Golijov’s Ainadamar: A Fountain of Tears

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December 13, 2013
From Seen and Heard International By: José Mª Irurzun; photo credit: Opera Oviedo

SpainSpain Golijov: Ainadamar, Orchestra Principado de Asturias, Chorus Opera Oviedo, Corrado Rovaris (conductor), Teatro Campoamor, Oviedo, 10.12.2013 (JMI)
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A year and a half ago I had the occasion to see this opera at Madrid’s Teatro Real, and I wrote that I found it a work better suited to an opera festival than a regular opera season. In fact, its world premiere took place at Tanglewood, and subsequent revisions were made during performances in Los Angeles (but not during the opera season) and at the Santa Fe Festival. The decision of Teatro Real to offer Ainadamar in the regular season was surprising, and this is even more so in the case of Oviedo, which presents few operas outside of the main repertoire. I am not against it, but I do wonder what Oviedo’s subscribers think of this, as I wondered about Madrid’s subscribers.
Ainadamar (“Fountain of Tears” in Arabic) refers to the place where the poet Federico García Lorca was assassinated during the Spanish Civil War. The opera presents Lorca’s death in a well-wrought parallel with that of Mariana Pineda, who is present in a good part of the opera. In the last scene, the protagonist is the great actress Margarita Xirgú, friend of Lorca’s and a frequent star in his plays, including Mariana Pineda. Both Pineda and Lorca are portrayed as martyrs of freedom in life and death. There’s no doubt these two figures are truly universal icons who give meaning and strength to the opera.
Osvaldo Golijov’s music is somewhat irregular, but this is not one of those works that traditional opera lovers reject. It’s not an exceptional work but one can enjoy it, although it lacks a real personal touch by the author. The version in Oviedo eliminates verses by Lorca that were added in Madrid and thus returns to the more traditional Santa Fe version.
The stage production is by Luis de Tavira. I found his work attractive in its simplicity, except in the last scene where one doesn’t know exactly what is going on as Lorca and Xirgú preside over a kind of Christ’s Last Supper. Video projections play an important role, and the choreography is excellent. The sets are rather simple, consisting of black mobile panels that allow much flexibility in the scene changes, but the costumes are no more than adequate. I should mention the excellent performance by the Antonio Gadés dance company.
Musical direction was in the hands of Corrado Rovaris, who led the opera’s Spanish premiere in Granada, and conducted it in 2009 in Philadelphia at the Curtis Institute (incidentally, this was also outside Philadelphia’s regular opera season). Clearly, Oviedo decided to put the opera in safe hands, and the result was impressive. Rovaris offered a remarkable reading, careful and truly delicate.
The casting left something to be desired, but one must acknowledge the difficulties in getting major voices for an opera like this.
María Hinojosa was insufficient as Margarita Xirgú, with a very small middle range that barely reached the audience. Neither was Marina Pardo, with a not very exciting voice, convincing in the character of Federico García Lorca. Elena Sancho Pereg showed an attractive and well handled voice in the part of Nuria, although she was short of volume. Possibly the best vocal performance came from cantaor Alfredo Tejada as Ruiz Alonso .
Teatro Campoamor was at about 70% of capacity. The audience was rather cold at the final bows.

Cast:
Margarita Xirgú: María Hinojosa
Federico García Lorca: Marina Pardo
Nuria: Elena Sancho-Pereg
Ruiz Alonso: Alfredo Tejada
Tripaldi: Francisco Crespo
Teacher: Pablo Gálvez
Torero: Marc Sala
Co-production of Opera Oviedo, Granada Internacional Festival, Santander Festival
Direction: Luis de Tavira
Sets and Lighting: Philippe Armand
Costumes: Tolita and Maria Figueroa
Videos: Julián de Tavira
Choreography: Stella Arauzo

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Rare Revival of Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine

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December 4, 2013
From Seen and Heard International By: José Mª Irurzun

ItalyItaly Meyerbeer: L’Africaine, Orchestra and Chorus Teatro La Fenice, Emmanuel Villaume (Conductor), La Fenice, Venice, 29&30.11.2013 (JMI)

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The case of Giacomo Meyerbeer is almost unique in the history of opera. The most popular opera composer in the first half of 19th century, he has been rejected by theaters over the past several decades. It is not that opera lovers have turned their backs on Meyerbeer (the few performances of his works are well received by the public, as here in Venice), but rather the fact that the criteria of decision makers in opera houses have little to do with audiences’ tastes.

