Tuesday, August 22, 2017
Out of Gaetano Donizetti´s vast production "Lucia di Lammermoor" is his best known operatic drama. The Walter Scott novel about the sad destiny of crossed lovers from rival clans has some similitude with Shakespeare´s "Romeo and Juliet". The reign of William and Mary is clearly mentioned. They were crowned in 1688 as King and Queen of England and Scotland after the defeat of James VII; the Restoration (the union of Scotland and England) had occurred in 1660. Lord Henry Ashton (Enrico in the opera) is the brother of Lucy (Lucia) and as a follower of James his future is in danger, so he needs the marriage of Lucy with Lord Arthur Bucklaw, advocate of William and Mary. But Lucy is in love with his enemy, Sir Edgar (Edgardo) Ravenswood. Librettist Salvatore Cammarano gave Donizetti material for his gift for musical dramatic expression and Romantic bel canto, and the opera is justly famous. One point must be made: until the appearance of Callas, Lucia was treated as a field day for coloratura sopranos rather than as a dramatic though florid role; this distortion, however, wasn´t of the composer´s time. Callas, led by Tullio Serafin, gave sense to every word whilst maintaining excellent technical execution. When we had Sills and Kraus at the Colón in 1972 our audience heard the real thing; and we were shown a more complete "Lucia" without the traditional cuts: Raimondo´s arias, the Madness scene with the reactions of those present including Enrico´s remorse, and the Tower tableau in which Enrico challenges Edgardo to a duel. How fares La Plata´s Argentino recent revival? Good enough though not brilliant vocally and orchestrally, but a wrongly conceived staging, for producer Rita Cosentino, an avowed feminist, moves the action to the Victorian period because according to her it was a patriarchal time of gender violence. However, precisely then Scotland was quite at peace with England and furthermore there were no fights among clans; also, Enrico may use Lucia as a way to save his political skin but it´s quite logical that he should be startled to know that Edgardo loves her. And Cosentino´s affirmation that "Lucia isn´t mad" simply denies the libretto. Also, she wants everything to happen within the house, obliterating the garden and fountain alluded in Lucia´s first aria; and later, Enrico, instead of receiving Lucia in an ambit with a desk, invades his sister´s own room. Cosentino only respects the cemetery of the last scene. Nicolás Boni´s stark stage design, Imme Möller´s depressing costumes and Rubén Conde´s shadowy lighting are in accordance with the producer´s ideas. The best singer was Darío Schmunck, in firm voice and with stylish phrasing as Edgardo. Fabián Veloz was a sturdy Enrico, more boorish than usual following Cosentino. Oriana Favaro started weakly and gradually found a stronger voice and demeanor; the Mad Scene showed little insight but was cleanly sung. Apart from a shouty Arturo from Sergio Spina, the others were quite adequate: Emiliano Bulacios as Raimondo, Rocío Arbizu (Alisa) and Maximiliano Agatiello (Normanno). Expressive, intense job from conductor Silvio Viegas (Brazilian) and good choral work (Hernán Sánchez Arteaga). Short shrift to a botched revival of an attractive opera: Donizetti´s "Maria Stuarda", in which, based on Schiller´s poetic justice in his play, we have a tremendous scene between Mary and Elizabeth that didn´t happen...but it works. This modest production of Clásica del Sur at the Teatro Luz y Fuerza had a disastrous orchestra and mediocre choir. It was weird to hear Elizabeth sung by a soprano called María Castillo de Lima who is a tenor member of the Colón´s Chorus! Enormous voice but often forced and distempered, she-he provides an uncomfortable experience. Mirta Arrua Lichi as Mary had a bad cold and bravely went on with frequent accidents, but her singing and acting in her good moments were expressive. Fabricio Gori has an agreeable lyrical tenor voice. Esteban Miotto was an experienced Lord Cecil, Lucas Miño sounded rather green as Talbot and Gabriela Ojeda, small-voiced but pleasant as Anna. Not one of conductor César Tello´s happy projects. For Buenos Aires Herald
Garsington Opera, 50 minutes’ drive from central London, has turned in record attendance figures for this summer. If the season were longer and the pop-up house larger (just 600 seats), it could probably do twice as well. The performance quality just keep on getting higher. We saw Rossini’s Turco in Italia yesterday – a piece of fluff for a summer’s night, redeemed by quicksilver comic direction (Martin Duncan), pinpoint orchestral playing (conductor: David Parry) and a sex-manic, melting, matchless account of Fiorilla by the inexhaustible Sarah Tynan – so swift about the stage you couldn’t imagine the role sung or played any better. The laughs came thick and fast. Geoffrey Dolton kept the cuckold role of Geronio just the right side of farce, Quirijn de Lang was a convincing Riviera Turk and if Katie Bray’s Zaida all but disappeared in the second act that was more Rossini’s fault than hers. Compared to the 1954 Callas recording from La Scala, this was lighter and more musical in every department. The notion that an English country house could match the home of Italian opera in a Rossini repertoire piece might sound absurd, but Callas’s voice was too shrill for Fiorilla, Nicola Rossi-Lemeni was portentous as the Turk, the rest of the cast was variable and the orchestra was decidedly poor. Give me Sarah Tynan at Garsington any summer’s night. photo: Alice Pennefather/Garsington Opera
