Posts Tagged ‘Sonia Ganassi’

I have a long story with Marco Arturo Marelli’s producion of Verdi’s Don Carlo: I’ve seen the première in the Deutsche Oper and a reprise with a different cast last year. It must be said that serious rethinking has been done and I could say that third time’s a charm: not only does it look better within the New National Theatre’s higher proscenium arch, but also many important adjustments have been done, especially in the auto-da-fé scene. In any case, if the really superior blocking and acting is the result of Spielleiter Yasuko Sawada’s work, then she truly deserves compliments. Another improvement over the Berlin performances is Pietro Rizzo’s conducting. The Tokyo Philharmonic orchestra played with unusual animation and richness of tone, only occasionally lapsing into the customary bureaucracy. Maestro Rizzo did a very good job in balancing the need to accommodate a largely light-voiced cast and Verdi’s demands of a rich orchestral sound. He rightly opted for forward-moving tempi and theatrical effects. This was indeed one of the best performances in the New National Theatre in the recent years.

Serena Farnocchia’s lyric soprano is two sizes smaller than the role of Elisabetta and, if she sang elegantly and musicianly, she often seemed to be saving steam for her big moments. Once in the final act, she thew caution to the winds and offered an exciting account both of her aria and the ensuing duet. Sonia Ganassi too is hardly the dramatic mezzo soprano one usually finds as Eboli. Although her voice had a bleached out sound in its higher reaches, she husbanded her resources most intelligently and offered a dramatically compelling and vocally acceptable performance. As usual, her attention to the text makes all the difference in the world. I had never heard Spanish tenor Sergio Escobar before. It is an interesting voice without any doubt: its bright, firm sound has palpable presence in the auditorium and, when the phrase is congenial, he can provide some exciting acuti. He still needs to work on breath support, though – he is often caught short and some high-lying passages grate a bit. He has not been blessed with acting abilities and invariably looked awkward when he tried to reproduce some gesture or attitude outside his comfort zone. Markus Werba is the third singer below the right Fach for his part today. This did not prevent him from offering a convincing performance – he has solid technique, did not beef up unnecessarily his high baritone and only showed some sign of strain during the long scene with Filippo in the first act (this is the Italian 4-act version). I had seen Rafal Siwek as the Inquisitore in the Staatsoper back in 2011 and found him authoritative but lacking variety. For the role of Filippo II, the natural volume of his voice is an undeniable advantage. The slightly veiled tonal quality and a tiny hint of throatiness prevent him from providing the necessary impact in the auto-da-fé, but he proved to scale down to real Innigkeit in his act III aria. If Hidekazu Tsumaya could produce more consistent high notes, he would have been an entirely successful Inquisitore – here he sounded underpowered in many key moments.


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The third and last installment of the Vienna State Opera’s Japanese tour is Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, as seen on video with Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca. Eric Génovèse’s is the most recent and most complex production from Vienna in the series brought to the Japanese audience – and considering the improved quality of the choral singing – probably the “premium” item (it looks also better live than on DVD). The reason is the long and faithful appreciation for Edita Gruberová’s artistry in Japan. Although this has been announced as the Slovakian diva’s farewell operatic performance in Japan, the truth is that her later appearances in Tokyo have all of them been marketed as such. I have to confess that the last time I saw her (as Norma, in Berlin) left me a bitter aftertaste – that evening showed her below her usual standards and I wondered if she should not consider preserving her reputation by leaving the stage while still remembered by her qualities, not her flaws. In that sense, this afternoon proved that either she was in a very bad day that day or that she was in an exceptionally good day today.

