Posts Tagged ‘Paolo Gavanelli’

Nabucco is a difficult opera to pull out. Although it is considered to be Verdi’s first truly “Verdian” opera, it is rather a torso of a Verdian opera. Without a truly commited approach from all involved, its many uneffective passages drain the dramatic power of the whole performance. The Bavarian State Opera has a good start – its orchestra has a truly rich and beautiful sound, with individual instrumental solos expressively performed. Conductor Paolo Carignani knows the value of forward movement, of theatrical atmosphere and structural clarity. It is truly a pity that he often gets overemphatic when percussion is involved, thus disfiguring his otherwise masterly balance. This prestigious opera house also has a very good chorus. Unfortunately, it took a while to warm from a messy opening number. It would eventually offer a sensitive account of the opera’s signature number, the chorus Va pensiero, with perfectly blended voices and delicate accompaniment by the orchestra.

When it comes to the cast, we should speak rather of miscasting than casting. The performance’s prima donna, for example. Alessandra Rezza has truly interesting material – her voice is well focused, spontaneously bright-toned as only Italian sopranos can be, her divisions are really accurate, she has excellent diction, knows how to make use of the text and also has some charisma. However, Abigaille is such a heavy role for her voice that all those assets could not make into something really acceptable. Although her low notes are focused and not thrown on chest voice, she had hard time trying to make them run into the auditorium; some of her acuti were not truly on pitch and she had to chop her phrasing to make to the end of many a testing passage. I understand that maybe because of her weight, it might be difficult to cast her as something like Violetta or Donna Anna, but that is what she should be singing for a while before she tried Abigaille. When it comes to Stefan Kocán’s Zaccaria, I can only say that the role shows him in such disadvantage that it seems as if a comprimario had stood in for an ailing soloist. Finally, Aleksandr Antonenko does not have a problem with heaviness, but with lightness. Although his tenor is not as beefy as his recent casting as Otello might suggest, it is a big, bright voice that unfortunately lacks Italian mellow legato. As a result, the role did not sound congenial as it should.

As it is, the really valid performance of this evening was Paolo Gavanelli’s Nabucco. Although his baritone has its squeezed-up and throaty moments, it is a spacious voice with considerable tonal variety. Lyric passages are expressively handled and his high mezza voce is a real treasure in his vulnerable approach to Nabucco. The lovely Daniela Sindram was also positively cast as Fenena. Although her mezzo has this German plushness, she has solid low notes and charm to spare.

I have been writing a lot about production in my recent reviews, but Yannis Kokkos is so inoffensive in its geometrical uneventfulness that it is not really worth writing about it. I know I am picky sometimes – but I am convinced that a staging has to make sense, even if one finally does not agree with that sense. Here we have the Jewish people represented as if during World War II, but the babylonians are dressed as characters from Die Zauberflöte. The coup-de-grâce: while singing Va, pensiero, the chorus is behind a barbed-wire fence, while Zaccaria is on the other side. Suddenly, he has an inspiration and finds a way to get in. The 1,000,000 question – if there is an unguarded way in to get behind the fence, why don’t they just get out?!

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Thanks to the advocacy of Edita Gruberová, the Bayerische Staatsoper has reserved a special place for bel canto operas in its seasons – and judging from what I witnessed this evening, admirers of Donizetti operas have something to be thankful for. Never before had I experienced the charm of Donizetti’s writing for the orchestra as intensely as this evening in Munich. Conducted by Friedrich Haider, who happens to be someone who does not trifle with this repertoire, the hall was filled with rich, refulgent string sounds, unbelievably precise in passagework and perfectly blended with woodwind. Some may find that such an approach would be a disadvantage to singers – that was not the case. Allowed to dialogue with solo instruments in concertante manner, inscribed in the framework of beautiful orchestral sound, the cast could find a deepened level of expression.

Cristof Loy’s production is, of course, the same featured on DVD with more or less the same cast. As on video, Loy found updating as an enlightening way of focusing the political aspects of the plot. One is entitled to feel suspicious, but the efficient direction of actors makes it rather believable. It is, of course, Gruberová’s show, but she surrenders entirely to the concept. Having a lifelong experience with the traditional approach – red wig and tons of pearls – scaling down the clichéd “Elizabeth I”-act to the psychological days in which we’re living was not a stretch for her.

When it comes to the vocal aspects of her performance, one is tempted to speak of what an achievement this is for a 60-year-old singer, but Gruberová does not need that. Although her voice had seen more supernaturally impressive days, she can still boast to have resources almost no one possesses. Unfortunately, a strong low register has never been among her natural gifts. And Donizetti may be very demanding in this aspect. In her entrance aria, the search for low notes, for example, seemed to have unbalanced the production of her voice – all the mannerisms her detractors like to point out were there – scooping, fussying with tempo and slight behind-the-beat coloratura. During the evening, she would found her optimal level, though, managing to focus most of her plunges to chest register. The other low notes were dealt with with “acting with the voice”. She seemed to be willing to compensate this with an unending supply of her hallmark qualities, such as immaterial high pianissimo, effortless divisions and forceful in alts. The closing scene is a Gruberová classic – no one has ever gone so deep into the character’s mind and heart as she does. It has been – and it still is -one of her supreme achievements.

The replacement of the leading tenor and baritone on the video for two Italians has also proved most positive. Massimiliano Pisapia has a most beautiful and natural tenor and phrases in the most gracious and stylish manner. It is a pity that he feels tempted to produce his high notes excessively covered. This is the only problem standing between him and complete success. Paolo Gavanelli is always an intense stage presence. His first aria was sung with outstanding purity of style and control of line. Later his tendency to produce woolly top notes would rob a bit from the nobility of his phrasing. Jeanne Piland’s mezzo is pleasant to the ears and she is an engaged actress, but her voice soon started to develop a flutter and ended on sounding tired. The minor roles – even the very small ones – were cast from strength. I wonder if Donizetti himself listened to his Roberto Devereux as scrumptiously performed as we did tonight in Munich.

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