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.

 

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Pesaro – Rossini Opera Festival 2015

IMG_3420Every year, The Accademia Rossiniana of Pesaro teaches young singers about the interpretation of Rossini who then all give their best in Il viaggio a Reims. Famous singers have passed through this Viaggio and it is delightful to hear young and motivated voices. This year there were those who sing well but whose voice is too weak to be properly heard, those who pronounce miserably and have a shrill voice, those who just sing well and you imagine them grow artistically. This year I thought Sunnyboy Dladia, Rubén Pérez Rodriguez and Federica di Trapani were promising. My personal favourite was Leslie Visco, who I thought sang very well with a clear pronunciation the role of Madama Cortese. The Filarmonica G. Rossini orchestra didn’t play well at all, at times out of tune and unsynchronized once or twice. The director also lacked in Rossinian spirit.

messaThe Messa di Gloria was created by a Rossini who was worried of the public opinion. This might explain the careful composition, the “borrowing” of a theme from an opera by Mayr and the help of a fellow composer, Pietro Raimondi. One of the most important witnesses of the Messa di Gloria, which was first heard in the church of San Ferdinando in Naples in March 1820, was Carl Borromäus von Miltitz, a minor composer present in Naples who hoped to be staged by Rossini on one of the Neapolitan theatres. Not entirely adverse towards Italian music first, his tone became more and more aggressive when realizing that his opera would not be staged (For the highly amusing article I refer to Reto Müller in La Gazzetta nr 22 of the Deutsche Rossini Gesellschaft). Florez sang very well and has a beautiful voice though I slightly raised my eyebrow on the troublesome and hard sounding florid passages of qui sedes ad dexteram patris. The radiant looking Jessica Pratt sang extremely well with a stronger middle register, soft pianissimi, marvellous crescendo, clean vocalises and a dramatic interpretation of the cantata in both recitive and aria. I didn’t hear the mezzosoprano until her solo part in the terzetto and then only until she was joined by bass and soprano. Her coloratura was sometimes so quick she arrived at the end before the phrase actually ended. The voice is not particularly beautiful. The comparison with the soprano, who sang the same phrase, in the terzetto was quite pitiless, repeating the impression I had in Wildbad. Mirco Palazzi sang with a splendid and noble timbre and Dempsey Rivera was a good second tenor in the Kyrie with Florez. Not much personality emerged from Donato Renzetti, neither in the Messa nor in the Gazza. Heavy direction and little or no nuances.

Inganno_Pesaro1L’inganno felice is a farsa composed for the Teatro San Moisé in Venice in 1812 and was one of the more successful of Rossini’s farse being frequently staged also outside Italy. Mariangela Sicilia and Carlo Lepore are both excellent. Beautiful voices, both convince with technical skills. Carlo Lepore is also perfect in action and pronunciation and achieves a tender and dramatic Tarabotto. If Mariangela Sicilia will make the right choices I am sure she will mature to an excellent career. UntitledVassilis Kavayas was slightly unripe in voice and didn’t convince much while Giulio Mastrototaro was only adequate as Ormondo. I found Davide Luciano as Batone simply superb: easy coloratura, beautiful voice, splendid acting and excellent pronunciation.  I certainly hope I will hear this promising young singer again. Graham Vick’s staging of 1994 has lost nothing of its freshness while the director Denis Vlasenko gives attention to details, and accompanies with elegance and grace.

gazza150815_640xLa gazza ladra was presented this year in the 2007 staging by Damiano Michieletto, who won the premio Abbiati in 2007 for best director. The staging is a transposition of the Gazza ladra plot into a modern version where the magpie is interpreted by a child who dreams the whole story. A touching staging, one of my favourite by the Venetian director, who, in most cases (in my eyes) fully grasps the spirit of the operas. From the original cast only Alex Esposito is present. And what a loss if he wouldn’t be. He sings and acts with talent interpreting a stirringly emotional father figure. René Barbera charms with a beautiful voice and adequate coloratura. Nino Machaidze sings with easy top notes and light coloratura but with a shrill-ish voice. Teresa Iervolino’s creamy voice fits the character of Lucia, and her gradual conversion from shrew to accepting mother-in-law, well. Marko Mimica gave the impression he is too concentrated to sing everything right, which slightly affected both musical and actorial performance, lacking in grandeur, but he contributed to the overall success of the opera. Peculiar choice was Lena Belkina, or whoever offered her the role of Pippo (and why did she ever accept it). Her voice shows clear difficulty in the first act where she struggles to reach the lower notes, which are hardly heard. Worse even, she “acts” funny to sing towards higher notes, which are sometimes screamed, sometimes out of tune because not able to descend. Very disappointing. She sang better in the duet of the second act. Orchestra and chorus were wonderful. Of Renzetti I have already spoken.

