Donizetti Festival 2018 @ Bergamo

Although Donizetti composed 2 small vocal pieces in 1817, Enrico di Borgogna was the first piece to be put on stageThe opera was written for the re-opening of the Teatro San Luca in Venice after extensive renovation works and was given its first performance the 14th November 1818. Very brief was the critic of the Gazzetta privilegiata di Venezia who wrote that the opera “Pleased but was not fully enjoyed” and wrote about the composer that he was “with good talents provided”. The critic of the Nuovo Osservatore Veneziano gave us a clearer picture: “a trio in the first act, a duet in the second was strongly applauded….. one would perhaps have applauded more, if the sudden indisposition of Signora Adelaide Catalani had not forced to omit her aria of the second act as well as two duets between her and Ms. Eckerlin.” He then went on describing “the merit of music after these bitter events” and said that the public “knew how to distinguish the merit of the composition from that of the execution. . ….. for which the audience wanted to greet Mr. Donizetti on stage with applause” Overall a very successful result for unknown “Donizelletti”’s (sic) first staged opera. The libretto, written by Bartolomeo Merelli (who would later commission Verdi’s first 3 operas) is dramaturgically very thin but this allows the director of the Bergamo production to avoid the historic setting: During the overture we are backstage of a theatre and see several chairs with the characters’ name (Enrico, Elisa, Guido…) with the name of the  opera’s first performers (Fanny Eckerlin, Adelina Catalani etc….) It becomes clear we are at Enrico di Borgogna’s own rehearsal in 1818, and  at the end of the overture we see the theatre on revolving for the singers to perform the opera within the opera. The effect is very pleasing especially as the singers, when acting within the performance, exaggerate their movements in an affected style. They all wear 18th century clothes and 18th century is also the theatre management-including the impresario going crazy in order to stage the opera without major incidents, and the stage machinery which hands over props, lowers painted backgrounds and moves sea waves. A beautiful example of metatheatre.

As the Teatro Donizetti is being renovated, the performances take place in the Teatro Sociale in Bergamo Alta. The theatre is not very big and this allows the singers to lighten their voice, look into depth for colors and details. All singers are very good including the smaller roles. Levy Sekgapane has a small voice but has an easy fling to the top and the quick embellishments are flawless specially in his 2nd act aria with choir. The buffo Luca Tittoto has a beautiful voice and sings both his arias with much verve and humor, his misogynistic aria was quite funny. The two ladies Ganassi and Bonitatibus sing very well, the voices are not forced and their act II duet is sung beautifully. Ganassi was quite amusing with the mix of theatrical over acting acting (when playing her own character’s first performer Catalani) and true feelings for Enrico (in the beautiful duet with Bonitatibus/Enrico/Eckerlin) The choir sings well, and the orchestra, which is excellently balanced with just 18 string players, is well directed under Alessandro de Marchi.

Il castello di Kenilworth (or Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth in its revised title) was composed for the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples. For his first encounter with the royalties of romanticism (fashionable at the beginning of the 19th century and a subject dear to Donizetti, who would compose such jewels as Roberto Devereux, Maria Stuarda, and Anna Bolena) Donizetti shows dramatic intensity in many pieces such as the duets and the quartet of the second act. Donizetti, in a letter to his teacher and mentor Mayr, wrote after the first performance:
The faith of theatrical performances is always bizarre. I went on stage with Castello di Kenilworth on the sixth of this month (i.e. 6th July 1829), at the gala for her Majesty the Queen. And this opera, which has been applauded so much at every piece during the dress rehearsal was almost rejected at its first performance. I suffered very much because of it, all the more for having seen the rehearsals of what should’ve been an excellent first performance. Or perhaps it was the court etiquette, because they do not applaud on such evenings. The opera ended up neither very well perform nor very well listened to by the audience. Then la Tosi fell sick, and only on the 12th was it given again. It was Sunday, a beautiful day, the theatre packed, the singers in good spirits. I alone was uneasy. The king and queen of Piedmont came and applauded. Prince Leopold came and did likewise. The king and queen of Naples came and did likewise. Thus the singers were full of animation, the public could express themselves, and the result of all this was continuous applause! We were all called on stage, and the evening was most brilliant. Between us I would not give one piece of Il paria “ (the opera written for the San Carlo just 6 months earlier) for all of Kenilworth, but meanwhile: fate is bizarre.
The public seemed to think otherwise, though, as Il paria was given 5 performances, while Kenilworth was staged 12 times and re-staged at the end of the same year. Afterwards, however, the opera disappeared until 1989.

