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.

The performance’s prima donna, 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 truly satisfying. 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. The role of Zaccaria too did not show Stefan Kocán’s Zaccaria under a very positive light either. Tenor 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 legato. As a result, the role did not sound congenial as it should.

Although Paolo Gavanelli’s 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 the role  Nabucco. 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 full effect 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.

Christof 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 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, fussing 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. It has been – and it still is – one of her supreme achievements in bel canto repertoire.

The replacement of the leading tenor and baritone on the video for two Italians has also proved most positive. Massimiliano Pisapia has a beautiful and natural tenor and phrases in gracious and stylish a manner. It is a pity that he feels tempted to produce his high notes excessively covered. 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, yet 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 with Maximilian Schmitt, Steven Humes and Nicolay Borchev. I wonder if Donizetti himself listened to his Roberto Devereux as scrumptiously performed as we have tonight in Munich.

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