Posts Tagged ‘Karina Gauvin’

When Jérémie Rhorer first started his Mozart opera series in the Théâtre des Champs Élysées, he was not exactly a household name, but now that it is close to reach its end, he has become something of a sure deal for Classical repertoire. I’ve had the luck to see the Così fan tutte in this series and I realize that it wasn’t only Rhorer’s reputation that has increased since then, he himself has developed as a conductor, most notably in the sense that he has found a more fine balance between his ideas and the means available to carry them out. It is curious that I’ve had the same seat both evenings, and the impression of the orchestral sound could not be more different: today, all sections of the Cercle de l’Harmonie were in perfect balance and, if the strings have a touch of astringency, this was put to good purpose in a punchy, vivid sound picture. Actually, if these performances deserved to be recorded (probably in studio, with cast changes), the main reason for that would doubtlessly be Rhorer’s conducting. This was probably the best conducted TIto I have ever heard (including recordings) – the Overture sounded entirely fresh to my ears, with wonderful interplay between strings and wind instruments and truly theatrical flair. His management of tempi proved to be ruled by the quest for the right balance between musical and theatrical values and the eschewal of empty effect. Soft affetti were treated with unusual care – the Servilia/Annio duettino exquisitely touching, while the orchestra could provide Vitellia with some of its most stingy and nervous sounds. I have been often let down in the finale ultimo, but this evening it has surpassed my expectations in the perfect matching of soloists, orchestra and chorus (which could be a bit short in tenor and bass sound during the whole opera).

Everybody wondered how further Karina Gauvin would be singing exclusively on the cream before moving up to the full glass of milk of her lyric soprano. The choice of the formidable role of Vitellia seems like a bold step into a future of new possibilities, even if this deserves some consideration. First, I was surprised to see how wholeheartedly she has embraced the virago attitude, spitting her recitatives with panache and chewing the scenery as if her life depended on it. However, she does not have the physique du rôle for a seductress, especially when sabotaged by an unbecoming gown strangely provided by no other than Christian Lacroix. Second, if Gauvin could delve most naturally in chest voice for the very low notes required by Mozart, she lacks either training or the instincts or even the spiritual disposition when things get high and loud. She tiptoed through every incursion above high a and produced a truly underwhelming account of the acuti of Vengo… aspetatte… . There is no “third”: other than this I’ve found her Vitellia really enjoyable in her rich, flexible soprano. She tackled many difficult runs unusually accurately and showed no reluctance before trills and sang a sensitive and heartfelt Non più di fiori.

Kate Lindsey too was a sensitive Sesto, singing with beautiful sense of line and true ease with mezza voce. Her mezzo remains, though, light for the role and heroic moments took her to her limits, most notably in the end of Parto, ma tu ben mio, when her fioriture left a lot to be desired. Julie Boulianne (Annio) proved to be more generous in the vocal department, her velvety and homogeneous voice easy on the ear. Julie Fuchs has Mozart running through her veins. Her voice is very reminiscent of Barbara Bonney’s, but she finally offered a Servilia even more touching than Bonney’s in both her recorded performances. Robert Gleadow was a positive Publio with very clear divisions, but there is a rattling, nasal quality suggesting the musical theatre rather than the opera that disturbed balance in many ensembles.

Kurt Streit was, for many years, a model of Mozartian singing, as one can sample in his many recordings in this repertoire, but these days seem to be behind him. It is true that the sense of line, the imagination for ornamentation, the elegant phrasing and the clean fioriture are still there, but passaggio is now handled in a glaringly open tone and, when he has to cover his high notes, they turn up tremulous and effortful. His handling of the text was extremely artificial, as if Tito were talking to small children during the whole opera, what made him seem insincere and studied and a bit dull. And that is not the character devised by Metastasio.

Director Denis Podalydès, from the Comédie-Française, had many interesting ideas – starting the performance with a very expressive actress (Leslie Menu) delivering Bérénice’s farewell verses to Titus in Racine’s tragedy before the overture and setting the action in a hotel, where the high echelons of government seem to be interned during a political crisis while the ruler’s authority is being restored. There are too many extras, though, and some intimate scenes sound overcrowded and too many secrets are being recited to an audience of silent roles. The Personenregie is very detailed and all members of the cast keenly follow it, but I am afraid that the Sesto’s mental unbalance after he has set fire to the capitol is too much even for well-intentioned opera singer.


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Ariodante is the last item in the Handel opera series presented in Braunschweig (among other stations in Europe) with Il Complesso Barocco and Alan Curtis. With Joyce DiDonato in the title role, this was probably its most sought-after concert – and one can easily imagine how disappointed the audience felt when they learned the news of her cancelling the whole tournée. In her place, it was announced the name of Caitlin Hulcup, whom I had previously seen as a charming Meg in Verdi’s Falstaff – I know, hardly information enough to gauge how efficient she could be in one of Handel’s most difficult primo uomo roles.  In retrospect, I can say that I am almost happy that I had the opportunity of hearing a bit more from this Australian mezzo-soprano. To start with, her tone can be so reminiscent of Lorraine Hunt’s that one cannot help but developing a favorable disposition, especially in this role in which this late Handelian singer was something of a reference. Even if Hulcup has a less consistently solid low register, her clear and fluent coloratura, crystalline diction, stylish phrasing and dramatic commitment procure her a prominent place in this repertoire. I would say her direct, dense and noble Scherza, infida is one of the best I have ever heard, live or in recordings. She was ideally matched by Karina Gauvin’s rich-toned, fluent, expressive and regal Ginevra. Sabina Puértolas has a pleasant, sensuous voice, but her high register is somewhat taut and her diction can be improved (her Italian has a touch of the other Mediterranean peninsula), but she could make something more interesting of Dalinda than what I am used to see. Nicholas Phan finds Lurcanio’s tessitura a bit uncongenial and would have to wait for his duet with the soprano to shine in his dulcet mezza voce. The role of the King of Scotland is a bit low for Matthew Brook too and yet he sang nobly and expressively. Then there is Marie-Nicole Lemieux. While I admire her spirit and energy, this is no replacement for proper technique. The plethora of antics, register inconsistencies and approximative fioritura often veered in the grotesque, and this is not what Handel wanted in this role.

