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Posts Tagged ‘Joseph Calleja’

Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles is hardly a masterpiece, but its many beautiful moments are supremely beautiful – and when a cast that makes them justice is found, one is ready to overlook the bad libretto and the formulaic moments. When one reads commented discographies of this opera, every reviewer concludes that there is not a perfect recording of this opera because a perfectly matched trio of singers have never been gathered in a single performance. This alone would make the Deutsche Oper’s feat of presenting a superb cast even more commendable, especially for a performance concocted to replace Donizetti’s La Favorite with Elina Garanca, cancelled because of the mezzo’s pregnancy. The fact that this was a concert performance also helped to drain a bit the opera of its kitsch – and conductor Guillermo García Calvo deserves praise for bringing every musician on stage to the core of the drama. One can see when an orchestra and a chorus are really engaged – and so they were this evening. I wonder how often this score has received such rich and inspired orchestral playing as this evening. The Deutsche Oper chorus too sang it with animation and sense of theatre. I have seen this opera only once live in Rio (and Luciano Botelho was a very commendable Nadir back then) and therefore really know it from Pierre Dervaux’s EMI recording with an irreplaceable Nicolai Gedda. Without being really “scientific” about what I am going to say, I found García Calvo a stylish and elegant conductor. I am not really aware of textual differences between editions, but I have the impression that the shortened last act has been used – the whole affair involving the chain given by Zurga to the young Leïla is only hinted at and the opera ends almost immediately after Leïla and Nadir’s exit.

Patrizia Ciofi sang Leïla’s music with such freshness, emotional commitment and good taste that I am more than ready to forgive her the occasional flapping top note. It must be added that I have probably never heard any other soprano who has dealt with the awkward florid lines as coherently and expressively as she did this evening. I wonder if someone can actually sing the role of Nadir these days better than Joseph Calleja – his old-style plangent tenor fits French repertoire to perfection and he avoids any hint of Italianateness and has very decent French pronunciation. He tackles high mezza voce without any strain or difficulty, while naturally pouring a quite voluminous voice for a lyric tenor. Gedda or Vanzo had sung more overwhelmingly romantic Je crois entendre encore in the good old days, but Calleja’s account is almost unbelievably clean and easy (including the optional higher ending). The torrents of applause were so vehement that the tenor agreed to sing it again – et nous l’avons donc entendu encore! The second time more dulcet than the first – it is no wonder that chorus, orchestra and the other soloists joined the audience in cheering this invaluable Maltese tenor. To make things better, Canadian baritone Étienne Dupuis was an outstanding Zurga, singing with rich, ductile tone in his warm, pleasant voice.

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I have previously called Filippo Sanjust’s arthritic production of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor dreadful in my only experience with it and never thought I would really see it again, but then I had never seen Joseph Calleja live –  and Elena Mosuc in the title role seemed enticing enough. All I have to say is that, although the staging still seems to have been spirited away from a XIXth century provincial theater, hearing the Maltese tenor sing his last aria surrounded by cardboard sets lit by golden footlights seemed to take us back to the days of Donizetti himself.

Yes, Calleja’s voice has been called old-fashioned in a positive sense mainly because of its characteristic vibratello. But there is more to it – his is an exquisite yet very strange voice. The tone has a Björling-like plangency, probably suggested by its discretely nasal quality on the passaggio and its heady tonal quality. Differently from Björling, however, his high notes do not acquire the laser-sharp concentration to make it flash through the auditorium. I don’t mean it is a small voice, it is rather big for a lyric tenor, but it is remarkable how his high register does not sound fully “settled” yet surprisingly easily produced. In other words, for an Italian tenor, his high notes lack squillo but rather acquire instead a smooth, reedy quality. It is only surprising that it works out so comfortably for him. For myself, I can say that, among all new tenors in the Italian repertoire, he is by far the most interesting so far. Although his phrasing is occasionally a bit too cupo, he sang with instrumental quality, unfailing good taste a good ear for tone colouring and idiomatic quality.

Elena Mosuc took some time to warm – her Regnava nel silenzio was uncomfortable, she lacked concentration in the confrontation with her brother, but seemed to gather her resources to produce an extremely musical, accurate and beautifully sung mad scene. It was hardly illuminating, intense or really touching, but beguilingly done in her bright-toned soprano clean of metallic quality and rich in breathtaking mezza voce effects and accurate passagework. She found no trouble in producing in alts and never missed an opportunity.

South-African baritone Fikile Mvinjelwa has a rich, dark voice and admirable stamina to hold high notes for ever, but bel canto apparently is not his repertoire. Instead of really dealing with Donizetti’s decorated lines, he seemed impatient to get through anything slightly embellished and go straight to the gutsiest passages. Katarina Bradic was a refreshingly young sounding Alisa. I would say that the part of Raimondo is far from comprimario and requires more solid casting. Among the basses in the ensemble of the Deutsche Oper, there are some who could take it in more acceptable a manner.

Guillermo García Calvo’s primary concern was to be there for his singers whenever they needed – and he never failed to do so this evening. Many would say that Donizetti requires nothing further – I beg to differ. Here in Berlin, none less than Herbert von Karajan proved that – and his soprano was only Maria Callas. It must be said that the edition here adopted follows the same cuts of last year performance’s.

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