200th birthday for Rossini’s Otello in Naples

49889-myimageRossini’s Otello was one of the most represented operas of the XIX century, it was written in Naples for some of the best singers of Italy. Isabella Colbran, soon to become Rossini’s wife, was famous for the big range of her voice as well as her actorial skills, depicting heroins “with real sentiment and great passion” as Spohr penned down when he heard her in Elisabetta. All operas that were composed for Isabella Colbran had long and elaborated scenes which allowed her to show off her dramatic skills. In fact, Rossini made his Otello an opera about Desdemona, frail in the first act, the second act is centered around her distress and excitement while the third act intensifies her personal tensions and emotions even more, bringing the opera to a tragic close. Andrea Nozzari and Giovanni David were two famous tenors. David the flexible tenore contraltino, usually employed for the lovers’ roles, and Nozzari the baritonal tenor, usually the temperamental antagonist. For these voices he created most of his Neapolitan operas who are regarded as his masterpieces, such as La donna del lago, Ricciardo e Zoraide, Zelmira, Armida etc. It was in Neaples where Rossini could be the most creative, opening to new musical forms and modernizing the repertoire which was not possible elsewhere. Otello also finishes with a death on stage, something that was unthinkable in other parts of Italy (although just a few months before Carafa composed Gabriella di Vergy with tragic ending, which had a tremendous success).
Otello was performed first in the Teatro del Fondo (now Teatro Mercadante) on 4th December 1816 as the main Neapolitan stage, the Teatro di San Carlo, burnt down a year earlier but was moved to the San Carlo the 18th January 1817. Although the libretto was criticized for not being completely faithful to Shakespeare, the opera was a complete and utter triumph that pleased people all over Europe for decades, making Desdemona the warhorse for such primadonnas as Ronzi, Pasta, Malibran and Grisi, just to mention a few (I refer to another blog for an extensive article on Rossini s Desdemona http://ilcorrieredellagrisi.blogspot.be/2008/07/il-mito-della-primadonna-desdemona-di.html). The public and critics praised especially Isabella Colbran’s interpretation of Desdemona emphasizing that “….this unequaled actress inspires in all minds the most affectionate feelings of melancholy, and the strongest commotions of the tragic terror. Ms. Colbran, great in the so-called bravura pieces, most praised in the arpeggios and the rapid coloratura, has no equal in the tragic or declamatory music or in the difficult talent of expressiveness”. (Giornale delle due Sicilie). Well done therefore, the Teatro di San Carlo, which staged Otello exactly 200 years after its premiers and the excitement was great to hear it in exactly the same location.

untitledThe settings are beautifully designed by Dante Ferretti, who brings us from a ship interiour in the first act , to a big room with fire place in 16th century Venice in the Act II to Desdemona’s bedroom in the third act (well, a carpet with a few cushions…). Set, costumes and colours matched all very well. I was less enthusiastic about the direction. Amos Gitai wants to link Otello’s story with today’s immigrant issue and projects war landscapes, boats full of immigrants and the likes in regular frequency (3 or 4 times if i remember well). But these projections feel a bit like a “mistake”, in the sense that it felt like someone switched on the projections by accident, and then turned them off again so that the show could continue…very bizarre… And this is all the director could think of as the singers move very conventionally and the chorus is motionless.

49890-otello-gaia-petrone-nino-machaidze-c-luciano-romano-san-carlo-cropI enjoyed all singers of the first cast. Excellent Nino Machaidze, though with an harsh timbre and not always an exemplary legato, the voice moves effortlessly over the whole range and displays remarkable coloratura. Features that she shares with John Osborne, who i remember more audacious in other productions i saw him in, but nonetheless an exquisite Otello. Somewhat careful Dmitry Korchak as Jago but very very enjoyable nonetheless in a very difficult role. A bit short in the higher register Mirco Palazzi. Gaia Petrona had a nice warm timbre and convinced as Emilia. Of the second cast I particularly enjoyed Sergey Romanovsky, a tenor to watch carefully, as his rendering of Otello was very exciting with no problems neither in the baritonal register or in the coloratura with an agreeable timbre. I found Carmen Romeu not as convincing as when she sang the same role in Gent a few years back with a voice more tired and her usual issues with intonation. Rodrigo was a role too big, I felt, for Giorgio Misseri, who had slight issues in the runs as well as the high register.

