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Posts Tagged ‘Roberto Minczuk’

Although Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier had already been performed in São Paulo before, first by a visiting German theatre on tour in 1959 and 10 years ago in concert with Anne Schwanewilms and the OSESP, this run of performances in the Theatro Municipal are its first local production. Even if Richard Strauss himself conducted the Vienna Philharmonic in Brazil in the 1920’s, this was not enough to make him a household name in opera houses deeply rooted in Italian tradition, such as those in Rio or São Paulo. There have been occasional incursions in his operatic works, especially Elektra and Salome, and the new Rosenkavalier might represent a renewed interest in the music of the Bavarian composer in these shores.

Roberto Minczuk is an experienced conductor in this repertoire who has been nurtured in the right tradition in his days in the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig. This evening he has shown his deep understanding of the score in a performance that flowed in natural tempi, structural clarity, preference for warm sonorities and feeling for highlighting the Hauptstimme in almost Mozartian dialogue with his singers. The fact that the complex writing challenged his orchestra was never an issue in terms of putting across his vision. One could see that his strings left a lot to be desired in terms of articulation, but whenever it has to produce a key effect, such as in the closing of acts 1 and 3, this was never an impediment, even if one could wish for improvement. In any case, the brass section offered playing above its usual level and blended naturally with woodwind.
If act 1 lacked some atmosphere in the Marschallin’s monologue (the house orchestra’s strings tend to loose color in softer dynamics), the delivery of the silver rose proved to be the major misfire in the evening. In the slower pace chosen by Mr. Minczuk, a soprano ill at ease and meager orchestral sound just hanged fire. The ensuing duet showed everyone in better form. Act 3 made me think of Karl Böhm’s Dresden recording in the way it integrated comic and lyric moments. It can sound a bit all over the place, but not this evening, crowned by a final trio that built up steadily in a slower pace in a powerful conclusion.
I am not so enthusiastic about Pablo Maritano’s staging, the bureaucratic sets and anachronistic and often ugly costumes of which did not added up to any particular dramatic purpose other than fitting into a limited budget. The Personenregie tended to be overbusy, but the director benefited from the cast’s above-average acting skills. To his credit, he seems to have read the libretto from scratch and offered some fresh ideas. I have particularly enjoyed the end of act 1. Here the Marschallin sings very expressive music while she explains transportation arrangements. This has always puzzled me, but not this evening. As conceived by Mr. Maritano, the Marschallin is just trying to prevent an emotional breakdown by keeping things as objective as possible. When she is finally alone, she can’t hold back her tears anymore.
Argentinian soprano Carla Filipic Holm has acted here and elsewhere very convincingly. She has an expressive face and, although her voice and attitude are rather Germanic, one can see her South American emotional generosity behind that. This has made her a particularly multidimensional Marschallin. In terms of singing, Ms. Filipic has a creamy tubular soprano à la Angela Denoke that soars in high mezzo voce without effort but and yet can acquire  a splash of hootiness at moments. She is sometimes a bit imprecise with pitch, especially in the end of phrases and her delivery of the text is not truly clear. Yet she knows the style and can produce beautiful sounds, such as in the opening phase of the final trio.
I have always enjoyed the artistry of Brazilian mezzo Luisa Francesconi, especially in Mozart, and was curious about this Straussian venture or hers. It is true that her voice is a bit on the light side for the role, but her fruity, firm-toned voice is appealing, her diction is crystalline and her German is very good. She floats pianissimo beautifully and, if she can sound cautious in exposed high notes, she compensates with ideal illusion of boyhood (she actually looks very “handsome” as Octavian) and her Mariandl was quite effective.
Elena Gorshunova’s soprano is pretty enough for Sophie, but she doesn’t master the art of high mezza voce and messed things up in the beginning of act 2 and at the end of the opera. Elsewhere, she could be s little bit more engaging if she were a little bit more engaged, especially in the acting department.
Dirk Aleschus knows everything one is supposed to know about the role of Baron Ochs, but at its present state his bass lacks tone and volume, especially in both ends of his range and he can be really imprecise in what regards intonation. He is a funny guy and had the audience at his side nonetheless.
Annina, Valzacchi and Faninal are not minor roles and require singers more adept than those cast for these performances. This was a serious if not major drawback in the overall effectiveness of this evening’s performance.
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The production of Beethoven’s Fidelio at the Theatro Municipal has barely survived the dengue epidemic. It seems that the whole season has to be rescheduled because foreign soloists preferred to stand clear of the risk of catching the disease. The results: a Cenerentola was cancelled and a Fidelio first said to feature Cheryl Studer and then Luana DeVol in the title role had to manage through emergency casting. Therefore, Brazilian soprano Janette Dornellas’s singing as Leonore can only be judged as an ad hoc performance. It is true that this singer has a history of hazardous casting, but saying she was overparted this evening is an euphemism. Although she could more or less wriggle her voice to a fair Ersatz for dramatic soprano´s acuti, that could be made only at the expense of the quality of the rest of her voice, which sounded bleached out, unflowing and occasionally inaudible in the middle and lower register. She is a fine musician and a cunning singer and would now and then make something out of very little – for example, she produced the necessary chiaroscuro of tenderness and resolve in Abscheulicher often unobserved by many a properly cast soprano in this role – but in the end one would only wish for healthy, honest singing and decent German pronunciation. As Marzelline, Carol McDavitt, an American singer resident in Brazil, also struggled through a part again helplessly heavy for what is basically a microscopic-sized oratorio soprano. In her favour, one can mention knowledge of style and a firm high c in her trio with Leonore and Rocco. In the role of Florestan, John Pierce displayed a large and basically pleasant Heldentenor that resents however Beethoven’s tricky high-lying moments. Truth be said, his big aria seemed to find him unprepared: he chopped mercilessly his phrasing in the recitative, produced clipped high notes throughout and held back the tempo in the stretta, to the noticeable dissatisfaction of the conductor. Brazilian baritone Sebastião Teixeira’s is the kind of voice built to produce the right effect in the top notes – and Pizarro rather requires a Heldenbaritone’s richness in the middle register. As a consequence, strained tone, dim low notes and problematic pitch abounded. His German too needs serious practice. An unidiomatic, woolly and flat-singing Don Fernando did not help the proceedings either.