This year’s Bergamo production does the work full justice. It seemed to start as a two-chairs-and-a-table setting but the stage direction and the beautiful lighting compensated what turned out to be a well directed show with a interesting finale : Élisabeth, around which all intriguing revolved, sings her final aria while a golden grid detaches from the floor turning out to be the Queen’s own cage. Frizza doesn’t shine with fantasy but he accompanies well albeit with a little drag. The stars of the show are clearly the singers. Pratt as Elisabeth is more dramatic than usual. The role fits her like a glove, scenically and vocally she is excellent. Next to her Remigio is wonderful as actress as well as singer, hers is the showstopper in act II, an aria where she duets with harp and glassharmonica, an instrument Donizetti would later think of again for his Lucia di Lammermoor. Xabier Anduaga was equally excellent as Leicester. This very young tenor seems to be clear for stardom as he has a voice that is strong and expansive, his top notes bright and his coloratura clear nonetheless. Stefan Pop is a fine Warney.

Enrico di Borgogna, Direttore-Alessandro De Marchi, Regia-Silvia Paoli, Scene-Andrea Belli, Costumi-Valeria Donata Bettella, Lighting design-Fiammetta Baldiserri, Enrico-Anna Bonitatibus, Elisa-Sonia Ganassi, Guido-Levy Sekgapane, Pietro-Francesco Castoro, Gilberto-Luca Tittoto, Brunone-Lorenzo Malagola Barbieri, Geltrude-Federica Vitali, 23/11/18
Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth, Direttore-Riccardo Frizza, Regia-Maria Pilar Pérez Aspa, Scene-Angelo Sala, Costumi-Ursula Patzak, Lighting design-Fiammetta Baldiserri, Elisabetta-Jessica Pratt, Amelia-Carmela Remigio, Leicester-Xabier Anduaga, Warney-Stefan Pop, Lambourne-Lorenzo Barbieri, Fanny-Federica Vitali 24/11/18, Pictures by Gian Franco Rota
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Mercadante’s Didone abbandonata @ Innsbrucker Festwochen der alten Musik

Saverio Mercadante’s Didone abbandonata contains beautiful music. The opera has magnificent melodies (the ouverture, both Enea’s entrance and second at aria, the act I finale and the act II terzetto, Didone’s final aria are all beautiful), gripping ensembles and a refined orchestration and it is easy to believe the success it had after its premiere in Turin being played in Naples, Paris, and London. I would love to see it staged again.

Jarba’s role was composed for one of the leading tenors of the time, Nicola Tacchinardi. Carlo Allemanno has all the required notes and acceptable coloratura but sings with a dry timbre and a voice which sounds a little veiled. Viktorija Miškunaité has a rigid voice without legato, and smudges over the embellishments, the dramatic and beautiful final aria is negatively affected by the screechy top notes, which are usually in tune. Wonderful on the other hand Katrin Wundsam in the trouser role of Enea. Flexible and warm, the voice ascends with ease to the high register just to leap down with equal ease. She does her best to properly pronounce and her embellishments are sung clearly but delicately. The three remaining cast members all have sorbet arias. Selene’s one is beautifully rendered by Emilie Renard. The male singers have quite challenging arias for Araspe and Osmida but except for some beautiful top notes from Piero Godoy there is room for improvement.

The set by Magdalena Gut works well. A rotating top floor of a concrete building-in-making with iron rods sticking out from the floor make for an unfinished carthagean palace. Cringy however the direction by Jürgen Flimm. Not sure a grotesque psychopath Jarba who rapes and strangles Selene, slaughters Araspe ans stabs Osmida is what Didone’s final aria needed. For the rest singers were left to their fate as it seems they didn’t always know what to do onstage and characters were rendered only superficially. Better Alessandro De Marchi who keeps things going swiftly and directs energetically. Remarkable and excellently prepared the Coro Maghini.

