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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Rossini Opera Festival 2018 @ Pesaro

It’s always interesting to follow the Viaggio a Reims of the Accademia in Pesaro, one can hear interesting young voices which might be successful one day. Excellent, I thought, was the Lord Sidney of Nicolò Donini, with not only fluid coloratura but also the emphasis he put on pronunciation and interpretation. Milla Mihova’s Cortese was also quite good with a strong voice, fluid embellishments and a steady top register. I would have loved to hear her as Corinna. A tenor I also enjoyed was Anatoliy Pigrebnyy as Belfiore, with a nice extension and a ductile voice. Corinna, Folleville and Trombonok all simplify the quick coloratura, Sennikova is a bit mellifluous. I would have loved to see Carles Panchon, who sang the role of Antonio the 17th, sing the role of Sidney the 14th (the students of the accademia alternate roles in two different dates). His voice was quite beautiful and strong and convinced even in the small role of Antonio with a funny mimicry. The orchestra was adequately conducted by Hugo Carrio.

Ricciardo e Zoraide was one of the main events in Pesaro this year, the opera was composed in Naples in 1818 but was not, also in modern times, very lucky with revivals. Juan Diego Florez comes back for yet another role composed for Giovanni David, the tenore di grazia active in Naples at that time. (In fact most of Rossini’s Neapolitan operas have 2 tenor roles, one tenore di grazia and one baritenor. The latter was Andrea Nozzari, for whom Rossini composed the roles of Otello, Rinaldo (Armida), Pirro in Ermione, Rodrigo (La donna del lago), Antenore (Zelmira). Juan Diego Florez, after over 20 years of activity (he was “discovered” in Pesaro in 1996 when he had to replace the main tenore last minute to sing the murderous role of Corradino in Mathilde Di Shabran) still startles with the ease he reaches all the notes, his musical elegance, his impeccable coloratura. Romanovsky sang the role composed for Nozzari. Romanovsky has all the technical skills, the coloratura and the extension, and this is already quite impressive. However the voice sounds a bit muffled and does not expand. Pretty Yende is a credible Zoraida, the clear top notes flow with ease, the interpretation credible. Also Victoria Yarovaya convinces as Zomira in the difficult Pisaroni role. An incredible surprise was the third tenor, Xabier Anduaga, a very resounding voice with easy top notes and an incredible projection. I hope to hear him in more Rossini soon. Dull on the other hand the direction of Marshall Pynkoski. He moves the plot from Nubia to a very generic oriental place. The settings are pleasing and the colours beautiful, but except for a handful of ubiquitous ballet dancers who constantly accompany the plot, there is no action on stage except for minimal and very generic standard movements, the singers being mainly turned towards the audience. The excellent orchestra sinfonica nazionale della RAI was adequately conducted by Giacomo Sagripanti.

For the 150th anniversary of Rossini’s death this year, the ROF commissioned a new Barbiere di Siviglia, a choice much criticized on- and offline. The reason being Barbiere being one of the world’s most performed operas and the detractors wished a more rare opera. Nonetheless, in my view, it turned out to be a very good production. The setting is beautiful. In an atemporal Seville, Pizzi plays with the airy space and just a few touches of contrasts and colours. The singers’ movements are very generic, some good ideas but not everything convinces (Basilio’s stutter, Bartolo’s French R…). Very elegant the costumes.
What makes this Barbiere so special is the importance put on the text and this is thanks mainly to the 3 low male roles. I always was a big fan of Spagnoli and I was very happy to hear him sing in this Barbiere. Even happier I was to see a young singer I value, Davide Luciano. If the acting was good, it was mainly thanks to these two singers. (I liked the delicate rapper movements of Spagnoli, as if to underline the modernity of Rossini in his time, the rapid sillabato being our rap). Maybe Spagnoli is more delicate in the search of the right nuance, though I found his voice not always as round and soft especially in the higher register, but both have an excellent musicality, are wonderful actors, have wonderful body gestures. The phrasing is excellent, each word adapts to the flow of the music, the pronunciation impeccable. Two charismatic top singers. Mirinov is very good as count, not a big voice but he nimbly flies over all runs. Not very big isn’t Rosina’s voice either. I’m not sure why the ROF keeps choosing her in the mezzo or alto roles. The vocality does not suit her very much. The voice is placed high and one can hear that even in the recitatives which don’t have necessary weight in these low roles. In the rapid embellishments she’s not always audible. When she gets time she does reach the low notes, her coloratura is fluid, her pronunciation good and she moves well on stage. Elena Zilio is lovely as Berta and Pertusi a correct Basilio.

