Posts Tagged ‘Marcelo Álvarez’

The second item in the Teatro Regio di Torino’s Japanese tour was Puccini’s Tosca, here shown in a low-budget but refreshingly unpretentious staging by Jean-Louis Grinda. While the sets to act I could have been a little less lazily designed, the remaining acts were quite efficient in their straightforwardness, except for Tosca’s costumes, which were all of them excessively plain and unbecoming. The Personenregie was discrete to the point of seeming non-existent, but that proved to be a blessing in disguise: the three leading singers are very experienced in their roles and felt at ease to add their personal contributions. Some details were particularly successful: Scarpia’s look when Tosca unintentionally touches his hand to grab a fan; Tosca’s regained sense of being in control when she tries to bribe Scarpia; Cavaradossi’s utter disbelief in Tosca’s plan in act III. The relative cleanliness of the staging made every little gesture count – and these singers seemed to be aware of that. One particularly welcome idea from the director: I don’t know about you, but I never liked that whole business with the cross and the candle-holders. I know it is there in the libretto, but maybe in the play this makes more sense. In the opera, it has always bothered me as nonsensical*. Here Tosca nervously prays, looks for the safe-conduct, finds it in Scarpia’s hand, takes it with disgust and, when preparing to leave, realizes that he lies dead over her cloak, struggles to get it back but is finally unable to do it. The curtain falls while she is about to exit without it.

Gianandrea Noseda’s affinity with Puccini apparently is greater than with Verdi. He is more at ease with the flexibility of beat required by this music and his primarily symphonic point-of-view, achieved by a very risky but ultimately successful balance with his soloists, paid off in its eschewal from empty effect and his intent of clarity and richness of sound. Although his singers had to work hard for their money this afternoon, he was not indifferent to their needs, as one could hear in Recondita armonia, when the tenor’s indication that he needed a slower pace was promptly understood.

I had previously seen Patricia Racette only once in 2005 as Alice Ford at the Met and had found her a fine musician with a monochrome voice. Although her voice is still indistinctive in tone and a little bit workmanlike, the brain behind it is truly admirable. First of all, she knows her voice, has solid technique and responds most adeptly to the big challenges in the part: as a lyric soprano, she could produce beautiful legato and achieve a blond-toned lightness in her act I scene with Cavaradossi; in act II, she never failed in offering powerful acuti over a big orchestra and could manage an ersatz for chest voice when this was necessary. She could even fake sacro fuoco when this was necessary. Most of all, she has REALLY read the score and cared for the meaning of the notes and the words there, even in seemingly unimportant moments. She has even resisted the forgivable temptation of making Vissi d’arte a moment of beauty (a sensible way of disguising some bumpy turns of phrasing anyway). In any case, although her performance was not dramatically gripping as with many famous exponents of this role, it was in some ways revelatory in the way it gravitated around Tosca’s vulnerability, around the frailty behind the prima donna’s bossy attitude, around her need to be in control deeply damaged by Scarpia’s ruthless attack on her and her world.**.

Racette had an ideal partner in Marcelo Álvarez, who sang with consistent beauty of tone and sensitive phrasing, making this music sound spontaneous and expressive as it always should. Except for an unnecessarily overemphatic ending, his E lucevan le stelle was extremely elegant and heartfelt. I am happy to hear that the frequentation of heavy repertoire has not touched his voice. There are more powerful and dark-voiced Scarpias than Lado Ataneli, but few are so sharply focused and dangerously self-contained as he is. He never forgets that, although he is something of a brutal police chief, he is also a nobleman at home in fine society. His poised self-assurance made an interesting contrast with Tosca’s increasing despair in act II.

* When I first listened to Tosca, I understood that she said “È morto! Dio mi perdoni”. I would be later very disappointed on reading that she actually says “Or gli perdono!”.

** If you think about the words in Vissi d’arte, she is basically saying “God, you’re not doing your part in our agreement”, the bottom-line being “she believed that everything would always be right by doing things rightly”.  The other moments when she addresses God in the opera is when she curses inside the church and, being reminded that this is a sin, she says that He will turn a blind eye on this, because “He knows that she is suffering”.


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Il Trovatore is widely acknowledged as opera’s most ridiculous libretto – an opinion I do not share. If you know something about Spanish theatre, you happen to know that the idea is really going over the top – especially during the days of Romanticism. And I tell you – Spanish language does make the 100% emotionalism believable. Verdi was well aware of this – and denied no expressive tools to produce raw, gutsy depiction of strong feelings on the stage. If you try to polish the proceedings, then your Trovatore is a lost case.

I would not say that the Met’s new Trovatore is a lost case – there is a lot to be cherished there, but the overall impression is of misfiring. A new production has been ordered from David McVicar, who claims to have found inspiration in the paintings of Goya. I am sure he is telling the truth, but the staging looked just like every other Trovatore you have seen in your life. And this may mean that he was respectful to the libretto (a rare quality these days), but the politeness we could witness at the Met – that, I am sure, does not come from Goya.  One must recognise that McVicar tries to throw in some spice by adding some prostitutes to the Soldiers Chorus and by having his prima donna throwing herself on the ground, crawling and panting at the least opportunity – but everybody seemed to be working hard for intensity and also a bit uncomfortable about the whole thing. Intensity is something you cannot fake – if you do not have it, better go for dignity, something Italian operatic directors are well aware of.

