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Posts Tagged ‘Marlis Petersen’

Although Claus Guth’s production of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro has been taped and released on DVD in its original run, when Anna Netrebko sang the role of Susanna and Nikolaus Harnoncourt led the Vienna Philharmonic, I would say that this year’s reprise would have made a more significant document. Not only is the musical performance of superior quality, but also the new cast brought a more natural approach and a more developed sense of comedy that put in perspective Claus Guth’s attempt to Schnitzlerize Beaumarchais. Offering a more convincing performance than Harnoncourt’s is not a difficult task for conductor Robin Ticciati – instead of trying to make a statement by eccentric accents, rit. and acc. effects and schizophrenic choice of tempi, the young English maestro generally gives this music time to breath and even dared to choose paces slower than we are used to hear today in order to let each phrase develop musical and theatrical meaning. This approach might have worked in its full potential if the Vienna Philharmonic were in the pit, instead of a rather dry-toned Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. As it were, phrases expected to bloom and develop expressive tonal colouring were treated to an almost uniformly insipid orchestral sound that only occasionally portrayed the many nuances of expression in Mozart’s music. I found it particularly bothering that Guth insisted on impairing musical values by his dubious theatrical points – whenever Mozart writes a complex ensemble, there is this bothersome actor playing cupid making laugh-provoking jokes to overshadow Mozart’s beautiful polyphony (why?). The poor singer in the role of the Count Almaviva had to sing his very difficult aria carrying the said actor on his shoulders – no wonder he sounded breathless in it (and the fact that he could sing it at all in these circumstances in an evidence of his good technique).

Even if it might be true that Genia Kühmeier is not a big-house Countess, her performance this evening could be the dictionary example of how Mozartian singing should sound. Both her arias were touchingly sung in immaculate tone and absolute purity of line. Curiously, she took first the lower ossia in the act II trio with Susanna and the Count only to nail a very bright and easy top c a few moments later. Marlis Peterson might be lighter-toned, but her high register often sounded richer in comparison and, as a result, she found no problem in presiding over ensembles. She too is a stylish Mozartian with a truly pleasant voice, but the role of Susanna requires a stronger lower register and maybe a little bit more sexiness and playfulness. Even in the acting department, she could sometimes seem too chic for the circumstances (and she was probably the tallest Susanna I have ever seen…!). Katija Dragojevic, on the other hand, has an ideal physique for Cherubino and does not need to work hard for sexiness. Her voice is sensuous and clean-toned, but low notes are not really there and the intonation in her first aria left something to be desired.

Both Simon Keenlyside and Erwin Schrott offer far more varied and interesting performances than the singers featured on the DVD. The English baritone is a truly gifted actor, who brought a very British fastidiousness and an underlying vulnerability to his Count that made his role particularly funny. He seemed a bit short in the lower end of his range and couldn’t always keep a smooth line, but his voice is forceful and well-focused.  Erwin Schrott adapted his own vivacious Figaro to the director’s concept and avoided ad libs and excessive enthusiasm, what made him even more persuasive. I have seen him in stronger voice in this role, but he still sang very well in his full-toned basso cantante.  The minor roles were well taken by Marie McLaughlin, Franz-Josef Selig and Patrick Henckens, but the act IV arias have been cut (as well as tiny bits of recitative during the opera).

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Orlando Paladino is one of the operas Haydn wrote for the small opera house at the Esterháza Palace. It has been rarely performed and some might remember it as one of Elly Ameling’s rare operatic recording, conducted by Antal Dorati in his all-stars series for Phillips. It has also recently caught the attention of Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who released a recording made live in Graz with some favourite singers in European stages: Patricia Petibon, Malin Hartelius, Werner Güra, Michael Schade and Christian Gerhaher.