Before the nay-sayers say anything, I will acknowledge that Anna Bolena requires a voice different from Gruberová’s – and her approach arguably is not what a bel canto specialist would consider “authentic”. But, even in her present vocal condition (i.e., although the tonal quality is still crystal-clear and young-sounding, legato is now imperfect, some runs are imprecise and intonation has its dodgy moments), she has practically no rivals these days in some very tricky passages, especially those involving trills and high mezza voce. What many critics overlook too is the fact that hers are fully-engaged performances, dramatically committed and intelligent: if her approach to interpretation is often more Straussian than Donizettian, at least she is truly investing the text with a wide tonal palette (and very clear diction), what is a sine qua non condition for true bel canto phrasing. I only wished that she did not try to prove herself with some showy embellishment and laborious in alts (why?) – when the matter is technique and insight, hers is still a convincing performance – at some moments, (such as Cielo, a’miei lunghi spasimi) even haunting.

Sonia Ganassi (Giovanna Seymour) was not at her most focused and took some time to warm. I am not sure if this is a good role for her, but that did not prevent her to offer her customary intensity of expression, attention to the text and sense of style. In any case, her contribution in her big duet with Anna was sensitively handled and she coped with the fast tempo in Ah, pensate che rivolti with aplomb. Although Elisabeth Kulman was in more incisive voice in the video, she still sang with irresistible charm – hers is a truly lovely voice. I would really like to hear her in Der Rosenkavalier (unfortunately not in her repertoire). As Percy, Shalva Mukeria proved to be something like the poorman’s Josep Bros – and that’s being really, really poor. I have to believe that he was indisposed or something like that. As much as with  Sonia Ganassi, I do not believe that Enrico is really Luca Pisaroni’s role and yet he sang very well. The necessary weight and menace were not really there, but what he offered was elegant, technically accomplished and connected to the drama.

Evelino Pidò is an ideal Donizettian conductor – the Vienna State Opera Orchestra offered him its most Italian sound and the extra polish of an orchestra used to Mozart and R. Strauss. He produced the ideal balance between orchestra and singers, never let rhythms sag, found excitement in buoyancy rather than in weight (as this repertoire demands) and made his musicians sing with the singers, not only in solo passages. This alone would have made this performance worth the while.

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If Edita Gruberová were Japanese, she would be a Living National Treasure – she is 65 and sings one of the most difficult roles in the repertoire, Bellini’s Norma, quite often. She is a singer of legendary technique, musicianship, expressiveness and dramatic commitment – but, even if her tonal quality is extremely youthful, she is no longer in her prime. That does not mean that she should retire – God forbids! – but I wonder why a singer used to immaculateness could content herself with being indulged. Is it because her artistic generosity is such that she feels that she should give her all even risking her reputation? I tend to believe that: “generosity” was precisely the word on my mind during this evening’s performance, which required from her an immense effort in adaptation to overcome many glitches. A poorly tuned Casta diva followed by a Bello, a me ritorna a bit all over the place did not promise a gratifying experience, but then Ah, rimembranza had many breathtaking examples of lovely high mezza voce and the end of act I developed into something truly exciting (with some interesting interpretative touches, quite different from what she has done both in her video and audio recordings). In act II, her problems with the lower end of the tessitura brought about unconvincing examples of “acting with the voice” (especially in In mia man, when things got a bit out of control), but she more than compensated in a truly heartbreaking plea for her children in the closing scene. While I still believe it was a rewarding experience, I would have truly preferred to see an artist of Gruberová’s level in a repertoire when one doesn’t need to forgive her anything but rather appreciate her immense talents under the proper light.

Sonia Ganassi does not need to fear comparison in what regards artistic generosity – her Adalgisa is exquisitely conceived, the text is expressively and intelligently used, she masters the difficulties of that role and has an engaging personality. And she was in very good voice, better than last time I saw her in this opera.  As his Norma, Johan Botha found problems in his opening aria – the high notes were tense and edgy. That did not prevent him from trying high options in the cabaletta, but the problem persisted. That said, he sang with such elegance, nuance and imagination as I haven’t heard before in this role. Alexander Vingradov’s full-toned and finely focused bass worked beautifully in the role of Oroveso. This is a singer I would like to hear again. Kyungho Kim too deserves mention for his Flavio – far more positive and pleasant-toned than we are used to hear in this role.

