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Posts Tagged ‘Klara Ek’

Kita-ku is not one of Tokyo’s fashionable neighborhoods and most tourists never go there. It’s district hall has a 1,300-seat theatre called Sakura Hall, where a collaboration with the Japanese period-instrument orchestra Les Boréades has brought about a yearly concert since 1995 with foreign guest musicians, featuring works ranging from Rameau’s Hyppolite et Aricie to Gluck’s Les Pèlerins de la Mecque. This year, they return to Mozart with Le Nozze di Figaro (in 2011, there was Così fan Tutte and, in 2004, there was Idomeneo with tenor John Elwes, a CD of which has been released).

Conductor and violinist Ryo Terakado is a key name in the Japanese HIP scene and has performed with every Japanese artist in this repertoire you can think of. I have, for instance, recognized some members of Masaato Suzuki’s Bach Collegium Japan on stage today. His approach to Mozart is hardly meant to cause any revolutionary impression. On the contrary, it seems exclusively informed with the intent of making this score clear, spontaneous and theatrical. Tempi were flowing, but not rushed, accents sounded natural and harsh sonorities were not seen as an expressive tool. Although Les Boréades is a very decent orchestra, it is no Les Musiciens du Louvre: strings are a bit on the thin side, the brass section is bumpy and woodwind could be little bit more in the foreground. I don’t know the hall acoustics, but I have the impression that singers had too much advantage on the orchestra too. And we’re speaking of a semi-staged performance with instruments on stage. In any case, I would be curious to see what Terakado could do with a more technically adept team.

I have the impression that Mozart would expect someone closer to Klara Ek than Kiri Te Kanawa in the role of the Countess Almaviva. Hers is a light, dulcet voice incapable of an ugly sound throughout its range. I had seen her before as a thoroughly lovely Romilda in a production of Handel’s Serse in Kopenhagen. Today, her Porgi, amor was sung with the spontaneity of a song one would sing to oneself, but I guess we’ve become too used to hear some like Te Kanawa making it an example of sublime. She was happier when the role’s tessitura was higher and offered an exemplary Dove sono, in which she proved capable of some shading. Roberta Mameli is the prove that a great Susanna has to have brains first – and then a good voice. Her voice is not devoid of charm – it comes in one pleasant bell-toned quality with enough body but very little tonal variety. If she could produce true mezza voce and allow her low notes to blossom properly, she could have a career as a Mozart singer, for she masters the style and is musicianship incarnated. What makes her Susanna so special, however, is her understanding of the art of Italian declamation. Whoever had the opportunity to attend a theatre performance in Italy knows that this country has a highly formalized theatrical tradition. You can close your eyes and guess who’s the damsel in distress, who’s prince charming, who’s the bad guy, who’s the damsel’s father et al only by the way they speak. Ms. Mameli’s Susanna is deeply imbued of buffo tradition and her recitatives are an exquisite concoction in which you can find thousands of information about who is Susanna and what she is doing at that precise moment. Better – she can retain this ability in her arias and ensembles without any sacrifice to vocal line. Even better – she is an excellent actress with a three-dimensional view of her role. This Susanna is clearly a servant, she obviously is in love with her fiancé, she evidently resists the Count and enjoys the distinction of being allowed in the Countess’s privacy. Most of all, she likes to think she is cleverer than everyone else. In the act II finale, she makes it clear that her greatest surprise there was not that Figaro could prefer an older woman, but simply the fact that someone could have finally fooled her. Later on, she used every little word in Deh vieni, non tardar to allure, to seduce not only Figaro, but everyone in that theatre. I have seen and heard great singers as Susanna, some of them had superior voices, but Roberta Mameli simply offered me the most completely interesting performance in this role in my experience. Bravissima.

As Mutsumi Hatano (Cherubino) has fallen unexpectedly ill and become completely hoarse, our Marcellina, Yuko Anazawa, had to dub her from behind the orchestra. Ms. Anazawa has a lovely, fruity voice and, nervous as she was by having to deal with previously unrehearsed recitatives, offered charming accounts of both Cherubino arias and a quite impressive rendition of her own aria, with extremely clear divisions. If she solves the lack of focus around the passaggio (and improves her Italian), she could have an important career.

