Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Monsters and Marriage at the Aix Festival

Plus an evening by the superb Modigliani Quartet that complimented the brief (55 minutes) a cappella opera for six female voices Svadba (2013) by Serbian composer Ana Sokolovic (b. 1968). She lives in Canada.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

31 Jan 2005

La Forza del destino at Opéra Royal de Wallonie

So this was how a Forza would have sounded in the fifties and sixties in one of the better Italian provincial houses. At that time those extinguished species (lirico-spinto tenor and soprano) were still in abundant supply and one could easily hear nowadays forgotten names like Zambruno, Mori, Vicentini, Borso on the male and Mancini, De Osma, Barbato etc on the female side: big booming voices, maybe not always very subtle but steeped in the Verdian tradition and not afraid to give unstintingly all of their voices as if there is no tomorrow.


Manon Feubel — Donna Leonora di Vargas, Frank Porretta — Don Alvaro and Michael Ryssov — Padre Guardiano
Copyright: Opéra Royal de Wallonie

Feubel and Porretta in Forza

So this was how a Forza would have sounded in the fifties and sixties in one of the better Italian provincial houses. At that time those extinguished species (lirico-spinto tenor and soprano) were still in abundant supply and one could easily hear nowadays forgotten names like Zambruno, Mori, Vicentini, Borso on the male and Mancini, De Osma, Barbato etc on the female side: big booming voices, maybe not always very subtle but steeped in the Verdian tradition and not afraid to give unstintingly all of their voices as if there is no tomorrow.

Frank Porretta (the 3rd) fits this description to a T. The actual sound is a little bit undistinct : a dark somewhat thick voice in the Vinay-mould but with more metal above the staff and ringing high notes. Mezza-voce and piano are not his best points. The fine Verdi-phrase too in the Bergonzi-way is not his and therefore what should be the high point of his role, the La vita-monologue, remains a little bland. But he sings tirelessly, has all the notes, doesn't sob and cuts a fine figure on the stage. And after having heard too much lyric tenors forcing their instruments on Verdi's heavier roles, it comes as a relief to hear a singer coping easily with the score and not being afraid to show his emotions through a few extra decibels in the Del Monaco-manner. His is not a big career and I fail to see why, as with the actual dearth of such voices he would be a commanding Otello, Manrico, Canio. I've heard his countryman, Carl Tanner, described as a kind of heroic tenor but I've now heard Tanner in several roles (Mefisto, Fanciulla, Luisa Miller) and neither in sound or volume is he half as exciting as Porretta.

Another big gun was delivered by young Mexican baritone Carlos Almaguer. He too has decibels to spare and he too is not the most refined of singers (but neither is the role as it clearly depicts an obsessed blood-hound who chases his victims for five years). The voice has the brown colour of the real great Italian heroic baritone and when he sings out he could match Porretta tit for tat. "Invano Alvaro" was the real challenge by two hot-blooded people and it made a tremendous impression. Moreover the whole "Ne gustare"scene was restored and not cut as happens too often as it makes the opera overlong (the truth is that most tenors and baritones don't have the stamina to tackle that difficult scene as well, coming so soon after their big arias and duet " Sollenne in quest'ora" and knowing that their immense last act still has to follow). Almaguer's voice reminds me a lot of the underestimated Aldo Protti in his best live performances and so does his short stocky figure. It came somewhat as a surprise that this heroic voice didn't take the higher options; indeed at high F and G the voice thins and loses focus. Still, a force of nature.

Canadian Manon Feubel has the same big sound, though with her, there is refinement as well. I heard her at Liège several years ago in a fine Carmen (with Uria-Monzon) where she struck me as the best singer. The voice is still fine but has definitely grown and can easily soar over the orchestra. But contrary to her male partners, she has some nice diminuendo's and knows how to sing an appealing messa di voce in several of her arias. She knows how to spin out long arching phrases in one breath in "Me pellegrino" and "Pace, pace" and she could easily be heard over the monks in the second act. With Feubel too one wonders why she is not better known (I know, I know: I have her one solo CD) as she combines power with excellent phrasing. And I fear it has something to do with her looks. She is not tall and rather large though as with many somewhat large women she has a very beautiful face. In Forza, largeness is no handicap as for most of the time she can (convincingly) act in robes, coats and frocks but I cannot imagine any serious Verdi-lover objecting to her as Aida or some of the other Leonores because she has a few pounds too many.

French high baritone Olivier Grand has a cutting baritone and was a most convincing Melitone, indeed the best I remember since Renato Capecchi in Verona so long ago. Only Padre Guardiano didn't raise to the heights this grateful role requires. The imposing tall White-Russian bass Michail Ryssow sang too woolly with a somewhat throaty and unfocused sound.

French conductor Alain Guingal is not really a household name though he has conducted in several of the best houses. I've heard him a few times in Liège and each time he strikes me as choosing correct tempi, breathing with his singers, not unduly hurrying his orchestra for extra-brilliance. And this time too, one didn't really notice the conductor as everything flowed so naturally along and maybe this is the highest praise for a good Verdi-conductor.

The production was originally conceived by French director Bernard Broca (deceased in December 2002) for Avignon and probably made a lot of people happy: no civil wars in Spain or guerrilla in present-day Columbia but colourful 17th century Spain and Italy as Verdi and Piave intended it all along. I have nothing against updating if there is a clear concept but with surtitling now available to the whole audience these traditional costumes and designs fit so much better with the libretto. I don't know if it was Broca's idea or that of Claire Servais who did the actual directing but I think if one chooses for a realistic production one should follow it to the end. During the inn scene where Carlos is looking for his sister, everybody kneeled at the arrival of the pilgrims except Leonore and it would have taken Carlos half a second to recognize the only standing figure. And at the end she simply marches away to the lights of her apotheoses.

Jan Neckers

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):