Musikalische leitung-Alessandro De Marchi, Regie-Jürgen Flimm, Bühnenbild-Magdalena Gut, Kostüme-Kristina Bell, Licht-Irene Selka, Didone-Viktorija Miškunaité, Enea-Katrin Wundsam, Jarba-Carlo Allemano, Osmida-Pietro Di Bianco, Araspe-Piero Godoy, Selene-Emilie Renard. Photos Rupert Larl.

 

La Vestale @ De Munt/La Monnaie

photo-k73o7rIt’s thanks to the uncharacteristic choice of this year’s Monnaie/Munt program, that we have the possibility to hear this wonderful opera by Gaspare Spontini, unfortunately now an almost forgotten composer. Spontini was born in Italy, got his first musical education in Naples, and grew artistically in Paris, where he wrote hugely popular operas such as La Vestale, Fernand Cortez and Olympie. Berlioz was a huge admirer, so much as to write a novel, where a suicide is committed after a performance of La Vestale as life had no further meaning after such an experience. I wouldn’t go as far, but indeed musically it is one of those masterpieces full of “choeurs magnifiques, ces prières nobles et touchantes, ce final inouï, ces récitatifs si larges, si mélodieusment vrais, ces chants tremblants d’émotions, si inspirés, si riches, cet orchestre puissant, pompeux et toujours dramatique, si tant d’élan sublimes…” (these magnificent choirs, these noble and touching prayers, these extraordinary finales, these ample melodic recitatives, this music trembling with emotions, so inspired, so rich, this powerful orchestra, pompous and always dramatic, this sublime impetus… – Berlioz in Le renovateur, 18 mai 1834).  The orchestral writing was indeed quite dramatic, vibrating, pulsating, colourful. It is clear, hearing Spontini’s music, why Berlioz was so fascinated by it, so far as to try to emulate it. And the orchestra is so well directed by Alessandro de Marchi, that it felt as an additional character. It was extremely well balanced although it follows a 18th century tradition of being placed looking towards the stage, with the violins closest and the brass, wood and percussion furthest from the stage. Under De Marchi the orchestra is light and powerful, dramatic and transparent.

photo-usq3ceLascascade as director was the complete opposite. The set so minimal that the first act starts with a complete empty stage and ends with a couple of tables on it. This affects the already difficult acustic of the Cirque Royal even more, with some of the voices sounding hollow. Overall the direction was not as bad as in Paris (reading reviews Lascascade probably reassessed his approach slightly), but there are very cringy situation, such as the running choir in Act I, the spinning choir in Act III, the reviving of the holy fire with a domestic gas lighter and the extremely cheap-looking sets.

V_31_copyThe voices again were overall excellent. Berlioz, in talking about the voice of Mme Branchu, the first Julia, describes it as “pleines et retentissantes, douces et fortes, capables de dominer les chœurs et l’orchestre, et pouvant s’éteindre jusqu’au murmure le plus affaibli de la passion timide, de la crainte ou de la rêverie….” I didn’t go to the theatre with Berlioz’ severe expectation. But I must say Alexandra Deshorties was amazing. Except for a slight strain in the top notes of the duet’s finale, Deshorties recited dramatically, her voice passion packed in recitative as much as in her arias, her phrasing exquisite, delivering a gripping performance. Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo sounded a bit throaty and had a poor legato, but her rendering of the Grande Vestale was passionate. Yann Beuron was slightly short on top, but he also rendered an amazing Licinius, full of fiery passion and impetuous ardour. Very good also Julien Dran as Cinna and excellent Jean Teitgen as Pontife. Reserves on Lascascade, but otherwise a wonderful performance from singers, chorus and orchestra.

15/10/15: Muzikale leiding-Alessandro de Marchi, Regie-Eric Lascascade, Decors-Emmanuel Clolus, Kostuums-Marguerite Bordat, Belichting-Philippe Berthomé, Dramaturgie-Daria Lippi, Licinius-Yann Beuron, Cinna-Julien Dran, Le souverain Pontife-Jean Teitgen, Julia-Alexandra Deshorties, La Grande Vestale-Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo