This summer Ewa Podles returned to ROF after an absence of eight years. Why so long between engagements? Well, that’s how long it has taken ROF and Madame Podles to settle their differences. It seems that while the Polish contralto was performing in Le Nozze di Teti e di Peleo in 2001, she had some unkind words to say about the working conditions during her stay at that time. Her comments didn’t strike me as being unreasonable, but still offense was taken. Finally this year ROF and Podles have buried the hatchet, and her recital at the Concerto Sinfonico, marking the bicentennial of Franz Joseph Haydn’s death, was the vehicle for her return.
And what an outstanding occasion it was for Madame Podles and the audience who attended the concert at 11:00 a.m. on August 16th.
The headline in Claudio Salvi’s newspaper review of the concert in El Resto del Carlino stated unequivocally the diva received 20 minutes of applause for her performance. If the headline struck one to be an exaggeration, rest assured it was not.
Podles was received enthusiastically by the audience as she stepped out onto the stage of the Teatro Rossini, but it was nothing compared to the thunderous ovation she received after her dramatic reading of Haydn’s cantata, Arianna A Naxos in the orchestral version. One reason for her outstanding performance was that it was a true meeting of artistic minds with the Orchestra Haydn Di Bolzano E Trento conducted by Podles’ compatriot Lukasz Borowicz.
Perhaps it was the excitement of the moment, coupled with wanting to put any unpleasantness behind her, that propelled Podles to arrive in top vocal form. From the first opening lines, “Tesoro mio ben! Ove sei? Ove sei tu?,” when Arianna longs for her beloved, Theseus, through to “Ma a chi parlo?,” the moment Arianna realizes Theseus will not come to her, and finally her inconsolable grief expressed as “Misera abbandonata,” Podles gripped the text with such complete vocal force it filled the entire house. And the force was so rich in color, full-toned and searing with emotion, it seemed to wash over every soul there, producing the frenzy that every opera-goer dreams of showering on a great performance.
Naturally after such an enthusiastic reception, Podles agreed to an encore. She stepped out of the classical Haydn into the aria, Cruda sorte! from Rossini’s Italiana in Algeri. It took Podles only a few measures for her to fashion an Isabella filled with good humor, presenting a woman who understands that while men can be foolish romantics, she still loves having them around. Just standing in place, Podles acted out the part with complete vocal assurance and total understanding of Isabella’s savvy nature, the audience again fell captive to the singer’s penetrating artistry.
It looked as if Podles’ performance might overshadow the musical accomplishments of the Orchestra Haydn Di Bolzano and Borowicz, but to everyone’s delight this did not happen.
According to the program notes, Borowicz’s career has mostly been confined to Eastern Europe, and if he had only recently met up with one of ROF’s favorite orchestras, their work together appeared as if they have been in tune with each other for a very long time.
The concert opened with a warm, smoothly-executed rendition of Haydn’s Symphony in G Major, Hob 1.27, marked Allegro, Andante and Finale: presto. It was apparent from the start that Borowicz and the orchestra were having a wonderful time with the piece and, of course, with the marvelous acoustics in the Teatro Rossini, the strings seemed to sing through the house. After, Podles’ Arianna, the orchestra closed with another Haydn G Major Symphony, this time Hob.1.88. Here, Borowicz and the orchestra sailed through the work marked Adagio-allegro, Largo, Minutetto and Finale: allegro con spirito with such musical brio, the heartfelt ovation they received just swept over their smiling faces. The concert had a new name: “Josef Haydn in Sunny Italy.”