Worst was the conductor though, who dragged everybody into an expensive nap. Nomen est omen I would say, for Ferro (it: iron). Except for strette, which get a bit speedier, he directs with crawling tempi, rolls over the score with flattening carelessness, without rubati, without emotion. Even when the singers accelerate a little because the music requires it, he beats tempi like he would stir polenta. With unclear beats the orchestra shows unclean cues. A disaster is the whole finale of act I where several different pieces follow one another with different tempi, different emotions. In theory! Because Ferro, with metronomic lethargy, beats the rhythm with no crescendo, rallentandi, accelerandi, oblivious to the whole armamentarium to create a pulsating and exciting sound. The recitativi are ever so boring as Ferro adds so many little pauses between the beats and everything seems endless. What a catastrophy!

Direttore-Gabriele Ferro, Regia-Amos Gitai, Regista collaborator-Mariano Bauduin, Scene-Dante Ferretti, Costumi-Gabriella Pescucci, Light Designer-Vincenzo Raponi, Videoproiezioni-Alessandro Papa, Otello-John Osborn/Sergey Romanovsky, Desdemona-Nino Machaidze/Carmen Romeu, Rodrigo-Dmitry Korchak/Giorgio Misseri, Jago-Juan Francisco Gatell, Emilia-Gaia Petrone, Elmiro-Mirco Palazzi, Il Doge-Nicola Pamio, Il gondolier, Lucio-Enrico Iviglia. Naples 2 and 3 december 2016.

 

Advertisements

Amsterdam, Il viaggio a Reims

New Picture - CopyIn 1825 Rossini was commissioned to compose an opera to celebrate the coronation of Charles X. Rossini ‘s music had taken Paris by storm in the 1820’s, the crème de la crème of Rossini singers were in Paris at that time and many of them sang in the premiere of Il viaggio a Reims ossia L’albergo del giglio d’oro. The insubstantial plot is basically only an excuse to hail Charles X and to deploy each singer’s musical skills: We are in the hotel “Il giglio d’oro” in Plobmbières-les-Bains, where a bunch of people are awaiting the carriages who will bring them to Reims for the coronation of Charles X. However they will wait in vain as the carriages will never arrive. Additional story lines make the plot quite confusing: the Spanish admiral and the Russian general fighting over the Polish widow, the English colonel secretly in love with Corinna, the Roman poetess, an overturned stagecoach which brings the fashionable French lady in distress etc.

The direction of this largely plotless opera is by Damiano Michieletto. A director who I admire much. In the Amsterdam version we are in the museum “Gallery Golden Lilium” under the direction of an anxious (read hysteric) Madama Cortese, and all characters are either people working in the museum or painted characters which come to life. The already complicated plot becomes even more intricate as the real and fictitious characters interact. I feel this particular direction is not Michieletto’s best but all in all it is cleverly conceived and put together. An intelligent creation and brilliantly thought through with remarkable effects.

And the music?

New Picture (1)There are many characters, and at least 10 of the singers need to be top performers (At the premiere they included Laure Cinti-Damoreau, Giuditta Pasta, Domenico Donzelli, Nicolas Levasseur and Ester Mombelli). Each of the numbers is a little gem and one of the highlights is a piece for 14 singers: the Gran Pezzo concertato a 14 voci. In Amsterdam I much liked Eleonora Buratto as Corinna, Juan Francisco Gatell as Belfiore and Bruno de Simone as Trombonok. I feel they are the only who do the music justice. In my opinion Gatell has improved a lot in the last years in terms of interpretation and diction and Buratto’s floating high notes are a pleasure to hear. Bruno de Simone is a stage lion, one of the few where words were understandable without harming the sung part. All have a good coloratura. Roberto Tagliavini as Lord Sidney, Anna Goryacheva as Melibea and Michael Spyres as Libenskof all displayed very fine singing. I liked Spyres less in the first act although I am not sure whether this was due to his voice or the vastness of the set (the museum). I would have liked a stronger voiced Sidney and Melibea but this might be the conductor’s fault, as we will see. Nino Machaidze as Contessa di Folleville manages the musical part adequately, as does Carmen Giannattasio as Madama Cortese. None of them are musically truly convincing. Nicola Ulivieri lacks the low notes and goes through what could be one of the funniest aria (Madaglie incomparabili) trivially and unconcerned. Mario Cassi as Don Alvaro is very mediocre, his entry (Questa vaga e amabil dama) is smudged and the Spanish song at the end was not really “Dell’Iberia il dolce canto“.