Although Andriy Yurkevich has his kapellmeisterlich moments, he has a good grasp of bel canto style and some surprises in reserve, especially a good sense of balancing, of bringing endearing instrumental details to the fore without interrupting the rhythmic flow – even when giving his singers some freedom to phrase. The Staatskapelle Berlin was in excellent shape – the string section adopted a bright, Italianate sound and tackled passagework  with virtuoso quality. If it were not for the Schiller Theater dry acoustics (that robbed brass and drums roundness of tone), this would have been ideal.

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In view of Violeta Urmana’s debatable success in Verdi, one would tend to dismiss her incursion in bel canto without even hearing a note of it. Nevertheless, her Adalgisa to Nelly Miricioiu’s Norma in Amsterdam back in 1999 was a most satisfying performance. Of course, the title role in the opera is a far more fearsome enterprise.

Before I miss the attention of nay-sayers, I will go to the heart of the matter: Norma is not a role that naturally suits Violeta Urmana’s voice. I am not even entirely convinced that it suits her temper either, but – and this is an important “but” – her stab at it deserves praise nonetheless and speaks favorably to her status as a leading singer in her generation. This is not a performance that will make into history in any sense and must be seen as an example of this singer’s solid technique, good taste, musicianship and endeavor. In any case, the final results are far more consistent than one has recently heard from singers like Maria Guleghina, Hasmik Papian or Fiorenza Cedolins (to name a few recent broadcasts).

It might sound surprisising that the high tessitura proved to be less challenging to Urmana than what I had imagined. It is true that a couple of exposed acuti sounded either edgy or hard pressed, but one did not have the impression that she would not make it or that she was even getting tired out of the effort of requiring so much so often from her high register. If we keep in mind that her repertoire is that of a dramatic soprano, her fioriture are quite decent. She strays from pitch in the middle of a run now and then, but she was consistently true to tempo – and the conductor never slowed the pace to make things easy for her. When a lighter touch was required, she had her ungainly moments, but mezza voce, even in high notes, posed her no difficulties. As expected the edition  had all the adaptations adopted when a singer like this is cast in the main role, including no repeat for Bello, a me ritorna.

In the context of a concert performance, singers tend to concentrate on the vocal aspects, but Urmana could find the necessary theatricality for key moments, although grandeur remained the keynote here. In fact, if I had to single out one quality in her performance, this would be the elegance of her phrasing that brought about a sense of classical poise that fits this repertoire. However, the hallmark aspect of bel canto, the ability to produce the perfect blend of tonal colouring and declamation, eluded her unfortunatey. In this sense, the casting of Sonia Ganassi as Adalgisa was especially telling. Even if her voice has seen more flexible and focused days, her skill in giving life to the text through phrasing was quite admirable, especially in what regards dynamics, inflection and tonal variety.

Korean tenor Francesco Hong’s gave me the impression of trying to be more Italian than Italians themselves. His whole attitude evokes the days of Corelli, del Monaco et al. Fortunately for him, his voice is indeed really Italianate and his Italian is idiomatic. A most pleasant tonal quality, a strong, spontaneous middle register and the potential for some exciting top notes should secure him a sucessful career (in spite of a disadvantageous physique), but his technique is rather irregular and impressive moments (he proved to be dramatically engaged and sometimes even nuanced) are often followed by clumsy ones, not to mention that outdated mannerisms appear now and then. Finally, Carlo Colombara’s bass is authoritative and firm-toned, but his legato leaves a lot to be desired.

The Teatro Real’s chorus offered a very good performance, but Massimo Zanetti is probably the wrong man to conduct the Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid, whose strings lack tonal richness to start with. As the maestro insisted on fast , percussive sounds, the aural picture seemed brassy and abrupt, missing the necessary warmth, especially in elegiac passages. Although the conductor was keen on precision and faithfulness to dynamic markings, the effect was too short in smoothness and expressive power, suggesting rather a work by Rossini than by Bellini sometimes.

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