Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Katia Kabanova in Toulon

Káťa Kabanová is, they say, Janáček's first mature opera — it comes a mere 20 years after his masterpiece, Jenůfa.

Peter Grimes in Nice

Nice’s golden winter light is not that of England’s North Sea coast. Nonetheless the Opéra de Nice’s new production of Peter Grimes did much to take us there.

Guillaume Tell in Monaco

Peasants revolt in a sea of Maserati and Ferrari’s.

LA Opera Presents Figaro 90210

Figaro 90210 is Vid Guerrerio’s modern version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo DaPonte’s 1786 opera, The Marriage of Figaro.

Tristan und Isolde at the Wiener Staatsoper

David McVicar’s production of Wagner’s seminal music drama runs aground on the Cornish coast.

Songs of Night and Travel, Wigmore Hall

The coming of ‘Night’ brings darkness, shadows and mystery; sleep, dreams and nightmares; fancies, fantasies and passions.

Andrea Chénier, Royal Opera

Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, now at the Royal Opera House, is no more about history than Jesus Christ Superstar is about theology.

Yevgeny Onegin in Warsaw

Mariusz Treliński’s staging of Tchaikovsky’s operatic masterpiece is visually fascinating but psychologically confusing

Orfeo at the Roundhouse, Royal Opera

The regal trumpets and sackbuts sound their bold herald and, followed by admiring eyes, the powers of state and church begin their dignified procession along a sloping walkway to assume their lofty positions upon the central dais.

Idomeneo in Montpellier

Vestiges of a momentous era . . .

L’elisir d’amore in Marseille

There were hints that L’elisir is one of the great bel canto masterpieces.

Das Liebesverbot opens the new season at Teatro Verdi in Trieste

Aron Stiehl’s production of this rare early Wagner opera cheerfully brings commedia dell’arte to La Cage aux Folles.

Amsterdam: Lohengrin Lite

Stage director Pierre Audi is not one to be strictly representational in his story telling.

Fidelio, Manitoba Opera

For the first time in its 42-year history, Manitoba Opera presented Beethoven’s mighty ode to freedom, Fidelio, with an extraordinary production that resonated as loudly as tolling bells of freedom.

The Hilliard Ensemble: Farewell Concert at Wigmore Hall

Forty-one years is a long time for any partnership to be sustained and to flourish — be it musical, commercial or marital! And, given The Hilliard Ensemble’s ongoing reputation as one of the world’s finest a cappella groups, noted for their performances of works dating from the 11 th century to the present day, it must have been a tough decision to call an end to more than four decades of superlative music-making.

Fidelio opens new season at La Scala

Daniel Barenboim makes a triumphant departure as direttore musicale del Teatro alla Scala with Beethoven’s operatic masterpiece.

Mahler Songs: Christian Gerhaher, Wigmore Hall

Star singer and star composer, a combination guaranteed to bring in the fans. Christian Gerhaher sang Mahler at the Wigmore Hall with Gerold Huber. Gerhaher shot to fame when he sang Wolfram at the Royal Opera House Tannhäuser in 2010.

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House — a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

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):