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Posts Tagged ‘Leo Nucci’

Even among Verdi’s early works, his sixth opera, I Due Foscari, is a rarity. Compared to Nabucco or Ernani, it takes a long while to launch – I would say it actually does it in a powerful closing scene. Some (Verdi included) blame the libretto inspired in Lord Byron’s dramatically tame play. Although Piave basically repeats the same structure for every scene – someone interrupts something that eventually happens anyway – the historical events around Venice’s Doge Francesco Foscari are indeed operatic material. I would rather blame Verdi himself, who was not at his more melodically inspired and not really able to depict the dramatic situations – the first performances in Vienna had the audience laughing at a waltz reminiscent of Johann Strauss in one very depressing scene.

In any case, when you have a cast up to the challenging vocal parts, it can be a rewarding experience. The Deutsche Oper should be praised by its serious attempt of resurrecting the opera. Conductor Roberto Rizzi Brignoli, for instance, seemed to be determined to prove that there is drama from bar one in the score. With the help of of a fully engaged orchestra and top-class choral singing, he certainly fared better than the bureaucratic Lamberto Gardelli in his studio recording with the ORF orchestra. However, there was a price to pay for the intensity, which was loudness. Without that, the distinguished cast here gathered could be even more convincing.

American soprano Angela Meade, who has made me an admirer since an impressively sung Semiramide a couple of years ago, showed Berlin what golden age is about. Her lyric soprano has gained richness and power without any loss of clarity, offering round, creamy, unforced tones throughout. Although Katia Ricciarelli’s soprano is more immediately seductive in the studio recording, Meade is simply more at ease with the demands and excitingly coped with faster tempi. She could not restrain herself from wowing the audience with an extra in-alt, Caballé-ian high pianissimi and kilometrically long phrases without breathing pauses. The way she presided over ensembles was particularly chilling. Although she is not the sacro-fuoco kind of singer, she is far from musically bland either – and sang the role of Lucrezia Conterini with the necessary passion. Exhilarating as her performance was, I wish that she and the conductor could relax a bit more for her to sculpt a bit more her phrasing, as Ricciarelli often could do – in other words, giving the music and the text a bit more time. But that’s me trying to make something truly exceptional a bit more believable for my 12 or 13 readers. In Gardelli’s CDs José Carreras takes the role of Jacopo Foscari, singing with unbridled impetuosity. Healthy in its exuberant high notes as the Spanish tenor’s recording is, I am afraid I prefer Ramón Vargas’s more sensitive and restrained approach. His voice is on the light side for this role, but the tonal quality is so pleasing and he phrases with such good taste that the trade-off is more than worthwhile. It is amazing that the 70-year-old Leo Nucci still sings with such firmness and power, but – even in his prime his singing was never warm, noble and smooth as Piero Cappuccilli’s (again in Gardelli’s CDs). What made his Foscari interesting was his high theatrical voltage – and that he’s still got. The dramatic solo when the Doge is asked to resign in act III was delivered with formidable intensity, bringing the house down with shouts of bravo and applause. I cannot say how complete this performance was, but I have missed the arioso Oh, morte fossi allora for the baritone in the scene that opens the second part of act III. I might be wrong – I don’t intend to seem a connoisseur of early Verdi… Last but not least, Tobias Kehrer deserves special mention – his rock-solid, forceful, dark bass will procure him a great career. Although his Italian is good enough, if he could be a little bit more idiomatic, he could certainly navigate the Italian repertoire, as René Pape has done.

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I would not have believed that I would see again Götz Friedrich’s production of Verdi’s La Traviata, but I was too curious to resist the opportunity to hear Vittorio Grigolo live for the first time in my life and to see Patrizia Ciofi again (actually, I saw her once in her all too short contribution to a performance of Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortilèges conducted by Lorin Maazel in the Avery Fisher Hall a couple of years ago). Then I discovered that Leo Nucci was to sing the role of Germont, père, and all things considered I like him and was impressed by his forceful Macbeth in Vienna back in 1999.

