shift to mezza voce. All in all, his is a very unproblematic account of a difficult role, and that is no mean accomplishment. The role of Amonasro is a bit on the high side for Ambrogio Maestri, but his is a very substantial voice that produces the right impact in key moments. Marco Spotti was a stentorian if not always immaculately sung Ramfis, while Roberto Taglavini showed a bit more nuance but less volume as the King of Egypt. In the small role of the Priestress, Sae Kyung Rim showed a beautiful, clear voice.

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The second item in the Teatro alla Scala’s Japanese tour is Verdi’s Rigoletto – the name of Joseph Calleja making it enticing enough for those who were not eager to see Gilbert Deflo’s museological production (seen on DVD with Roberto Alagna, Renato Bruson and Riccardo Muti). Alas, Calleja cancelled and the old, old production with ballet dancers making cute steps during the orgy in the palace of the Duke of Mantua remains. Actually, calling this Deflo’s production is not really fair, for very little of his direction has survived. For instance: although this evening’s prima donna has sung this production in Milan, she seemed entirely clueless of what she should do on stage. “No rehearsal since 2010” was an idea that did cross my mind. At least, she tried to do something. The tenor just stood there and delivered – and the baritone seemed bothered by having to do the whole Rigoletto-routine…

In any case, the name of Gustavo Dudamel could be considered starry enough to “sell” this performance. I had seen him only once before – a Don Giovanni at La Scala that left a lot to be desired. But that was long ago – and the Venezuelan maestro is now an experienced opera conductor. Even if this evening was hardly unforgettable, the maestro must be praised for his untiring intent of making something out of it. He refused to surrender to band-like vulgarity, never ceased to look for dramatic meaning in every note in the score and (except for a brassy Gilda/Maddalena/Sparafucile scene) succeeded in doing this rather from musicianship than from bravado. For instance, this evening’s Cortiggiani, vil razza was exemplary in clarity, purpose, style… and thrill. If it did not work better, this was because Dudamel was considerate enough to a baritone who could not keep up with it. From this point of view, it was quite fascinating to observe how he tried to impose discipline but respected his soloists’ (many) limitations. It is always refreshing to hear a conductor who is not playing for his own ideals, but instead is dealing with the means at his disposal. Maestro and orchestra deserve the warm applause they received this evening. I am afraid I cannot include the chorus there – their “wind” effect in act III was poorly judged and unconvincing. In any case, I can only imagine what Dudamel would have done with the proper cast for this opera.

Elena Mosuc is a resourceful singer who produces many beautiful sounds, but this evening she was clearly not in her best voice and her heart was probably somewhere else. She was often tremulous and her breath was particularly short:  Caro Nome – in spite of beautiful in alts and perfect trills (no mean accomplishment, one must concede her that) – had many unwritten pauses and Tutte le feste was quite gusty and insincere, but her dying scene was surprisingly touching. On the other hand, Francesco Demuro’s tenor is firm, bright and strongly supported through long phrases on the breath. His voice is a bit on the small size for the role, has many nasal patches and the style can be kitschy now and then. Also, he did not seem really at ease playing the alpha-male role. I have seen Giorgio Gagnidze’s Rigoletto at the Met and found it bland in a role where blandness is a no-go. His singing this evening could be described the same way. Finally, Alexander Tsymbalyuk’s dark and voluminous bass is the right instrument for Sparafucile.

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