The exceptions to the dismal casting situation were the rich-toned Rocco of Hernán Iturralde (whose beautiful pronunciation of German language also deserves praise), a most satisfying performance, and the surprisingly agreeable tenor of Atalla Ayan as Jaquino. His confident singing was only marred (once again) by sketchy German. It would be a pity if he could not be cast in roles fit to his voice because of lack of familiarity with a language that should be central to any singer who intends to have a serious career these days.

I would be lying, though, if I did not say that this performance’s redeeming feature is the exemplary conducting of Maestro Roberto Minczuk. Of course, the Theatro Municipal’s orchestra is the opposite of a dream-team for this music, but this most industrious conductor managed to extract from those musicians the best they could possibly offer. It is true that the sound is not terriby beautiful and also on the dry side, but the strings were unusually accurate even in the fastest passagework, the balance between sections was crystalline and the sense that the orchestra was the main “story-teller” in this score was immediate throughout. His fast tempi, theatrical awareness, structural clarity proves that this man can truly produce miracles. Given the right soloists and a world-class orchestra, he would definitely deliver a reference Fidelio.

It is a pity that Minczuk’s musical genius could not find a counterpart in the stage direction. Alberto Renault’s self-indulgent production involves pretentious geometrical settings, nonsensical acting, pointless gestures from all involved, silly pseudo-brilliant ideas (the “ballet” during Er sterbe! made the audience laugh), downright carelessness (the minimalist sceneries were particularly poorly built) and a despicable final scene that I could only describe as “Teletubbies aesthetics”.

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Readers of the old blog might remember my constant disappointment with Rio’s Theatro Municipal’s house orchestra and chorus – I have seen some catastrophic performances there, but once in a while you could see that they could do something decent (for example, when Gabor Ötvös conducted Elektra there with Marilyn Zschau and Leonie Rysanek). 

Maybe it is only a coincidence, but the first time I saw conductor Roberto Minczuk was in that theatre, although he was conducting the Orquestra Sinfônica Brasileira. That orchestra used to be in bad shape too and Minczuk finally showed it could offer a decent performance (and a Richard Strauss Tone poem is definitely something that could give evidence of that).

Today Minczuk proved to be a good doctor for ailing orchestras. After decades of concert-going in Rio’s opera house, I can finally say I’ve seen a thoroughly good performance with the house forces. Never before had I listened to that orchestra not only fully prepared, but also offering rich beautiful sounds in every dynamic level. Also, the chorus showed unusual homogeneity and control. It still has some sharp angles, but this level of discipline is definitely a novelty. Truth be said, I cannot say much about Minczuk’s view about Dvorak’s Stabat Mater. He obviously loves the music and gave a dramatic large-scale account of the score, but the problem is I don’t share his love for the piece, which sounds over-sentimentalized to my ears (I am afraif I am too used to Pergolesi’s or Vivaldi’s approach to this text).

I was also impressed by the good team of soloists gathered for this concert. Although Elizabeth Woodhouse’s reedy soprano lacks focus in exposed high passages, she can float mezza voce without any effort, as this music requires. Adriana Clis’s lustrous firm mezzo soprano is always a treat to the ears and she negotiates her registers with mastery. Reginaldo Pinheiro displays a healthy dulcet tenor and phrases affectingly. Only some explosive high notes stand between him and complete success in this music. Last but not least, Hernán Iturralde (whom I had seen a while ago in Ullmann’s Der Kaiser von Atlantis at the Teatro Colón) gave a most impressive account of the bass part – his large and supple voice operates on a rich tonal palette.

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