Ecuba by Nicola Manfroce @ Martina Franca

Nicola Manfroce was a man of talent. Born one year before Rossini in the Calabrian Palmi, he moved his first musical steps in Rome. Aged 19 he presented a cantata in honour of Napoleon (the reference to France is important) and an opera, Alzira, interpreted by the already famous Isabella Colbran, who would become a key figure in Naples for the operas Rossini would compose for her interpretative and vocals skills. Impresario Domenico Barbaja’s nose for excellent talents (he also “discovered” Rossini and Bellini) commissioned Ecuba for the San Carlo, which went on stage in December 1812. Manfroce died only a a few months later aged 21. His insight of the French style is evident from the ouverture, where he masterfully combines the French musical language with Italian melodic inspiration. Throughout, the tragédie lyrique of Spontini also comes to mind. A profound musical chiselling of the tormented characters is achieved with dramatic ariosi and accompanied recitatives in forms that run smoothly into the actual musical numbers.

I was looking forwar to hear Carmela Remigio but unfortunately she was indisposed. as was the conductor Fabio Luisi. Sesto Quatrini took over the musical direction and although he did well, I felt that precision was missing especially in the string section and a research in colours and details was absent. Lidia Fridman as replacement in the role of Ecuba was successful. A slightly tensed top register did not affect the overall musical rendition and dramatic interpretation of the tragic figure with a good technical baggage and a generous voice: I especially enjoyed Roberta Mantegna as Polissena, beautiful timbre and well projected voice. Norman Reinhardt interprets Achilles credibly with a bold vigor and tender reading in his duets with Polissena . Though the timbre of the second tenor is more agreable, the interpretation of Priamus by Mert Süngü needs to wait Act II to be fully convicing. Pizzi’s setting was credible and powerful, almost grand in its linear and static nature. The chorus was placed at the two outside corners while the main action happned in the central section. Movements are predictable but the whole works. Pizzi gets single boos at the courtain call, all others are applauded with enthusiasm.

Conductor-Sesto Quatrini; Direction-Pier Luigi Pizzi, Light design-Massimo Gasparon; Achille-Norman Reinhardt, Priamo-Mert Süngü, Ecuba-Lidia Fridman, Polissena-Roberta Mantegna; Teona-Martina Gresia; Antiloco-Lorenzo Izzo, Duce greco-Nile Senatore, 30th July; Photo by Clarissa Lapola

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Vaccaj’s Giulietta e Romeo in Martina Franca

Nicola Vaccaj is now mainly famous for his didactic singing method for opera singers but in his time he was an accomplished composer albeit in the shadow of Rossini. His Giulietta e Romeo  (1825) was very well received and often performed until Bellini wrote his own version in 1830. And even then, Maria Malibran, when singing Bellini’s opera, chose to sing Vaccaj’s finale instead of the original one, a practice frequently copied. Personally I find the music extremely pleasing with some excellent pieces such as the love duet in act I, the father’s touching aria in act II, the whole finale just to mention a few.

The delicate Giulietta was extraordinarily interpreted by Leonor Bonilla. Her beautiful voice rose to the top, ethereal notes very easily. Raffaella Lupinacci as Romeo perfectly rendered the energy of young Romeo. Vocally she did an excellent job in the chiselling of colours but her voice is not strong enough in the low notes and at times she was not very audible. Christian Senn’s Lorenzo was also very good with an equal register everywhere and a very good pronunciation. Leonardo Cortellazzi was an excellent Capellio, good pronunciation, vivid top register, beautiful timbre and fine impersonation of the compelling character the librettist Felice Romani makes of the father. I was less impressed by Vasa Stajkic’s Tebaldo who’s interpretation was a bit monochrome. The excellent Paoletta Marrocu could only make a stage-wise impressive and vocally expressive loving mother. 

The slightly gothic staging was simple but effective. A lateral transversal wall with medieval touches (representing first the Capulets’ palace with the balcony, and then the walls of the cemetery), a tomb and impressive lighting was enough to put us straight into the plot. The movement of the masses was excellent and also the single characters were admirably guided and thanks to Cecilia Ligorio’s direction the show had basically no drops in tension. In my opinion the only disagreeableness came from the conductor. He got loads of applause but in my personal view he directed too much on the slow side, so much as to sometimes lose the arch of the musical line. Directing in an open space he also did not balance the volume enough and some of the beautiful accompaniment got lost in the…open air.

Direttore-Sesto Quatrini, Regis-Cecilia Ligorio, Scène-Alessia Colosso, Costumi-Giuseppe Palella, Luci/Luciano Novello, Capellio-Leonardo Cortellazzi, Giulietta-Leonor Bonilla, Romeo-Raffaella Lupinacci, Adele-Paoletta Marrocu, Tebaldo-Vasa Stajkic, Lorenzo-Christian Senn, pictures from backtrack.com by Fabrizio Sansoni and Paolo Conserva, and provincia.mc.it, 31/07/18