Fulvio Bertini is a very funny actor, but his light and clear baritone is often too discreet for the role of the Count. Jun Hagiwara’s baritone too is light, but richer in harmonics (except in his high notes, when it is well focused nonetheless). His is an ideal voice for baroque music, but his Figaro was pleasant in its agreeable tonal quality and congeniality (his Italian too deserves some improvement). Makoto Sakurada has an international career in baroque repertoire and his cameo appearance here meant that we could hear Don Basilio’s aria, probably the best rendition I have ever heard (ok, the competition is generally a tenor near retirement…).

Considering this was only semi-staged with improvised costumes and props, it was amazing how much depth some singers were able to find here. Other than the above mentioned Mameli and Bertini, Ek never forgot that the Countess is a very young woman and portrayed her role’s essential dilemma: she fell in love with the Lindoro from Il Barbiere di Seviglia and ended up married to the Count Almaviva from Le Nozze di Figaro. I like too the fact that she doesn’t act as if she would become the title role in La Mère Coupable, because this is not the character portrayed by Mozart.

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The Danish Royal Theater has achieved a reputation as a Handelian operatic venue since commendable DVDs of Giulio Cesare and Partenope have been released. The example apparently has been followed by Copenhagen’s New Opera, who, curiously, presented Handel’s Serse… in the Royal Theater’s old opera house (as in the above-mentioned DVDs). One cannot overlook the fact that the Barokksolistene do not have the polish and richness of the Concerto Copenhagen (at least as caught by the microphones);  intonation is a bit unreliable, to start with, but conductor Lars Ole Mathiasen has a good ear for atmosphere and seems to find tempi that are both right for the dramatic pace and for his forces. The exception were the arie di bravure, in which passagework tested a bit his musicians.

As usual in Handel operas, the edition here adopted involve many cuts in recitatives and numbers, deletion of B sections, numbers trading place etc. Although the roles of Arsamene and Atalanta had the greater share of loss, director Elisabeth Linton gave every character in the plot enough action to define them to the audience. She benefited from a cast with outstanding acting skills and offered a sensitive and intelligent view of the plot, funny without ever bordering on silliness. I wish I could overlook Herbert Murauer’s ugly costumes, but I couldn’t – they looked cheap and pretentious in a performance where every other element was honest and effective. His sets also had more than a splash of kitsch, but that seemed to go with the eccentricities of Xerxes as portrayed here.

Romilda is one of the unluckiest roles in the whole Handel opera discography. After Lucia Popp’s luminous recording, no other soprano had done justice to the charming music Handel wrote to the character. But this evening it has been vindicated by Klara Ek’s exquisite performance. She sang affectingly with her golden-toned soprano that takes readily to coloratura and floats in ethereal pianissimi. I had heard in Bach’s Magnificat with the Berlin Philharmonic and found it all right, but this evening I have written down her name for the future. Atalanta is also a difficult piece of casting – everything points out to a soprano leggiero, but the tessitura is too low for that. Anne Mette Balling could not meet this requirement and failed to find her way in this part. This was the first time I have seen Tuva Semmingsen live and confess I expected a more incisive voice. Although her coloratura in Crude furie was excitingly handled, she lacks the heft for the more heroic moments. But this is the only (and minor) drawback in a delightful performance: the voice is beautiful, the low register is warm and fruity, the style is irreproachable and she is a truly marvelous actress who had the audience in her hands. I wonder if Arsamene is the right role for Matilda Paulsson. I’ve read she had sung Amastre – and that seems to make more sense. Her mezzo is dark and quite grainy (what masked a bit her attempts at trilling) and I was ready to say Handel is not really her repertoire. But then she seemed to declick in Sì, la voglio e l’otterò, handling her fioriture with true bravura. After that, she could even mellow her tone and sing indeed touchingly. Andrea Pellegrini had a similar evolution during the evening – at first, her contralto was so unfocused that one could not really hear her. Her voice, however, slowly, gained strength; eventually Cagion son’io del mio dolore would be  beautifully sung. Although Johan Rydh has very precise divisions, the role of Ariodate is too low for him. I wonder if Jens Søndergaard (who was singing Elviro) would not be better cast in that role.

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