I often find Alan Curtis a conductor more concerned about warm, beautiful orchestral sound and gracious rhythms – and so he showed himself in the first part of the evening. After the intermission, though, the proceedings increasingly gained in impetus, in theatricality and in panache. By the end, it was quite a gripping performance. The orchestra had no small share of responsibility there – they often reacted to the singers in a very organic and effective way. I would say that this was more compelling than the recording released by Virgin Classics (if not as exciting as Marc Minkowski’s for Deutsche Grammophon). The edition performed tonight was sadly heavily cut – not so much in the sense of deleted numbers (Dalinda’s Il primo ardor, maybe the King’s Al sen ti stringo…), but in the deletion of the B section and repeats in a great deal of numbers – most unforgivably the lovely duet Bramo aver mille vite. It may be my imagination, but I had the impression that Ariodante’s Con l’ali di costanza showed some discrepancies to what I am used to hear.

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Handel’s Giulio Cesare was first performed in Braunschweig in 1725. The Caro Sassone would probably be happy to see that he still draws the audiences in Lower Saxony. In co-operation with the Staatstheater Braunschweig, Alan Curtis and his Complesso Barocco are offering there a series of three operas by the composer: Giulio Cesare, Deidamia and Ariodante. Curtis and his international cast have already performed Giulio Cesare in Vienna and Paris and Lyon is their next and last station. This is the first time I have heard Curtis and his ensemble, but I probably have all his recordings of Handel operas, of which he is an uncontested advocate. His orchestra has a pleasant warm, polished sound, but his recordings tend to skate in the surface of the drama. That was not my first impression this evening – the overture displayed some raw energy, Cesare had exhilaritingly fast tempi for his entrance aria and his public display of reproof on seeing Pompey’s severed head. I have also found interesting his flowing choice of pace for Non è si vago, here made to sound more flirtatious than lovesick, but the thrill was soon gone. One would never guess from the well-behaved orchestral playing that Sesto is speaking of revenge in L’angue offeso or that Cleopatra erupted from resignation towards death to gleeful triumph in Da tempeste. Although singers arguably have the greatest share of responsibility in theatrical expression in baroque opera, the orchestra is nonetheless vital to create the atmosphere, especially in Handel – and you just had to look at those musicians to see that sometimes they were not in the same wavelength of their soloists, beautifully as they played – and the obligato parts in Se in fiorito and Va tacito e nascosto were indeed superbly played.

The edition adopted this evening required many adjustments – the harp solo in “Lydia”‘s seduction scene was given to the harpsichord, I haven’t seen four horns for the opening choir, Curio does not exist and, quite understandably, some arias have been cut (Sesto’s La giustizia, Tolomeo’s Belle dee and Sì, spietata, Cesare’s Qual torrente, Achilla’s Se a me non sei and Nireno’s Chi perde un momento) and some were shorn of their B sections (Cleopatra’s Venere bella, Cornelia’s Non ha più che temere and maybe Sesto’s L’aura che spira).

Karina Gauvin has been called “the Renée Fleming of baroque music”, and the nickname is apt enough given the roundness and fullness of her soprano, far richer in nuance than most singers in this repertoire. She achieved the feat of producing a particular tone colouring for each aria – lightly provocative in Non disperar, weightily tragic in Se pietà, contrastingly resignated and desperate in Piangerò and exuberantly imperious in Da tempeste (an unforgettable display of technical abandon). Curiously, the more teasing Tutto può and V’adoro, pupille were quite short in charm. She is one of those singers who always sings on the interest and not on the capital, especially in her high register, what is healthy for her, but a bit frustrating for the audience, considering what her amazing resources might be in their full powers. In any case, a must hear.

Emöke Barath’s voice is a bit high for the role of Sesto, but the singer is irreproachable.  Her tonal quality is pure and pleasant, her coloratura is fluent, she is a vivid performer, has a good ear for ornamentation and, considering her natural Fach, could aptly play her registers for a more “boyish” effect in key moments. I’m curious to hear more from her. Romina Basso too was an impressive Cornelia, her contralto natural and flexible and her use of the text very expressive. Sometimes, her ornamentation is too flamboyant for Cornelia’s lamenti and she could relax a bit more on stage (her whole posture is often too tense), but make no mistake: she is a very special singer.

I wonder if Marie-Nicole Lemieux shouldn’t trade roles with Romina Basso. Her voice is quite soft-grained in its middle register and sometimes unfocused out of her effort to produce incisiveness in it – and her register break is abrupt. The excruciatingly difficult arie di bravure had their labored moments and her interpretation involves highlighting the text to the expense of melodic flow in a rather Fischer Dieskau-ian manner. When the circumstances were favourable, she could be really touching, such as in Aure, deh pietà. All in all, she has an irresistible personality and is never less than fully committed and by the end the sum its greater than the parts.

Countertenor Filippo Mineccia has a strong high register, stamina and flexibility, but his passaggio is a bit problematic. Johanes Weisser (Achilla) has developed a lot since I last heard him. Now he consistently sounds like a baritone and he sang with panache and very clear divisions in forceful voice. There was something tense in his presence, but he channeled that efficiently into his arias. Last but not least, I was sorry for the loss of Nireno’s aria, for Milena Storti was really, really great in her crisply delivered recitatives in a dark yet focused contralto.

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