"Norma" is undoubtedly Vincenzo Bellini´s masterpiece and a risky choice to start any operatic season, for its vocal and dramatic demands are of the highest order. It stands or falls by the choice of female singers; not only Norma, the Druid High Priestess, daughter of the Archdruid Oroveso, but also Adalgisa, the virgin of the Temple who innocently admits that the Roman proconsul Pollione loves her, provoking disaster because he is Norma´s lover and they have two children, unbeknown by the whole Gaul community. Before I go any further, let me say that the two artists who sang these roles in the second cast (the one I could see) justified being chosen and were the main reason to admit this revival, which had some flaws. But first, some background for those that aren´t familiar with this opera, an essential bel canto landmark. It is the eighth of his eleven operas and by far the most important of this short-lived composer (1801-35). His librettist, as in other six operas, was the renowned Felice Romani, based on Louis Alexandre Soumet´s tragedy; both this and the opera were premièred in the same year, 1831, though Soumet in Paris (April) and Bellini at Milan´s La Scala (December 26). Indeed, as said in Grove´s Dictionary, Bellini´s genius was all for lyrical expression: clarity, elegance and beauty of form. But it´s only in "Norma" that the beautiful melodies and the recitatives have such strong dramatic force. And naturally it became the top role in the career of Maria Callas. Time and place: Sacred forest of the druids during Roman occupation of Gaul, first century B.C. Druid in Celtic means "Knowing the Oak Tree". Julius Caesar tells us that the Druids took charge of private and public sacrifices, judged quarrels and decreed penalties. Norma does the rite of the mistletoe on the Sacred Stone in front of the Oak Tree. The druids were later suppressed by Tiberius (reigned AD 14-37). In the opera they want war against the Romans but Norma in Act One invokes the Moon ("Casta Diva") and says they must wait; however, in Act 3 she calls for war because of her rage against Pollione. Contradictory, Medea-like she wants to murder her children because they are Pollione´s blood but seconds later she embraces them. In fact, we seem to be witnessing a Greek tragedy. Mariana Carnovali faced the challenge of Norma with aplomb and musicality; the voice has a good timbre, she sang with line and fine highs. However, she lacks the dramatic impact for those moments of terrible truth such as the revelation of Pollione´s love for Adalgisa. Mezzo Nidia Palacios has had a distinguished European career in many roles and theatres; her return to our city is welcome, for she has firm vocal means and style; the duets with Norma were enjoyable and exact. Pollione is an ungrateful character and a difficult one; Nazareth Aufe barely coped with it. The experienced bass Mario De Salvo did an adequate Oroveso. With ringing voice tenor Ramiro Pérez gave relevance to Flavio, Pollione´s friend, and Romina Jofre was a correct Clotilde, Norma´s confidante. Hernán Sánchez Arteaga was both the conductor of the orchestra and the director of the choir; excepting a rather rough Overture, he proved an attentive supporter of the solo singers and he got excellent response in the choral fragments, especially those for male voices. The problem, once again, was the production. Florencia Sanguinetti avoided the prevailing sin of transporting everything to the Twenty First Century, but there are other ways to be wrong. The unit set by Marcelo Salvioli was aggressive, uncomfortable and unsuited: cutting rocks in a cliff and steps all over the stage certainly aren´t a Sacred Forest. Incongruously projections showed a glacier, a sea... and yes, suitably, a wood. Uncalled-for choreography for unexistent balletic music, added characters (Agénor, Clodomir) and slaves. The costumes by Cecilia Carini were better, and Rubén Conde handled the lighting well. But things like a hospital bed for the kids in a completely unbelievable "room" (Norma´s dwelling) dominated by rocks are totally contrary to this opera´s needs. For Buenos Aires Herald
The magnificent mezzo shares some thoughts on her 89th birthday: ‘When Jon Vickers sang … I began to weep on the stage’ ‘There is no such thing as the best: if you say today that Anna Netrebko, who has lots of promotion, is the best opera star in the world, this is not true.’ ‘Maria Callas did not have a beautiful voice, but what she made of it, the interpretation – unbelievable!’ ‘Ich würde nie wieder Sängerin werden.’ ‘At my funeral I want Mahler’s Ich bin der Welt Abhanden gekommen. Sung by me, of course. But I’m not sure which recording.’ Many more happy birthdays, Christa Ludwig! Read more here.
The Lebanese-Canadian soprano - currently winning rave reviews for her Violetta at the Royal Opera House - loves the Bee Gees, Maria Callas and MassenetVinyl or digital? As a modern gal, I find that the digital medium is the most convenient. I am constantly on the road and appreciate the practical and immediate nature of it. However, does anything compare to the sound of a vinyl record? I think not. My favourite song is one that was sung by my grandfather George when I was growing up and sung by my father now. It’s called “Rah halfak bel ghosn ya asfour” and was originally sung by Wadih El-Safi, who was known as “Frank Sinatra of Lebanon”. It is a gorgeous song which evokes great nostalgia for me. I found a recording of it on iTunes, and it appears to have been taken directly from a vinyl – the crackling sounds on the recording make me even more nostalgic. Continue reading...
Conductor who forged a special partnership with Maria Callas in his 70-year careerWhen Georges Prêtre, who has died aged 92, conducted the opening bars of his first opera, Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila, they were disturbed by rustling sweet papers. He turned on the offenders with a loud “Non!”, broke his baton in two and hurled the pieces into the audience. This led to a renewal of his contract and, in 1950, to marriage with the opera house director’s daughter, Gina Marny.This debut came at the Marseille Opera in 1946. He was still directing the Vienna Philharmonic in its New Year concerts in 2008 and 2010, and in Paris in 2013. Continue reading...
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