Although Bellini’s operas have been now and then disputed as old-fashioned, they have never failed to catch the heart of even those who recognize their touches of saccharine (especially in what regards the plots and simplistic orchestration), such as Richard Wagner himself, who was deeply impressed by the performance of the great Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient as Romeo.
Because of its connection with the legendary singer from Hamburg, this breeches-role is a favourite with mezzo-sopranos who tackle the bel canto repertoire. In many interviews, Elina Garanca has explained that bel canto is just a phase in her career and that her voice cries for Romantic long lines rather than fioriture, but so far she has scored her greatest successes in her recordings of Bellini’s Norma (with Edita Gruberová) and I Capuletti e i Montecchi (with Anna Netrebko), not to mention her broadcast of Rossini’s La Cenerentola from the Metropolitan Opera. I witnessed her Rosina at the Met a couple of years ago and, if I agree that coloratura is not her strongest suit (although she is definitely accomplished), she has a charming voice, a good ear for tone colouring and personality to sell.
In its season opening performance, the Deutsche Oper was bold to cast Bellini’s take on the ill-fated lovers from Verona, but not brave enough to stage it. So, in this concert version, we have both Romeo and Giulietta en escarpins. That has not prevented these singers to produce the minimally required brushstrokes of acting to give life to the proceedings. The high heels had no influence on Garanca’s Romeo. Although the part ideally requires a more penetrating low register, this Latvian mezzo knows the role from inside out and is never caught short in it. Her ability to spin seamless legato is an asset in Bellini and she knows how to use the text to dramatic purpose, especially at her dying scene. This is a singer who goes to the heart of the matter in terms of dramatic and musical requirements and never cheats with expression. In this sense, she was ideally partnered by the lovely Ekaterina Siurina.
A stylish Mozartian, Ms. Siurina has a light silvery soprano that lacks at first Italianate morbidezza and in alts for the traditional puntature. But she has almost everything else – a very long breath, a positive low register, spontaneous Italian pronunciation, perfect trills, breathtakingly floated pianissimi and unfailing musicianship. However, her greatest talent is to evoke almost palpable emotions on stage. She does not express feelings, she lives them through as if the music and text were created by herself. Her stage presence is also mesmerizing. She has a doll-like charm, but her seductive eyes cast a powerful and irresistible spell on the audience. I do not know if Italian roles are her habitat (I have read that her Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto was highly appreciated at the Metropolitan Opera), but she is certainly one of those singers who work their way in whatever repertoire. I personally believe she still owes the world some Mozart.
The evening’s Tebaldo, Argentinian tenor Dario Schmunck, is also technically refined and theatrically engaged, but he often failed to pierce through the orchestra and had his tense moments when things get too high or fast. Ante Jerkunica was a resonant Capellio and, even if he had his over-Germanic moments, Reinhard Hagen’s voice is so noble and beutiful that one cannot help being convinced by his Lorenzo.
Conductor Karel Mark Chichon, Elina Garanca’s husband, takes his Bellini very seriously and invested each note with meaning, musical and theatrical purpose. Every hidden music-dramatic possibility in Bellini’s score have been unearthed this evening and many an audience member expecting a boîte de bonbons has been surprised by the white-heat performance, in which the maestro’s enthusiasm contagiated the Deutsche Oper Orchestra members to engage into the drama. The occasional mismatch is a minor price for the extra sparkles.