As far as L’Africaine goes, suffice it to say that it had not been performed in Venice since the late 19th century. The opera has hardly been seen in recent years outside Germany, and never in top houses. This season marks the 150th anniversary of the death of Meyerbeer, and La Fenice decided to commemorate it by offering this posthumous opera. The performances were popular with the audiences and featured an interesting and attractive stage production, solid musical direction, and an excellent cast in the main roles.

The director of this new production was Italian filmmaker Leo Muscato, whose work here was more interesting than what he offered last month in I Masnadieri in Parma. The great simplicity of the stage for much of the performance was attractive: in four of the five acts it was occupied by an inclined platform, to which props were added for the different scenes. In Act III the stage became a ship with appropriate movement; the last act, where the platform represents the sea through excellent lighting, was very beautiful. Costumes were well suited to the time of the libretto, and particularly colorful in Act IV with Hindu outfits for chorus and extras.

Muscato’s narration of the complicated plot and the several love triangles was successful. He used video projections at the beginning of each act to reflect anti-colonialist sentiments, which is not at all removed from Meyerbeer’s intentions.

Emmanuel Villaume led a well-controlled performance with a good reading of the score. The Orchestra of the Teatro La Fenice had a remarkable sound, and the Choir of La Fenice was also very good. The version offered here had cuts, including the ballet music, which is natural in an opera like this.

Veronica Simeoni as Selika was a pleasant surprise. She offered a lyrical interpretation of the character, far from the dramatic aspects one hears in historical recordings of the opera. She was right to follow this line since her voice is not very powerful: what she brought to the role was musicality and delicacy. In the second cast, Selika was Patrizia Biccirè whose singing was good but somewhat modest. Her her voice is short in colors and her biggest problem is the low notes, which are too weak for the part.

Gregory Kunde was a remarkable interpreter of Vasco de Gama. The career of this singer is truly unusual as success has come to him at an age when singers may be considering retirement. At almost 60, he has become a fashionable tenor in the most demanding repertoire. His performance here was excellent, and he faced with bravura the more difficult moments. The biggest applause of the evening came for him after O, Paradis. Antonello Palombi in the second cast has two very different voices: a wide baritone middle range, but above the passage things get thinner and tighter. He is not a very elegant singer.

Jessica Pratt was an excellent Inés. She’s a strong singer with a light-lyric soprano and attractive timbre. The young (26) Czech soprano Zuzana Markova in the second cast made a very good impression. She is a light soprano, with a darker voice than is usual in this type of singer. She is easy at the top and vocally agile.

Angelo Veccia was not well suited for the demands of Nélusko. He can sing a good Marcello or any of the lighter Verdi baritones, but Nélusko requires a wider voice. He pushed his voice and was at his best in the final scene with Selika. Luca Grassi was a better fit for the role. His voice has a certain width and quality, but he also has a tendency to seek more volume.

The numerous secondary characters were effective but no more than that.

La Fenice was almost sold out on both days. The audience was warm and receptive during the performance and also at the final bows. The biggest cheers were for Gregory Kunde, Veronica Simeoni and Luca Grassi.

Casts:
Selika: Veronica Simeoni/Patrizia Biccirè
Vasco de Gama: Gregory Kunde/Antonello Palombi
Inés: Jessica Pratt/Zuzana Markova
Nelusko: Angelo Veccia/Luca Grassi
Don Pedro: Luca Dall’Amico
Don Diego: Davide Ruberti
Don Alvar: Emanuele Giannino
Inquisitore: Mattia Denti
Brahma Priest: Rubén Amoretti
Anna: Anna Bordignon

New production:
Direction: Leo Muscato
Sets: Massimo Checchetto
Costumes: Carlos Tieppo
Lighting: Alessandro Verazzi

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Madrid Opera Season Opens with Disappointing Barbiere

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October 3, 2013
From Seen and Heard International By: José Mª Irurzun

SpainSpain G. Rossini: Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Teatro Real Orchestra and Chorus, Tomas Hanus (conductor), Madrid Teatro Real 25 & 26.9.2013 (JMI)