New Picture (2)In an interview the conductor Mr. Montanari stated that the most difficult part is to find the balance between the orchestra and the stage (oh really?) but he certainly was not a bit able to achieve this. I sometimes could barely hear the voices, let alone understand a word they were saying. The problem here is not one bad singer that spoils his aria. The problem here is that Mr Montanari reminds us throughout the evening of his vision, namely Rossini music as not light, brilliant and graceful but loud and heavy. No need for the singer to interpret, to sing the embellishments, to pronounce properly, because one can hardly hear them anyway. Add to this the following catalogue of absurdities: He adds glissandi, embellishments or chords with the cembalo during sung pieces (not only during recitativi)! He abruptly changes tempi to his liking, he even changes the rhythm (for e.g. in the accompaniment of the stretta in the duet Oh! Quanto ingannasi between Corinna and Belfiore, he puts accents on the 4th beat!! He also stomps his feet during Don Alvaro’s “Omaggio all’augusto duce” in a Spanish manner!!! And if he doesn’t have time to synchronize all these tasks, he sticks the baton between back and shirt by the backside of his collar. I hope I won’t have the sadness to see him wave at noise again.

Muzikale leiding-Stefano Montanari, Regie-Damiano Michieletto, Decor-Paolo Fantin, Kostuums-Carla Teti, Licht-Alessandro Carletti, Corinna-Eleonora Buratto, La Marchesa Melibea-Anna Goryachova, La Contessa di Folleville-Nino Machaidze, Madama Cortese-Carmen Giannattasio, Il Cavaliere Belfiore-Juan Francisco Gatell, Il Conte di Libenskof-Michael Spyres, Lord Sidney-Roberto Tagliavini, Don Profondo-Nicola Ulivieri, Il Barone di Trombonok-Bruno De Simone, Don Alvaro-Mario Cassi, Don Prudenzio-Biaggio Pizzuti, Don Luigino-Carlos Cardoso, Delia-Maria Fiselier, Maddalena-Teresa Iervolino, Modestina-Florieke Beelen, Zefirino / Gelsomino-Jeroen de Vaal, Antonio-Tomeu Bibiloni

Rossini Opera Festival, Pesaro, 2014

20140812_barb7The Academy of Fine Arts of Urbino, who was assigned to stage this year’s Barbiere di Siviglia did a marvelous job. The students had such a well conceived view of the opera, that one would have to seriously reconsider the big names in opera, certainly if compared to the main attraction of the festival, Armida.  Only few scenic elements are seen on stage, but very cleverly used. The singers are well directed, they move well, on stage and in the stalls, lights are playfully projected on the balconies (for e.g. during the storm scene, light droplets fill the whole opera house in a whirling crescendo which goes hand in hand with the music), mimes added for small background sketches. But numerous are the brilliant and entertaining ideas (the Calunnia was particularly successful), which make this Barbiere a joy to look at. The singers are not only good actors but they are all quite credible in their roles and all sing very well. Although I have my preferences, I would like to praise the group effort especially of Alex Esposito, Chiara Amarù, Florian Sempey and Juan Francisco Gatell, all of which manage the score’s requirements with relative ease. The director is Giacomo Sagripanti who brillantly directs a sparkling Orchestra Comunale di Bologna, cheerfully singling out minor passages in the score. Even without subtitles one was able to understand everything and the public was amused.