I would like to be in Patrizia Ciofi’s mind for 10 seconds to discover why she has decided to lead her career towards Romantic roles that are invariably heavy for her delicate voice. She is an intelligent singer, with a lovely fleece-like tonal quality, clear diction and foolproof musicianship. Her intonation is so pure that some much abused phrases in the part of Violetta Valéry sounded unusually fresh to my ears. However, she lacks the low register for much of the role and has to cheat with parlando effects that soon became predictable. Also, passages that require a heftier voice too often sound tremulous and squally. The closing of Sempre libera deserved praise for the wrong reasons – although she was experiencing the horrors of overpartedness, she could nonetheless cold-bloodily manage failing resources to vocalize in the most uncomfortable vowels and more or less keeping the text, even while venturing into an uncomfortable high e flat and then closing the aria without the ah, sì usually invented to produce an extra breath pause. As it was, Ciofi would sound particularly convincing in the tender lyric moments as Dite alla giovine.

Before Luciano Pavarotti’s death, you would hardly read a positive assessment of his artistry but often a mention to the end of the era of overweight tenors – but once he was not here anymore, everyone quickly remembered the pleasure of hearing an unbelievably spontaneous voice even to the very end of the tenor range and sometimes beyond. It is most curious that some reviewers had decided that Vittorio Grigolo is the new Pavarotti, with the extra advantage that he cuts a Romantic figure on stage. Although the young Italian tenor certainly relishes the leading man routine even when the situation requires a little bit more abandon, he will have to eat far more pasta if he wants to sound remotely close to Pavarotti. The 1,000,000-question is: whence the comparison? If I had to say that there is something in common between these voices, it would be: both are Italianate lyric tenors with an immediate, natural sound and unforced projection. I had no problem hearing Grigolo’s voice, even when the orchestra was indeed loud. Which is the difference? Before Pavarotti became the world’s tenor next door, he had sung some very difficult bel canto roles, including Arturo in Bellini’s I Puritani and he even toyed with Mozart’s Idomeneo. His liquid, gracious and full-toned singing of these roles inscribed his name in the history of opera. While Grigolo works hard for mezza voce, is sensitive to the text and is all-right fervent and impetuous, can anyone seriously imagine him in a Donizetti or a Bellini opera? Considering that he won’t be able to sing Radamès or Manrico, this is not a rhetorical question. He certainly has the elements of an important voice, but they are a bit chaotically handled – his voice seems to be placed in many different ways, sometimes in the same phrase; he is amazingly free with tempo (and I don’t mean in the I-know-better-than-the-composer, Caballé-like way) and the high register is often too open and unconnected to the rest of the voice. O mio rimorso was all over the place and what he sang before a tense high c was not really what Verdi wrote. But don’t mistake me – it has been a while since I’ve heard a truly pleasing-toned natural Italian tenor who also happens to have some imagination. If a more solid technique had been applied to it, I can only imagine what he would be able to do.

As for Leo Nucci, I am tempted to write about a veteran’s performance, but his voice is still so firm and powerful that he could still hold the competition to some singers in this repertoire. Of course, there are occasional rough patches and he finds it hard to soften his tone and is often wooden and unconcerned, but still, when it comes to truly “honest” singing, he gave the evening’s most commendable performance. I must not forget Andrea Ihle’s beautifully acted Annina and Jana Kurucová’s lustrous-toned Flora.

Roberto Rizzi Brignoli belongs to these conductors who likes to conduct his orchestra with frantic gestures and loud hissing. I find it distracting – and it seems that the orchestra did not warm to the approach. The louder he hissed, the more impassive the orchestra seemed to be. Although the audience understood from the hissing that there should be more passion in the music-making, the passion was left to imagination. I know, no orchestra can really have fun playing Verdi’s La Traviata, but a sensitive conductor makes all the difference of the world in this music.  I did find the flowing tempi pleasant, but the poor synchrony in the orchestra, between orchestra and chorus and some singers (following the evening’s leading tenor’s wayward rhythm is actually a feat to any conductor – and Brignoli really did his best in this department) suggests limited rehearsing. After the intermission, the performance evidently improved – the big ensemble in the end of the scene depicting Flora’s party was very well-balanced and the prelude to the last act was quite sensitively played.

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