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

Prom 54 - Mozart's Last Year with the Budapest Festival Orchestra

The mysteries and myths surrounding Mozart’s Requiem Mass - left unfinished at his death and completed by his pupil, Franz Xaver Süssmayr - abide, reinvigorated and prolonged by Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus as directed on film by Miloš Forman. The origins of the work’s commission and composition remain unknown but in our collective cultural and musical consciousness the Requiem has come to assume an autobiographical role: as if Mozart was composing a mass for his own presaged death.

High Voltage Tosca in Cologne

I saw two operas consecutively at Oper Koln. First, the utterly bewildering Lucia di Lammermoor; then Thilo Reinhardt’s thrilling Tosca. His staging was pure operatic joy with some Hitchcockian provocations.

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Santa Fe’s Mozart Cast Sweeps All Before It

A funny thing happened on the way to Andalusia.

Die Liebe der Danae in Salzburg

The tale of a Syrian donkey driver. And, yes, the donkey stole the show! The competition was intense — the Vienna Philharmonic and the Grosses Festspielhaus in full production regalia for starters.

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):