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Posts Tagged ‘Olga Borodina’

According to the Princess of Bouillon, this is how Adriana Lecouvreur’s voice is supposed to sound and, well, I must confess that this is probably the best description of Maria Guleghina’s big, ungainly and intense soprano. Before she could open her mouth in this run of performances of  the most “telefono bianco” of Italian operas, Guleghina has been blacklisted by many opera-goers who somehow are right to expect more vocal glamour in a role which was a sort of calling card for Renata Tebaldi. That said (and I know I’ll be thrown tomatoes at for saying this), this Ukranian soprano is an acquired taste I have ultimately learned to acquire. In an age of pasteurised expression, narcisism and cold professionalism in opera, it is refreshing to see someone who is really giving it all and who seems to be actually having fun and wishing that we have fun too.  Now that the tomatoes have been thrown, I can also say that I perfectly understand whoever feels discouraged by Guleghina’s singing – she is irritatingly uneven. In one moment, she is really close to the ideal just to spoil the whole thing, with sour, metallic and overvibrant singing. But once you realise that she is the sort of artist who gets so carried away by situations that it is impossible to maintain polish, you start to “get” her. There are singers who are just sloppy, but Guleghina is not that – she is a trouper and wants to do it all. She wants to offer you pianissimi worthy of Caballé, the intensity of a Scotto, the touching morbidezza of a Freni, the warmth and power of a Tebaldi, but all that at the same time and is unvariably caught short by the fact that the absolute soprano is a myth.

Back to Cilea. The mention of these illustrious Adrianas is not accidental – at moments you could almost guess that Guleghina has carefully studied what her forerunners have done in this role – Scotto and Freni are almost a 100% certainty. And the hardwork has paid off – her ability to produce a girly, vulnerable, touching sound in lyrical and conversational passages were a definite asset of this performance. Her strong speaking voice and viable declamation of italianized Racine (praiseworthy for someone born so far away from Italy) also carried her in the difficult closing of act III. However, both arias caught her short in flowing legato and command of low register. The results were rather tentative then. Not the final duet with Maurizio – a sour top note apart, it was sung with depths of feeling and sense of line.

Although Olga Borodina’s mezzo no longer counts with the firm powerful top notes that seemed to reserve a place in the dramatic repertoire for her, she still has everything else – her voice is at once generous, warm and formidable. As many other singers, she could not find any depth in her Principessa di Bouillon, but embraced the virago cliché with enthusiasm.

Before you ask me how Plácido Domingo was in this role in which he was first seen at the Met forty years ago, I deliberately chose to see Marcello Giordani instead. Everybody takes Giordani for granted, but – believe me – he will be sorely missed when he retires. At the moment, I believe that no-one tackles the lirico spinto repertoire as consistently and efficiently as he dones. And before you ask me what lies beyond mere efficiency, I answer you that Sicilians do not need to practice on passion, they have it on their blood. As expected, Giordani was an exemplary Maurizio – the voice is natural, the top notes are firm, his phrasing is elegant, his delivery of the Italian text is crispy and his approach is no-nonsense. In act III, when he offered his best singing, he shaded his voice with no hint of effort and proved that you may still do sobbing provided you know how to do it.

Last but not least, Roberto Frontali was a firm-toned, congenial Michonnet. Among the minor roles, Bernard Fitch should be singled out for his animation. The casting for the Comédie characters could have involved more focused voices – as it was, they could barely pierce through the orchestra. In that sense, conductor Marco Armiliato could not be accused of drowning his singers, but he could not do that without avoiding a muffled quality. Cilea’s coloristic orchestration sometimes sounded simply disjointed and atmosphere was sorely missing. This is not a score that has received the attention of great conductors, but I am sure that there are hidden jewels there to be found – you just have to sample James Levine’s CDs with Renata Scotto to hear that.

When it comes to the revival of the Met’s old production, I seriously don’t know what to say – I understand that this is an opera for which it cannot be considered justified to spend lots of money with, but one expects to see something more artistic in an opera house of this level of importance. I am not saying that this should be a richer production, but only that some creative mind had spent a bit of its time on it. As it is, if you have asked my cleaning lady to stage an opera in France a long time ago, the results would have been more or less the same. No offense to my cleaning lady, but I am sure that the guys who were responsible for the revival at the Met were far more richly paid than her. Even Mark Lamos’s stage direction was bureacratic and insistent on effects that ultimately did not work.

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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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The Met’s Aida is a monumental affair, and those who have seen it with monumental voices know how effective it can be. It sounds really empty when the huge sceneries have to work the magic alone while the orchestra is muted to accomodate small-scaled voices. This saturday a debut in such a fearsome role was scheduled with a singer whose accomplishment were at least to me mysterious. I cannot say how much of a good surprise Micaela Carosi is – but I am convinced that the surprise is somehow good. She has a voice in the good old Italian style – there is a faint touch of Gabriella Tucci in her lirico spinto. However, maybe because of her debut, the instrument was sometimes awkwardly handled. Act I was particularly messy – the low passaggio was clumsy, top notes fluttery and the pitch was suspect. From act II on, she found a better shape, treated her gear change more gently, focused her top notes and would now and then pull out some stunning things. Fortunately, most of them in act III. It is a pity she deemed unimportant to see to her mezza voce in the closing scene – she had sung some beautiful floating tones before that.

Olga Borodina was clearly not in a good day as Amneris. Until mezzo forte she seemed pretty much herself. Forte passages in the high register found her bleached-toned and laborious. Granted, her large velvety mezzo is not exactly the one for Amneris, but in her good days she certainly is able to prove she is more than Ersatz in this opera.

Replacing an ailing Marco Berti, Stephen O’Mara had a rather testing debut as Radames. Although his voice generally stands the heavy demands made on it by Verdi, his tenor seemed to have been beefed-up for German operatic purposes. As it is, the sound is coarsely dark and secure but top notes tend to be tense and there is very little sensuousness in it. Juan Pons may have the world’s record in the role of Amonasro. At this stage in his career, he has to disguise the strain with studied overemphasis, in which he succeeds to a certain extent. Both Vitalji Kowaljow as Ramfis and Reinhard Hagen as the King have spacious beautiful voices.

Kazushi Ono presided over an elegant performance in which he clearly was trying to make his singers’ lives easier. As a result, there was a certain economy with fortissimos and unfortunately also less impact. It must be pointed out that the ensembles were unusually clean and transparent, what is always praiseworthy considered the scale of the event.

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