As much as Gianandrea Noseda’s conducting showed a loving eye for the score, trying to highlight accompanying figures, to keep rhythms precise and flowing and to highlight dramatic gestures, the orchestral sound was too recessed to produce any kind of true excitement. Noseda was an attentive conductor for his singers, helping them in every moment of need – and keeping the orchestra in medium volume levels was essencial for a cast almost devoid of dramatic voices, but other maestros have been able to keep a brighter edge to their orchestral sound that keeps the sparkles going when sheer volume is impossible. I would mention Riccardo Muti’s live from La Scala, where a similar lighter-voiced casting was employed.

Sondra Radvanosky’s abilities as a Verdian soprano have always been an object of dispute.  It is undeniable that she fulfils some key requirement – it is a sizeable voice, capable of morbidezza (even if the tone is too veiled for this repertoire), flexibility, mezza voce and some stunning high notes (she took every optional in alt available and some more). However, her low register is not positive and projecting as the role requires, she is a bit challenged by trills (a fault shared by many a soprano tackling this role) and her soft singing is not always true on pitch. Her Tacea la notte was a bit uneventful and its cabaletta (reduced to one verse) was uncomfortable. On the other hand, she achieved some soaring efects in D’ amor sul’ ali rosee (although true abandon was not really there), showed real purpose in the Miserere and, a few notes barred, was quite impressive in Tu vedrai. What is beyond doubt is her intelligence, she has a good ear to find musical-dramatic effects in the writing of the role of Leonora, to chilling effects in her dying scene.

Dolora Zajick is an acknowledged Azucena and, although she was not in her best voice (the basic tonal quality seemed too nasal and somewhat recessed), she did not pull away from any challenge thrown by Verdi – she tried every trill in Stride la vampa, offered some big chest voice low notes and some really powerful top notes (she even tried a not entirely successful high c in her big scene with Manrico). Although her diction was a bit cloudy, she never refused her phrasing the necessary tone colouring and showed no problem with high mezza voce.  If I have some remark about her Azucena, it would be that, although her anguish was palpable, her madness seemed a bit artifficial and there was no sense of danger in her.

I had doubts about Marcelo Alvarez’s Manrico, soon dispelled. His medium volume lyric tenor has enough projecting quality for a big house and he phrases with such musicianship and good taste that you cannot resist him. One feels he is a bit cautious with the heroic moments, but he never produces an ugly or unmusical sound. I doubt there are many tenors around who can offer such a sensitive and dulcet-toned Ah, si ben mio these days. The problem is that Di quella pira does not come in the combo – even if the aria is transposed down a half-tone, he still feels uncomfortable about it. He commendably dealt with articulating the tricky divisions most tenor just glide through, but in order to achieve his matte high b, he had to let his interventions with the chorus unsung and the repeat was avoided. It is true that he was announced to be indisposed, but his problems with this fearsome aria seemed to be more an issue of Fach than of health.

Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s velvety baritone is still a treat to the ears – his stylish Il balen is an example of that – but his ease with big high notes is not entirely here anymore. He has charisma and gets away with some awkward moments – he is also the person with more panache on stage (although the stage direction reduced much of his menacing attitude).  Finally, Kwangchul Youn is glamourous piece of casting in the role of Ferrando.

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Although I dislike the pastel-coloured Seville recreated by Franco Zeffirelli for the Metropolitan Opera, I thought that maybe Olga Borodina could add some zest to the proceedings and tried my luck this evening. I am an admirer of this Russian mezzo-soprano, but I had the impression she might be too formidable for the role. However, as this truly special artist has done with many roles not easily associated with her voice and personality, she made it her own.

I don’t want to sound ungracious, but Borodina doesn’t have the figure and the legs of some singers previously featured in this production, such as Nancy Fabiola Herrera or Denyce Graves – but that does not faze her at all. As portrayed by Borodina, Carmen is neither flirtatious nor sluttish, but rather an affair of panache. Her forceful attitude, her appetite for life, her independence of character makes her rather a conqueror than a seductress – and that is a very good psychological point. It is also true that Borodina’s earthy mezzo-soprano has nothing French about it, but its endless repertory of resources is entirely used to make sure that both the music and the text are dealt with with intelligence and sensitivity. She handles the often abused grace notes with accuracy, scales down for velvety mezza voce when this is required and has amazingly clear French vowels. If I had to be critical about her singing, I have noticed since her last Amneris at the Met a certain harshness in her forte top notes that didn’t exist a couple of years ago.

The role of Don José fits Marcelo Álvarez’s dulcet yet strong tenor. Although his approach is a bit lachrymose (that was a bit of a turn-off in the Flower Song), he can hold an elegant line and, whenever he does it, it is always really pleasant in the ear. He is not a bête de scène, but – maybe because he comes from Argentina – he does rather well his macho routine.

Maija Kovalevska has a rather pretty sweet voice, a basic requirement for Micaela, but I have the impression she was a bit overparted. Some high-lying phrases sounded a bit tense and she had to compensate it a bit with “acting with the voice”. Truth be said, she was one of the most energetic Micaelas I have ever seen – I almost thought that nothing really scared her.
Lucio Gallo’s baritone has become rather juiceless these days, but he was able to keep focus in the role’s low tessitura, what is always a challenge to high baritones. All minor roles were excellently taken and ensembles certainly benefited from that.
From bar one in the overture, one could see that Emmanuel Villaume’s idée fixe was making it fast and exciting – in the end I’ve only really got the lack of polish. Some of Carmen’s most “colourful” pages do require a more sophisticated approach – otherwise it may – as it did – sound like small-town band music.

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