Posts Tagged ‘Teatro Real’

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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Ponchielli’s La Gioconda is an example of opera that disappeared from the seasons of opera houses all over the world only to be ressurrected in this new century. In Madrid for example, the opera has rarely been heard since the 1920’s with the notable exception of a run of performances in the 1970’s in the Teatro de la Zarzuela. And this may account for the cold reception by the audience on February 26th. I had the impression most people at the Teatro Real had no idea of what kind of opera this is and what they should expect.

I happened to be in the Metropolitan Opera’s ressurrection of the same opera in 2006 (also with Violeta Urmana). There, an audience that had been treated many and many times on a regular basis until the 1960’s knows very well what they are supposed to find in this very peculiar work. 

Violeta Urmana is possibly the greatest Gioconda of her generation. Her voice lacks some Italianate brightness, but she handles the difficult writing superbly – her high pianissimo in Madre! Enzo adorato, ah, come io t´amo! was exquisitely handled and she has no problem with the omnipresent percussive acuti, but the lack of encouragement from the audience might have some share of responsibility in her somewhat detached approach. Only in the last act, the proceedings seemed to launch from routine – and conductor Evelino Pidò cannot be held responsible for the lack of excitement. His conducting was exemplary – the polichrome aspect of Ponchielli’s orchestration was shown with mastery and he handled the dramatic effects in the score most efficiently. The house band responded with animation.

Italian tenor Fabio Armiliato offered a praiseworthy performance – his lyric tenor is adapted to emulate a lirico spinto and the trick is very noticeable, but he has a handsome voice and offers some elegant shading into mezza voce when this is necessary. His Cielo e mar had the right balance between ardour and elegance and if his performance is not more memorable, it is only because one feels how close to his limits he is – although expertly – operating. Similarly, baritone Lado Ataneli was a most reliable Barnaba – he sang with unfailing firm tone and sense of line and resisted the kind of vulgarity most baritones in this kind of role seem to indulge.

 In the Met, Urmana sang her Gioconda next to Olga Borodina’s Laura and their scenes were always the highlight of the evening. Elisabetta Fiorillo’s overvibrant mezzo lacks colour and handles awkwardly the passaggio. She does not look or sound attractive and it is difficult to understand why Enzo would prefer her to that nice lady with the pianissimi. Elena Zaremba was similarly overvibrant and it was difficult to guess which notes she was singing so large her vibrato. Her expression of gratitude in act II was far from touching as it should be.

When it comes to Orlin Anastassov, I cannot deny my dissatisfaction with his performance. If you put Paata Burchuladze and Sergei Leiferkus in a blender, the result must be Orlin Anastassov. It is a guttural voice with unclear vowels and this kind of  Leiferkus-like metallic attack. He is a young singer and maybe he should work a bit more in his Italian (and Italian singing style in general) before tackling this kind of role.

Pierluigi Pizzi’s production has been featured in the DVD from the Teatro del Liceu. At first the sets look elegant, but in order to accomodate the gondolas, the sceneries are unconvincingly transformed into a palace, a harbour and most of all Gioconda’s house (as portrayed here, the audience could have the impression she lives in the streets).  I am not fond of the all-in-three-colours costumes, but the most offensive thing is the evident lack of stage direction. Singers are generally standing in the wrong place for the dramatic action, move around with no apparent intent and in the end you really don’t care for what is going on stage. That was probably the point of coreographing a ballet “representing the hours of the day”, as Alvise explains, that has nothing to do with the hours of the day or any identifiable storyline. That said, the dancers were very fine and got the loudest applauses in the evening.

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