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Posts Tagged ‘Hidekazu Tsumaya’

The Fujiwara Opera is said to be Japan’s oldest professional opera company and it has vowed itself – since the 1930, when it was founded – to preserve the traditions of Italian opera in this country (with occasional forays in other repertoires). I cannot be scientific about what I am going to say, but I notice that many an opera-goer (especially from a certain age on) in this country is also a fan of kabuki, a genre where the keyword is tradition: programs explain to you that the actor you are seeing belongs to the same family of the first person to play that role in the XVIIIth century etc. If someone from, say, Berlin happened to see today’s performance of Bellini’s La Sonnambula he would understand the experience of some sort of museological experiment. Costumes sets, stock gestures, everything suggests a black and white photo from which someone like Toti dal Monte could spring back to life. If you get into this sort of mindset, there is some craft in the way everything makes sense in its extreme artificiality, but – since the spirit is doing things à la lettre – the anachronistic costumes and props (flashlights!) jar. For my part, I found it of great anthropological interest the way choristers were made to behave in what the director supposed to be XIXth-century-Swiss-village style (and what ultimately looked like the kind of acting one sees in a Kenji Mizoguchi film).

In any case, even if one doesn’t have any museological or anthropological interest, the musical side of today’s performance are to be reckoned with. Nobuko Takahashi has a shimmering, sweet tonal quality à la Ileana Cotrubas that makes all the difference in the world in a role like Amina. She has very secure in alts, lands in her low register with the naturalness of a Mirella Freni and phrases with grace and sensitiveness. There are some tremulous and unfocused patches in her singing and her coloratura is not really precise, but everything is dealt with with such elegance and musicianship that you forgive her everything, even the fact that she does not really try to go beyond “touching” (this Amina has no dark sides, what makes the inn scene really less interesting). I have really enjoyed her performance – especially her heartfelt Ah, non credea mirarti. On the other hand, tenor Yojiro Oyama was something of a frustrating experience to me. It is not a mellifluous voice – rather dry and nasal – but he sang Prendi, l’anel ti dono with such breathtaking ease in his high register, liquid legato and sense of style that I kept waiting for more, but nothing after that was truly smooth: technique, intonation and taste were erratic and some moments were downright awkward. Pity. Although Hidekazu Tsumaya’s voice sounded smaller than what it usually is, he still offered an extremely satisfying performance, a classy Vi ravviso, o luoghi ameni in particular. He could also find a welcome patrician attitude that set him apart from the remaining villagers.

The Fujiwara Opera Chorus combined both animation and precision in their acting and singing, and maestro Ryuichiro Sonoda proved to have taken Bellini’s score seriously, refusing just to accompany his singers, but actually setting an atmosphere in an appropriately bright, alert yet polished orchestral sound and expressive contributions from instrumental soloists.

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In order to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the normalization of relations between Japan and China, Tokyo’s New National Theatre and Beijing’s National Centre for the Performing Arts have decided to expand their already existing technical cooperation to the co-production of a concert version of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida (albeit rather cut, more like what the Germans call “grosse Querschnitt”) for performances both here and in Beijing.

Is Aida a role for a dramatic soprano? This is an interesting question – the range, the length, the need to project above large ensembles suggest something like that, but there is an increasing demand of soft singing and lyric quality as the opera evolves to its end. If one checks the discography and schedules of opera houses, one soon realizes that there are few real dramatic sopranos tackling the role (Birgit Nilsson was probably the most assiduous exponent in this Fach in the last 60 years), but rather what one calls lirico spinto sopranos. Hui He would rather fit into this category – she has sung a great deal of Puccini and heavier Verdi roles in the leading theaters in the world, but Aida is probably her most dramatic venture so far (it seems she is planning to sing Gioconda and Senta). Some have dismissed her Ethiopian princess as lacking power around the passaggio – but I would say that some very famous Aidas have showed the same problem (Leontyne Price, for example). Today she actually sang beautifully – her round, creamy voice projected effortlessly, her high mezza voce is exquisite, she never sang bureaucratically, but rather invested every phrase with imagination and emotion, while avoid coming across too strongly. Her Italian is greatly improved since I last saw her, and she even sounds quite “Italianate” if one has in mind the way Italians used to sing in the 1950’s. She got away with pianissimo in some very tricky passages à la Caballé – and did it with good taste and sensitivity. Given her competition, I would say she is probably the most technically assured and varied Aida in the market these days, the vulnerability playing an important part in it.

Without the Judgment Scene (Radames went this evening straight from Già i sacerdoti adunansi to La fatal pietra), it is difficult to say something definitive about the mezzo soprano. Since Kasumi Shimizu had problems to pierce through in her middle register, I would say that Amneris is a bit on her limits, but she handle her limits very expertly, especially in what regards producing big, powerful high notes. Moreover, she has a very appealing tonal quality, with a touch of Grace Bumbry in it. A very interesting voice – I wonder what she could in German repertoire. Tenor Satoshi Mizuguchi too has a pleasant voice – warm yet bright, but his high register is tight and unflowing. He got tired during the evening and, if his acuti were still very firm, sustaining them cost him a visible effort. Baritone Chenye Yuan has a tiny bit of Piero Cappuccilli in his grainy, dark baritone, but his was a tad short in volume and had his fluttery moments. This is the second time I hear bass Hidekazu Tsumaya (Ramfis) and I am again impressed with the focus and the noble tonal quality.

Although the singing was often exciting, Junichi Hirokami’s kappelmeisterlich conducting often robbed the performance of its excitement. The Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra’s strings could have a richer sound, and this was particularly felt when brass instruments saturated the sound picture in an almost band-like manner. The conductor did display a welcome sense of organization and cleanliness, but that was much it. One rarely felt the necessary sense of climax building (number one requirement in Verdi) and his a tempo approach often meant that soloists attempts in rubato seemed nothing but lack of synchronicity. Finally, the collaboration of both theaters’ choruses was truly praiseworthy in its warmth and homogeneity.

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