As much as Harnoncourt, conductor René Jacobs made his own edition for his performances at the Staatsoper unter den Linden, involving basically the trimming of recitatives and the inclusion of one showpiece aria from Haydn’s Il mondo della Luna for the role of Alcina. As usual, Jacobs has a fancy for the decoration of repeats, what is less bothersome in an unfamiliar opera, for very active continuo (here beside a fortepiano, an alternating harpsichord plus a lute) and for writing over the composer’s work (the inclusion of loud percussion in the Eurilla/Pasquale duet Quel tuo visetto amabile and the inclusion of a part for Eurilla in Pasquale’s “catalogue” aria). But one would forgive Jacobs anything – his conducting was at one vital and spontaneous. Those used to Harnoncourt’s recording were certainly surprised by the flowing yet clear and forward-moving approach. With the help of the polished and animated playing from the Freiburger Barockorchester, ensembles were always transparent and the lyric moments, given all the time they needed, were particularly touching.

Even in such an excellent cast, one would have no doubt that Marlis Petersen’s is the prima donna role. Her golden-toned lyric soprano is extremely ductile and flexible  – the purity of line, accurate divisions, floating pianissimi and dramatic imagination are admirable – and, considering the light vocal quality, particularly penetrating. Also properly cast in the soubrette role, Sunhae Im not only sung with charm and instrumental poise, but also showed real talent for comedy. It is a voice that blossoms a bit high in the soprano range, though, and sometimes she disappears in her first octave. Although Haydn could not have said that Alcina is a mezzo soprano role, the notes speak for themselves. It is extremely gracious of Alexandrina Pendatchanska to take such a secondary role, but once again her wide spectrum of abilities did not build into a coherent performance. The role sits uncomfortably in her soprano – the lower end was dealt with with a somewhat overblown chest voice that did not seamlessly connect  to a recessed middle register and there was little opportunity for her forceful high register. She furiously decorated her part and I cannot see any other reason for her florid insertion aria in the somewhat pointless act III than Jacobs’s friendship with her. In any case, she seized the opportunity to offer a dazzling coloratura display.

 Magnus Staveland’s tenor lacks projection above the passaggio, but it is an extremely pleasant voice, rich-toned and flexible, what is essential for the role of the handsome Medoro (as clearly shown in the libretto, there is not really much beyond looks in Medoro). Tom Randle performs the “furious” aspects of Orlando to perfection, especially in a production that requires from him destroying sets with an axe à la Jack Nicholson in The Shining. His tenor has a darker and more heroic colour than, for example, Michael Schade’s in Harnoncourt’s recording, but he lacks Schade’s floating mezza voce for the most meditative moments. Another favorable comparison with Harnoncourt’s recording is Pietro Spagnoli as Rodomonte, far more spontaneous both vocally and interpretatively (Italian is his native language, one must remember) than Gerhaher. The audience’s favorite, beyond any doubt, was Argentine baritone Victor Torres, who offered an all-round satisfying performance – velvety tonal quality, stylishness, solid technique, theatrical verve and, most of all, he is really funny.

The performance booklet makes a strong point for the Orlando Paladino’s semiserio style with many references to Mozart’s Don Giovanni. I would rather point to Così fan tutte – and I tend to believe that directors Nigel Lowery and Amir Hoisseinpour would agree with me. In Don Giovanni, Donna Anna, Don Ottavio and the Commendatore’s predicament are serious business and Mozart has a sympathetic eye for them, while Fiordiligi, Dorabella and Ferrando’s petty ordeals are made fun of and we only relate to them and finally care about them and suffer for them because we have first laughed at them. In Orlando Paladino, the serio roles, Angelica and Medoro, are so aloof that Haydn makes a series of musical jokes by abruptly changing the affetto for their neverending lamenting. Their arias are almost a parody of opera seria with their overwrought strette. Accordingly, Angelica is shown in this production as the demanding and needy beauty queen who is always upset by the less-than-glamorous circumstances – basically the passive-aggressive dyed-blond bitch who sings coloratura at every opportunity. In his text on the booklet, Jacobs also defends the idea that Alcina is a serious role, but I guess that again the directors agree with me that she would be mezzo carattere – here shown as a drunk hostess who never knows exactly when she should display her superpowers.

Normally, I would resent the excess of slapstick comedy, but one must acknowledge that the libretto demands so – and the cast is extremely comfortable with that. I am not sure about the bearded fairies performing distracting (but funny) subplots in the background amd definitely dislike the silly coreographies – but there are so many ingenious touches that one cannot help but having a great time.

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