rossini-pesaro-armidaThe other opera given in Peasaro this year was Armida, composed for the Neapolitan forces of the San Carlo theatre. Isabella Colbran’s role is intepreted by Carmen Romeu. This Spanish young singer has a very fluid coloratura and a nice and warm middle register. Her lower notes are not as present and the top notes a bit strained and sometimes not in pitch. Given the demanding part of Armida, however, I still think Miss Romeu did a good job. Antonino Siragusa on the other hand was, in my opinion, almost perfect. Rinaldo, who succombs to the love for Armida, is particularly well suited for his solar voice (his duets with Armida are simply beautiful) and the fiendish coloratura is impeccably mastered (e.g. in Unitevi a gara). The second tenor in Armida was Dmitry Korchak who was also very well suited for his role(s), the coloratura and the high notes pulled off convincingly, as was Carlo Lepore as Idraote/Astarotte. Less incisive and vocally not as plausible was Randal Bills as Goffredo/Ubaldo, who in some cases was barely audible above the orchestra. My big disappointment went to both the stage and the music director. Luca Ronconi places two huge mobile panels on stage, filled with hanging Pupi Siciliani. All the men on stage are also equally dressed with the same armour. This was actually quite convincing for revoking the knightly world of the plot. But Armida is a magical opera, where Armida, torn between love and hate, whimsically changes her isle between horrid wilderness (orrida selva) and magical garden (giardino incantanto, ameni colline), flying away, in the last scene, on a carriage pulled by two dragons, “enveloped by globes of fire and smoke“. Nothing of all this. The only difference between the acts is the background, which changes from a grey-ish/brown rippled cloth to a golden wall. The wooden panel with a plastic plant-like object (enchanted garden??) only ads to the horrid. Difficult to get immersed in Tasso’s world with such a distant interpretation. Equally emotionally detached was Carlo Rizzi. Who directed a score with very few means of expression and very little subtleness. The musical pieces sound like a disconnected patchwork, with no caring stitches to hold them together. The chosen tempos are on the swift side, with no rubati and little pertinence to the score. Some of the strettas don’t follow the singers with the result that coloraturas become mushed and unclear. The pleasing ballet in Act II was modern and energetic.

Musica: Aureliano in Palmira, opera riscoperta al RofThird opera in Pesaro is Aureliano in Palmira. When Will Crutchfield directs on stage, his movements are aggressive and stiff. And this is exactly how the orchestra sounds: an emotionless metronome. The American director starts the opera with lethargic tempos that last until almost half the first act. Doesn’t do Rossini, who poured magnificent music into the score, any justice. The orchestra Sinfonica Rossini plays faultily and not always together.
Arsace’s role is two sizes too big for Lena Belkina who completely lacks dramatic weight for the interpretation of the Persian prince. All the notes were there, but when she was alone on stage and Crutchfield was conducting one or two yawns had to be suppressed. Opposite to her is the tenor. Nothing seems too difficult for Michael Spyres who has a homogeneous and strong voice throughout his range. However, although the coloratura was precise, I would wish a better articulation of the embellishments. Jessica Pratt is a delicate Zenobia and overall I think it is the more lyrical passages that suite her most. But even in the more dramatic of strettas and caballettas, the Australian soprano sings with agile vigor. The cast is completed by the very good Raffaella Lupinacci as Publia, Dimitri Pkhaladze, Dempsey Rivera, Sergio Vitale and Raffaele Costantini. Cleverly simple but effective is Mario Martone’s setting, a small labyrinth with movable, semi-transparent cloth panels. Martone is able to convey the tragic love of Zenobia and Arsace, who have to jump cruel hurdles for their love. Costumes are oriental in an convincing mise en scene.

reims2013gJust two words on the Viaggio a Reims, the yearly performance given by students of the Accademia Rossiniana led by Alberto Zedda. As usual one is impressed by the motivation and the enthusiasm of the young voices, especially in an opera as Il viaggio a Reims, which was explicitly composed for the coronation of Charles X for 14 of the greatest singers of the time and withdrawn after only 4 performances. It is also normal to hear the young artists lack vocal experience or stage presence, which is benevolently ignored for the sake of the group effort of singers under stress. But this year several voices hardly reached sufficiency. I would only like to mention Nico Darmanin and Aya Wakizono who I quite liked and were able to master their roles vocally and on stage. Yunpeng Wang had a pleasing voice but couldn’t get quite through the interpretative obstacles of his aria. Shahar Lavì and Isabel Rodriquez Garcia sang well albeit coldly their respective roles (Corinna and Madame de Folleville). (16/8/14)