I must admit to having doubts about choosing this Rossini opera to open the season in an important house, but if it is decided to go ahead with Il Barbiere the production needs to be outstanding. Sadly, Gerard Mortier – currently battling on many fronts, both personal and professional – has programmed a Barber of Seville in which nothing struck me as being worthy of opening a season. This was a revival of a well known production, with musical direction which was lacking in true Rossini style, and with a cast dominated by less than sensational singers.
These performances had two different casts and if, in the first, there was no alleviation from a sense of mediocracy, there was no discernible improvement in the second. Some novelty lay in using the version for soprano, as happened in 2005, but this time without the aria Ah, se è ver che in tal momento that Rossini took from Sigismondo for soprano Josephine Fodor-Mainville. I must confess that I prefer the traditional version for mezzo soprano, unless you have an outstanding soprano at your disposal, which was not the case in Madrid.
Emilio Sagi’s production had its premiere in this theater when he was the artistic director of the house, although he was surprisingly fired a few days later. Almost 9 years have passed since then and his work has been seen in different houses during this time.
Mr. Sagi’s work is good, if not truly outstanding. The production is characterized by constant movement of sets for the different scenes. The sets are always in white or gray and do not have much originality or appeal. The costumes also move between black and white, with some buffo details, until in the final scene the whole thing becomes an explosion of color, which is definitely the best part of the whole production.
The stage direction is somewhat irregular, with some attractive moments. Some parts of the original production have been removed in this revival, particularly the entrance of La Forza at the end of act I.
The Czech Tomas Hanus is one of the best conductors from his country and he is, not surprisingly, best known for Czech opera. I have had the opportunity to enjoy his excellent conducting of Jenufa and Rusalka, but Il Barbiere di Siviglia has nothing in common with them. Not only that, if one looks at his performances in major theaters in recent years Rossini has never featured and he was largely responsible for this performance’s over-controlled monotony. From the overture it was clear what we could expect from his baton.
How much I missed Albetto Zedda or Jean-Christophe Spinosi! Mr. Hanus had everything under control, but a buffo opera by Rossini needs more than that.
The orchestra remains at the remarkable level it achieved last year and the same is true for the chorus.
Nine years ago, the Teatro Real had the presence of Juan Diego Florez and María Bayo, then at their peak. It is very usual in opera to look back nostalgically, often with little justification, but in this case the difference was huge.
The presence of Mario Cassi as Figaro is an error of casting that should not have occurred, since his voice had already been heard at Teatro Real and he performed the same role in Valencia last year. This singer seems to have no goal other than displaying his sonorous voice, giving a recital of open and coarse sounds, forgetting the need for elegance and refinement.
Romanian baritone Levente Molnar was much more convincing in the second cast. His baritone is smooth and attractive and well handled, and he has enough stage skill to be persuasive. He was not an exceptional Figaro, but he was a very reliable one.
Serena Malfi was a Rosina of little interest. The voice is fine, but short of color, her singing falling into monotony – quite apart from showing little affinity to buffo opera.
Soprano Ana Durlovski was hardly convincing. Hers is a very light soprano which is very tiny in size. With this instrument she can do little with this role. She has no problems at the top and she has no problem with the agilities, but her middle range is rather poor and it is not easy for her to reach the audience.
Dmitry Korchak had the handicap of fighting with the memory of Juan Diego Flórez in the character of Count Almaviva. This is a losing battle for any tenor. He gave a good performance, but there is also excessive monotony in his singing. He included the rondó Cessa di piú resistere, in which he was at his very best.
Edgardo Rocha is a light tenor, smaller in size than Mr.Korchak, who moves well on stage. He included also the final rondo, where his coloratura was somewhat laborious.
Bruno De Simone repeated his very funny Doctor Bartolo. There can be little doubt that he is one of the best interpreters of this character today.
I do not, however, understand the presence of Joseph Fardilha in the second cast. He has little to offer in this genre and his Bartolo was rather boring.
Carlo Lepore was well-suited to the part of Don Basilio and Susana Cordón made an outstanding Berta, the best I have seen on stage since Jeannete Fischer some years ago.

Production:
Teatro Real in coproduction with Lisbon’s Teatro Sao Carlos.
Direction: Emilio Sagi
Sets: Llorenç Corbella
Costumes: Renata Schussheim
Lighting: Eduardo Bravo
Casts:
Figaro: Mario Cassi/Levente Molnar
Rosina: Serena Malfi/Ana Durlovsky
Almaviva: Dmitry Korchak/Edgardo Rocha
Dottor Bartolo: Bruno de Simone/Jose Fardilha
Don Basilio: Carlo Lepore
Berta: Susana Cordón
Fiorello: Isaac Galán
Officer: José Carlos Marino

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