September 18, 2012
From Seen and Heard International
By: José Mª. Irurzun; Picture © A.Bofill
Spain Donizetti, L’Elisir d’Amore: Liceu’s Orchestra and Chorus, Daniele Callegari (Conductor), Barcelona Gran Teatre del Liceu, 11.11.2012 (JMI)
It’s been seven years since the last time I saw this opera in Barcelona. Then, we were offered the same stage production but with Rolando Villazón at his best as Nemorino. Those performances were all big successes, so it is not surprising that Liceu decided to program Rolando Villazón as Nemorino again – although he will only be there for the second run at the end of May.
While Barcelona awaits Mr. Villazón’s return to his signature role however, another Mexican tenor has scored a great success at the Liceu, potentially making things quite difficult for his compatriot. He is Javier Camarena, and I’ll return to him in more detail in a moment or so.
The production is still the familiar one by Mario Gas, which had its premiere here some 15 years ago. It’s extremely well known in Spain since it has travelled several times to the country’s larger cities (Madrid, La Coruña, San Sebastian, Santander, Bilbao), and has become a marvel of longevity and profitability. The public continues to respond very positively to it and ultimately, that’s what really counts.
The action is moved to Fascist Italy, with Belcore’s troops appearing as “black shirts”. The stage direction is really rather good, with many visual jokes pleasing the audience, such as Dulcamara’s arrival in a “sidecar”, people leaning out of the windows at “O, rustici”, or the second act’s wedding reception, which opens with a recording of Gigli singing a Neapolitan song. To round off the fun, Dulcamara and Moretto walk through the stalls, handing out “elixir”, while the charlatan sings his farewell. The sets and costumes are all every appropriate and judging by the audience’s reaction this time, it looks as though the production is here to stay.
Daniele Callegari again took the reins for the music, as he did seven years ago. His reading was still very good, with vivid and brisk tempi – sometimes almost too fast – but always with good control of all the forces at his command. Callegari is not what I’d call an exceptional conductor, but he’s steeped in the great Italian tradition and so is always a guaranteed success in any opera house. He drew excellent performances from both orchestra and chorus.
The Mexican tenor Javier Camarena was making his debut in the theater and claimed an indisputable popular triumph. His is an attractive light tenor voice – or maybe a little more – which is always well-handled. He has very easy top notes, always singing with gusto and large doses of expressiveness while moving around the stage most convincingly. He gained favor with the audience from the start of the opera with “Quanto è cara, quanto è bella”, and instantly became the real center of attention on stage. He threw in a bright and almost endless high C at “Dulcamara, volo tosto a ricercar”, which gained him a spontaneous ovation. His “Furtiva lagrima “ was also very good and while there was no encore, there could well have been one, as the applause and bravos lasted no less than one minute and 50 seconds. When a good singer is evidently having fun on stage, his joy is contagious and reaches the audience very easily.
Thee American soprano Nicole Cabell was Adina and while the public liked her a lot, I did not entirely share their enthusiasm. I remember seeing her in the same role six years ago at Montpellier when I rated her voice as a nice enough, though rather small, soprano with some problems of projection and impossible Italian diction. Six years later things have not changed very much. She is now vocally more secure, but her problems with volume, projection and diction remain much the same.
The charlatan Dulcamara was interpreted by the Italian baritone Simone Alberghini, who was more convincing as an actor than as a singer. He is not the basso buffo that the role requires, as his voice is rather too light, nor does he have quite the stage skills of other outstanding performers. Angel Ódena was a good Belcore and Eliana Bayon made an average Giannetta.
The Liceu was filled to something below 90% of its capacity. The public were enthusiastic about all the artists, but the real triumph went to Javier Camarena.