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Posts Tagged ‘Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro’

My first encounter with Lisette Oropesa took place in her Met debut as Susanna, replacing Isabel Bayrakdarian. Her singing was fresh and charming and I knew she would go places. Mozart was there again for the second time I saw her as Ismene in a Mitridate in Munich. There my impression was a bit tamer. She seemed busy with the notes and sparkled only intermittently. As I last met her as Gilda at the Met she was fully in control of the coloratura and other technical challenges but rather self-contained and detached in terms of interpretation . Then the news of her success in Les Huguenots in Paris, the Richard Tucker Award and leading roles in Europe and back in New York made me seize the opportunity to see her recital at the Theatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro.

She offered an ambitious bel canto and French Romantic arias concert, a showcase of her later roles. She started off with the entrance aria of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, in which she proved alert to the text and nimble in her fioriture sung in perfect legato. As in other items of the program, she treads lightly in extreme high notes but provides athletically supported in alts in her puntature. And the trills are beyond reproach. Her second aria was Adieu, notre petite table from Massenet’s Manon, a number that let her show the clarity and the idiomatic quality of her French, a serviceable low register and an innate grasp of French style. Actually, the old-fashioned grain of her velvety soprano is tailor-made for that repertoire, where the absence of flashiness in her high notes is less of a liability than in bel canto roles (especially in big theatres). The first part of the evening was rounded off with the entrance aria of Bellini’s La Sonnambula. Actually, Bellini flatters Ms. Oropesa’s ease with long lines, her flickering vocal production keeping those elegiac phrases alive. Also, her whole attitude is extremely proper to ingénue roles, which benefit from her warm, feminine personality. And again – the coloratura was accurately and joyfully dispatched.

After the interval, her open-eyed youthfulness made her Marguérite credible and less of a Dummkopf in Ah, je ris from Gounod’s Faust. The next item in the program, musicianly sung as it was, showed that Verdi and Puccini should not be – at least at this point – her core repertoire. There is no sense of radiance and liberation in Magda’s high notes in Ch’il bel sogno from La Rondinelli, even if she sang them with abandon. Back to Bellini, she was again in her safe place as Elvira in a heartfelt mad scene from I Puritani, crowned by lovely pianissimi. The encore – Juliette’s waltz from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette only confirmed that French opera is probably where she is going to make a difference.

The house orchestra might keep you on the edge of your seat in its unreliability and the overture to Rossini’s Guillaume Tell was a bumpy ride. Conductor Yuval Zorn slowly regained his pace in the Méditation from Massenet’s Thaïs. The spalla may not have the world’s most glamorous tone but floated his tone and provided tasteful portamento comme il  faut. After the pause, the orchestra seemed to have warmed and, in spite of some blunders in the brass section, displayed richer sounds in its strings, especially in the nocturne from Carlos Gomes’s Condor.

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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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