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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Pia de Tolomei & Fra Diavolo – Pisa & Rome

Verdi-centered fans told me they heard so much Verdi in Donizetti’s Pia di Tolomei, but Pia was composed 3 years before Verdi even started composing operas. Nonetheless it contains some beautiful music and in the recent past Pia de Tolomei got already some attention: staged several times at the end of the 60’s, beginning of the 70’s, under the vibrant direction of Rigacci (with a wonderfully sympathetic Lella Cuberli), in 2005 la Fenice presented it with Patrizia Ciofi, the Opera Rara label recorded it, and now in Pisa it sees the light again. It was however a Pia de Tolomei without Pia. The main singer started badly with an entrance aria that revealed vocal problems as soon as the voice had to rise even a slight bit. No legato, wobbly line, and one awfully squeaked top note did the rest. Not to talk about the interpretation, which was totally absent in the desperate but unsuccessful attempt to get at least the notes right. The rest of the cast was quite enjoyable. Marina Comparato knows how to sing, one could enjoy the beautiful lower register, in the cavatine more than in the cabaletta. Her contribution to the beautiful duet with Pia was touching. The tenor was a lovely surprise: Giulio Pelligra in the role of Ghino mastered the difficult leaps with apparent ease and Valdis Jansons as Nello was especially moving in Lei perduta in core ascondo, where he utters his hate for Pia…but still loves her. The music is flowing brightly under the baton of Christopher Franklin while the setting and lights are lovely. Questionable some of the stage directions by Andrea Cigni.

A charming Fra Diavolo was given in Rome. The points of interest were for me John Osborne as Fra Diavolo and Barberio-Corsetti’s stage settings. The latter’s love for video projections are known, and he mixes them masterfully with the scenery which resulted in a sparkly and light interpretation. Musically the opera is very French with couplets and songs typical for French light opera. When Fra Diavolo was translated into Italian for the Italian stages, Auber composed new arias for the main characters in a more Italian style in order to show off their vocal qualities and it was in the Italian translation that the opera was most successful.  The cast reunited for the Roman staging was very satisfying, and quite enjoyable were the crystal clear voiced Anna Maria Sarra, the funny Sonia Ganassi as Lady Pamela, Giorgio Misseri was a touching Lorenzo and John Osborne as Fra Diavolo. Rory MacDonald conducted swiftly although I found he sometimes covered the voices.

Pia de Tolomei: Pia-Francesca Tiburzi, Ghino degli Armieri-Giulio Pelligra, Nello della Pietra-Valdis Jansons, Rodrigo-Marina Comparato, Piero, eremita-Andrea Comelli, Ubaldo, servitore di Nello-Christian Collia, Bice-Silvia Regazzo, Lamberto-Claudio Mannino, Custode-Nicola Vocaturo, direttore-Christopher Franklin, regia-Andrea Cigni, scene-Dario Gessati, costumi-Tommaso Lagattolla, luci-Fiammetta Baldiserri, 14/10/17, foto: http://www.teatrodelgiglio.it. Fra Diavolo: Direttore-Rory MacDonald, Regia-Giorgio Barberio Corsetti, Scene-Giorgio Barberio Corsetti e Massimo Troncanetti, Costumi-Francesco Esposito, Video-Igor Renzetti, Alessandra Solimene, Lorenzo Bruno, Coreografia-Roberto Zappalà, Luci-Marco Giusti, Fra Diavolo-John Osborn, Lord Rocburg-Roberto De Candia, Lady Pamela-Sonia Ganassi, Lorenzo-Giorgio Misseri, Matteo-Alessio Verna, ZerlinaAnna Maria Sarra, Giacomo-Jean Luc Ballestra, Beppo-Nicola Pamio, 15/10/17, foto: http://www.operaroma.it/

 

Norma @ Covent Garden

29651088925_fbe5bf457bFelice Romani, the librettist of Norma, set the opera in the Gauls: a druid priestess, Norma,  and Pollione, a roman consul, were once in love and have two secret children. But Pollione now loves Adalgisa, a young priestess, which triggers Norma’s anger, her revelation of the forbidden love to the druids with subsequent burning at the stake. The story La Fura dels Baus tells is dominated by religious symbols, the curtain opens on hundreds of crosses, with all sort of religious characters including men dressed as ku klux klan, telling the story of how dominating religion can be and how trapped one can feel in it. The setting is modern (Pollione wears suit and tie) but the actions are faithful to the plot. What amazed me the most was the direction of the main characters; with every gesture, with every movement la Fura dels Baus displayed desperation, dreams, torment, hope. Vocally I was quite pleased. 29024857374_17da68e1e9Yoncheva was vocally very strong in her lower as much as her high register (only the very top was a bit harsh) and her coloratura very fluid, her voice bright and luminous. Ganassi was better than I hoped, although her pronunciation is incomprehensible as so often. Calleja has a generous voice but a very tight vibrato and his breath is very short which makes him break the lines often and he seems a bit detached from what he sings. Pappano directs energetically though sometimes a bit too loud. Flavio and Clotilde sang well, Oroveso I would have wished with more weight. A very gripping evening altogether.

Conductor-Antonio Pappano, Director-Àlex Ollé, Associate director-Valentina Carrasco, Set designer-Alfons Flores, Costume designer-Lluc Castells, Lighting designer-Marco Filibeck, Norma-Sonya Yoncheva, Pollione-Joseph Calleja, Adalgisa-Sonia Ganassi, Oroveso-Brindley Sherratt, Flavio-David Junghoon Kim, Clotilde-Vlada Borovko