gazzetta150815_640xLa Gazzetta needs a entertaining show, able to grasp the Neapolitan humour, especially of Don Pomponio. And in Pesaro something went terribly wrong. Although glimpses of Naples were present with Don Pomponio’s dialect and the excellent mute role of Tommasí, the direction of Marco Carniti, although it had the benefit of making a rather confuse plot understandable, was nowhere near being amusing. The set follows the recent money-saving trend consisting mainly of tables and chairs, which do not much except rotating. Which is fine if the director had imagination and originality…. Big disappointment for me, who remembers the superlative staging of Dario Fo, which, although not being over-Neapolitan either, matched the whirling humour of the libretto. Musically on the other hand things went quite well with a cast which lived up to expectations. The recently found Act I quintet is charming. Enrique Mazzola directs a wonderful Orchestra del Comunale di Bologna. Hasmik Torosyan has a luscious voice, lovely pianissimi and an easy coloratura but I wish she didn’t force too much her higher notes. Maxim Mironov is a wonderful tenor, agile and mature, a delight to hear and see. Vito Priante took the role of Filippo and he did it with verve and musicality though the florid passages of his Act II aria are not all too fluid. Nicola Alaimo proved to be as convincing in dramatic as in comic opera. Doralice was finely sung by Raffaella Lupinacci and all other characters were also well interpreted.

Il viaggio a Reims (17/8/15) Direzione-Manuel Lopez-Gomez, Elementi scenic-Emilio Sagi, Costumi-Pepa Ojanguren, Corinna -Federica di Trapani, La marchesa Melibea-Shirin Eskandani, La contessa di Folleville-Kaori Nagamachi, Madama Cortese-Leslie Visco, Il cavaliere Belfiore-Sunnyboy Dladia, Il conte di Libenskof-Rubén Pérez Rodrìguez, Lord Sidney-Alessandro Abis, Don Profondo-Pablo Ruiz, Barone di Trombonok-Vincenzo Nizzardo, Don Alvaro/Antonio-Carlo Checchi, Don Prudenzio-Shi Zong, Don Luigino/Zeffirino/Gelsomino-Dangelo Fernando Dìaz, Maddalena-Cecilia Molinari, Delia-Carmen Buendia, Modestina-Salome Jicia

Messa di Gloria, Il pianto d’Armonia sulla morte d’Orfeo, La morte di Didone (18/8/15) Donato Renzetti, Jessica Pratt, Victoria Yarovaya, Juan Diego Florez, Mirco Palazzi, Dempsey Rivera

L’inganno felice (18/8/15) Direttore-Denis Vlasenko, Regia-Graham Vick, Scene e costumi-Richard Hudson, Progetto luci-Matthew Richardson, Isabella-Mariangela Sicilia, Bertrando-Vassilis Kavayas, Ormondo-Giulio Mastrototaro, Tarabotto-Carlo Lepore, Batone-Davide Luciano

La gazza ladra (19/8/15) Direttore-Donato Renzetti, Regia-Damiano Michieletto, Scene-Paolo Fantin, Costumi-Carla Teti, Progetto luci-Alessandro Carletti, Fabrizio Vingradito-Simone Alberghini, Lucia-Teresa Iervolino, Giannetto-René Barbera, Ninetta-Nino Machaidze, Fernando Villabella-Alex Esposito, Gottardo-Marko Mimica, Pippo-Lena Belkina, Isacco-Matteo Macchioni, Antonio-Alessandro Luciano, Giorgio-Riccardo Fioratti, Ernesto/Il Pretore-Claudio Levantino, Una Gazza-Sandhya Nagaraja

La gazzetta (20/8/15) Direttore-Enrique Mazzola, Regia e Costumi-Marco Carniti, Scene-Manuela Gasperoni, Progetto luci-Fabio Rossi, Don Pomponio Storione-Nicola Alaimo, Lisetta-Hasmik Torosyan, Filippo-Vito Priante, Doralice-Raffaella Lupinacci, Anselmo-Dario Shikhmiri, Alberto-Maxim Mironov, Madama La Rose-Josè Maria Lo Monaco, Monsù Traversen-Andrea Vincenzo Bonsignore, Tommasino-Ernesto Lama