Adina is a little comic opera Rossini composed in the heights of his Neapolitan success in 1818, exactly 200 years ago, as was also Ricciardo e Zoraide. Written for a still unknown commissioner, the opera was composed using either own music from lesser known operas or composed by Rossini’s collaborators. Not even a handful of pieces were freshly composed for this work. Eventually the opera was first staged only 8 years later in Lisbon.
Pesaro’s direction by Miss Cucchi imagines the plot deploying from a nuptial cake being prepared. Loads of different characters move on stage with colourful clothes in front of a stage-filling cake. The main characters were all quite good. Lisette Oropesa was almost worshipped as an excellent newcomer, despite her success abroad. I found her timbre a bit cold and her coloratura a bit too much on the “di grazia” side, but she certainly has a full bodied voice also in the lower register and the top notes are propelled with no problem whatsoever. Very good Vito Priante as calif, from the rapid runs to the more lyric moments he is a fine singer. Both are also good actors and deliver excellent actorial skills in a libretto which mixes comic with semi dramatic moments. Although still able to mature I liked also the tenor, who is assimilating the bel canto style and has no problems with the tessitura of a tenore di grazia. Good all other roles with the lovely eunuch Ali who delivers his sorbet aria with elegance and Davide Giangregorio’s Mustafá.

Ricciardo e Zoraide: Direttore-Giacomo Sagripanti, Maestro del coro -Giovanni Farina, Regia-Marshall Pynkoski, Scene-Gerard Gauci, Costumi-Michael Gianfrancesco, Luci-Michelle Ramsay, Coreografie-Jeannette Lajeunesse Zingg, Agorante-Sergey Romanovsky, Zoraide-Pretty Yende, Ricciardo-Juan Diego Flórez, Ircano-Nicola Ulivieri, Zomira Victoria Yarovaya, Ernesto-Xabier Anduaga, Fatima-Sofia Mchedlishvili, Elmira-Martiniana Antonie, Zamorre-Ruzil Gatin
Il viaggio a Reims: Direttore-Hugo Carrio, Corinna-Aleksandra Sennikova, Marchesa Melibea-Claudia Verrecchia, Contessa di Folleville-Larisa Stefan, Madama Cortese-Milla Mihova, Cavaliere Belfiore-Anatoliy Pigrebnyy, Conte di Libenskof-Shanul Sharma, Lord Sidney-Nicoló Donini, Don Profondo-Peter Sokolov, Barone di Trombonok-Igor Onishchenko, Don Alvaro-Alejandro Sanchez, Don Prudenzio-Gálvez, Don Luigino-Antonio Gares, Delia -Maria Laura Iacobellis, Maddalena-Anastasia Medvedeva, Modestina-Claudia Muschio, Gelsomino-Manuel Amati, Antonio-Carles Pachon
Adina: Conductor-Diego Matheuz, Director-Rosetta Cucchi, Set designer-Tiziano Santi, Costumes-Claudia Pernigotti, Adina-Lisette Oropesa, Semino-Levy Sekgapane, Califfo-Vito Priante, Ali-Matteo Macchioni, Mustafà-Davide Giangregorio
Il barbiere di Siviglia: Director-Yves Abel, Director, costumes, set designer-Pier Luigi Pizzi, Conte Almaviva-Maxim Mironov, Rosina-Aya Wakizono, Figaro-Davide Luciano, Dr. Bartolo-Pietro Spagnoli, Don Basilio-Michele Pertusi, Berta-Elena Zilio, Fiorello-William Corrò
Foto studio Amatio Bacciardi, performances of the 17th, 19th and 21st August 2018.