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Posts Tagged ‘Teatro Regio di Torino’

The second item in the Teatro Regio di Torino’s Japanese tour was Puccini’s Tosca, here shown in a low-budget but refreshingly unpretentious staging by Jean-Louis Grinda. While the sets to act I could have been a little less lazily designed, the remaining acts were quite efficient in their straightforwardness, except for Tosca’s costumes, which were all of them excessively plain and unbecoming. The Personenregie was discrete to the point of seeming non-existent, but that proved to be a blessing in disguise: the three leading singers are very experienced in their roles and felt at ease to add their personal contributions. Some details were particularly successful: Scarpia’s look when Tosca unintentionally touches his hand to grab a fan; Tosca’s regained sense of being in control when she tries to bribe Scarpia; Cavaradossi’s utter disbelief in Tosca’s plan in act III. The relative cleanliness of the staging made every little gesture count – and these singers seemed to be aware of that. One particularly welcome idea from the director: I don’t know about you, but I never liked that whole business with the cross and the candle-holders. I know it is there in the libretto, but maybe in the play this makes more sense. In the opera, it has always bothered me as nonsensical*. Here Tosca nervously prays, looks for the safe-conduct, finds it in Scarpia’s hand, takes it with disgust and, when preparing to leave, realizes that he lies dead over her cloak, struggles to get it back but is finally unable to do it. The curtain falls while she is about to exit without it.

Gianandrea Noseda’s affinity with Puccini apparently is greater than with Verdi. He is more at ease with the flexibility of beat required by this music and his primarily symphonic point-of-view, achieved by a very risky but ultimately successful balance with his soloists, paid off in its eschewal from empty effect and his intent of clarity and richness of sound. Although his singers had to work hard for their money this afternoon, he was not indifferent to their needs, as one could hear in Recondita armonia, when the tenor’s indication that he needed a slower pace was promptly understood.

I had previously seen Patricia Racette only once in 2005 as Alice Ford at the Met and had found her a fine musician with a monochrome voice. Although her voice is still indistinctive in tone and a little bit workmanlike, the brain behind it is truly admirable. First of all, she knows her voice, has solid technique and responds most adeptly to the big challenges in the part: as a lyric soprano, she could produce beautiful legato and achieve a blond-toned lightness in her act I scene with Cavaradossi; in act II, she never failed in offering powerful acuti over a big orchestra and could manage an ersatz for chest voice when this was necessary. She could even fake sacro fuoco when this was necessary. Most of all, she has REALLY read the score and cared for the meaning of the notes and the words there, even in seemingly unimportant moments. She has even resisted the forgivable temptation of making Vissi d’arte a moment of beauty (a sensible way of disguising some bumpy turns of phrasing anyway). In any case, although her performance was not dramatically gripping as with many famous exponents of this role, it was in some ways revelatory in the way it gravitated around Tosca’s vulnerability, around the frailty behind the prima donna’s bossy attitude, around her need to be in control deeply damaged by Scarpia’s ruthless attack on her and her world.**.

Racette had an ideal partner in Marcelo Álvarez, who sang with consistent beauty of tone and sensitive phrasing, making this music sound spontaneous and expressive as it always should. Except for an unnecessarily overemphatic ending, his E lucevan le stelle was extremely elegant and heartfelt. I am happy to hear that the frequentation of heavy repertoire has not touched his voice. There are more powerful and dark-voiced Scarpias than Lado Ataneli, but few are so sharply focused and dangerously self-contained as he is. He never forgets that, although he is something of a brutal police chief, he is also a nobleman at home in fine society. His poised self-assurance made an interesting contrast with Tosca’s increasing despair in act II.

* When I first listened to Tosca, I understood that she said “È morto! Dio mi perdoni”. I would be later very disappointed on reading that she actually says “Or gli perdono!”.

** If you think about the words in Vissi d’arte, she is basically saying “God, you’re not doing your part in our agreement”, the bottom-line being “she believed that everything would always be right by doing things rightly”.  The other moments when she addresses God in the opera is when she curses inside the church and, being reminded that this is a sin, she says that He will turn a blind eye on this, because “He knows that she is suffering”.

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Verdi’s Ballo in Maschera is something of a tough cookie. Verdi seemed keen on trying superposition of “affetti”, not only by mixing comedy and tragedy, but by exploring situations in which characters in highly contrasting state of mind sing together. From the overture on, the shifts of mood can be sudden and difficult to manage – and the vocal parts are extremely challenging, especially the prima donna role. Gianandrea Noseda is a conductor who reads his scores with an open mind and is ready to discover new things in them. However, he is no Karajan. This investigation is often made on the expense of musical flow, dramatic intensity and a beautiful orchestral sound. This evening, for instance, Riccardo and his courtiers seemed more mechanical than lithe in the opening scene, Ulrica’s conversations with darker forces anything but dangerous – the orchestra displayed an extremely dry, brassy and common sound throughout, some singers had light voices for their roles and, having a colorless accompaniment kept on leash to help them, brought about the extra challenge of giving them the whole burden of producing any expression, something that they did very occasionally. After the intermission, act III seemed to benefit from the increase in raw energy demanded by Verdi and the performance finally took off. There is a chorus by the end of the opera (Cor si grande e generoso) which is the key moment of this opera. A performance that has succeeded in everything but failed here has ultimately failed. So the beautiful increase in tension built this evening in this passage has redeemed a mostly uneventful afternoon.

A great share of the uneventfulness has to do with Lorenzo Mariani’s disgraceful production, a blend of the kitsch, the superficial, the inefficient and the sloppy. To make things worse, singers have sung the “American” version of the libretto, while the extremely incoherent and anachronistic staging shows something more in keeping with the “Swedish” alternative. A country with such fame for design and theatrical tradition such as Italy should not render its reputation such bad service by exporting something like this to an audience that has paid extremely expensive tickets.

When I left the theatre this evening, I did not know what to say about Oksana Dyka’s Amelia. Listening to her singing this evening was something similar to witnessing a brain surgery: it is not beautiful, there are moments when one would rather go out, but at the end one is relieved to know that there is someone who can perform something as difficult as this when one needs it. Her steely, voluminous and invariably loud soprano opens up in ear-splitting high notes without much effort. I was going to write that she can hold very long lines, but there is very little sense of phrasing in what she does, except when things become very high and very loud. In these moments, her solidity is truly impressive. This all has very little to do with Verdian singing – and one just needs to listen to his or her recordings with Callas, Tebaldi, Stella, you name it, to confirm that – but there is something very honest about her bluntness nonetheless. There is nothing elegant or stylish about her (if you have SEEN her onstage, you know what I mean) and she does not try to be. What she has to offer is consistent loudness – and she does that. I wonder if she has tried Turandot. It might work in a fascinatingly scary way.

Although Marianne Cornetti is moving towards dramatic soprano roles, she still finds time and energy for such a low-lying role such as Ulrica. She does still have her low notes, but her voice now sounds soft-grained for the part. That did not prevent from offering a very commendable performance with feeling for Verdian lines. Ai Ichihara (Oscar) has the necessary ebullience, but the volume is what the French call “confidential” and the high notes were sour rather than silvery.

The role of Riccardo is a bit heavy for Ramón Vargas, who took one whole act to warm up. His low notes are undersupported and there is some flutter in his basic sound, but his is an essentially pleasant voice used with good taste and sense of line. His act III aria was generously sung. If Gabriele Viviani too is on the light side for Renato, he knows how to produce the right effect in this repertoire in his firm-toned, slightly dark baritone.

 

 

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