The David S Operaworld blog

A series of commentary on the world of opera and of serious music hopefully with links to items of broader cultural interest, correlation with the subject at hand. There is plenty of room here for a certain amount of clowning around and general irreverence - not exclusive to me - but of course no trollers or spam please. Blog for coverage of the BBC PROMS 2010 - with thoroughly proofread/upgraded coverage of the 2009 Proms and of much else.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

LOC 2009-2010: Effervescently charming Elisir (at last) - Cabell, Filianoti, Corbelli, Campanella - January 2010; Season opener Tosca - Deborah Voigt

Dr. Dulcamara has made visitation on yet another opera company in the States, this time Lyric of Chicago. It was here that he would make the sale better than his other two stops on the continent, as performed by one singer – Alessandro Corbelli. The other major company to have had Elisir on over the past year or so has been Los Angeles, with Ruggiero Raimondi instead as Dulcamara (with Nino Machaidze apparently a winning Adina).

Most astute, clear musical preparation went into this Elisir, quite unlike in Houston under Edoardo Mueller or perhaps even under Bruno Campanella himself from San Francisco (starring Ramon Vargas and unsteady Inva Mula there). A working assumption is that Chicago used a mostly traditional production of Elisir d’amore, which is practically just almost always the best way to go about it. Once the charm of this simple comedy goes, then the game is pretty much up - the humor of it all quickly out the back door as well.

Conductor being the same as in San Francisco, I begin to suspect a co-conspirator among team doing the musical preparation for Lyric - Dr. Phillip Gossett. He it was who provided wonderful commentary on Elisir during the broadcast interval. He described eloquently how Verdi intimated Nemorino’s part for an Act 2 duet in how he wrote some of Gilda’s lines. He also spoke of the popular song origin of ‘Una furtive lagrima’ of how Donizetti pleaded with his librettist to be able to include it – in context of a very limited time frame to get things ready for Elisir’s first prima. However Dr. Gossett may have provided a hand just resulted in the most airy sense of lightness, fun, joie de vivre throughout the entirety of this, as though it all could have been played off the cuff. The fruits of preparation so astute and clear on something like Elisir d’amore are just that.

The only detracting thing about this performance was the quality of some of the voices themselves – some tendency to vocal hardness, strain around the break Campanella always made enterprise of finding a way in his accompaniment and for the singers themselves to find ways around it, and succeeded quite often at it. There were any combination of things – encouraging singers to give the rhythms in their vocal lines the bounce they need, to point the text with as much unforced wit as possible, and to caress the lines they sing and shapes within thereof. Of what I have heard this season from the U.S., there simply has been no opera better conducted than this one,

Nicole Cabell made the warm, almost sultry toned Adina. She tended to understate the sarcastic edge, the cold indifference to Nemorino, even some of the early flippancy of Adina in early scenes. Underlying her flirtatious character was a sense of there being a tug on the heartstrings – recognition of how deeply, even hopelessly in love with her Nemorino is. On the other hand, one may have sensed through Adina expressing herself in so much earnest to the audience, a lack of variety in accent, some blandness, but she stopped well short of making anything coy of Adina.

Enormous highlight of the entire performance was the Act 2 duet with Dulcamara, during which Cabell converted Adina’s enhanced concern for Nemorino at this point over much patter goading from the quack into equally joining forces with Dulcamara. His elixir is no match for her wiles toward eventually winning over a Nemorino who has started haughtily affecting that with elixir in hand there is nobody in the village to whom women are more attracted than he. Cabell’s very heartfelt “Prendii, per me sei libero”, even if mildly placed back vocally, was moving. Her command of long lines without taking a breath, subtle rubato infused therein, even if for some ends of phrases, Cabell does not lighten tone to fully desirable extent. Two very minor slips, in getting off cleanest releases for taking breaths during the at once rapid and long-lined cabaletta, were all that betrayed any more insecurity than mentioned already. Compensating for such was Cabell’s very warm low register and fine achievement of both agility across the range and generosity of spirit, so much with which she invested singing Adina.

Giuseppe Filianoti made his Lyric Opera of Chicago debut with Nemorino. His opening ‘Quanto e bello’ revealed a tenor unabashed in giving his lines much full-throated ardor, wile managing to avoid any too obvious strain, except perhaps on one optional high A toward the end of his first aria. For ‘”Una furtive lagrima”, he prudently eschewed attempting to achieve the sublime with this, with in mind first and foremost the simplicity of the aria’s popular origins – with just some hint of mezzo voce a la Alfredo Kraus for starting the second verse to it. It worked beautifully well for him and gave the obvious show-stopper its place within context of the entire comedy and very winningly so. Even if still spending a little too much of what vocal resources lie at his disposal, no effort of the kind unduly intervened on “Una furtive lagrima” this go at it.

What Filianoti had beforehand was the wit he put into so many scenes in-between the two arias – the rambunctious bounce he gave reprise of the chorus with his part in descant to them so early on. Also spot-on was his fulsome ecstasy in discovering the elixir, and insolence to others, as towards Belcore when things only seem to finally be going entirely his way. Filianoti pointed too the ease with which Nemorino can be so easily duped. He made a study in character acting here – requiring that he sing the part well - complete, not to mention very charming. His gently distraught ardor for “Ai perigli della guerra” – part of'Venti scudi' (duet with Belcore) that inspired Verdi’s writing of Gilda’s lines in quartet from Rigoletto, (as Gossett explained well) was most apt.

Gabriele Viviani also made fine casting as the haughty Belcore. With good command of line, he affected noble bearing well for his opening aria, “Come Paride vezzoso”, even the irony of it well. Just mostly to advantage, did Viviani revealwhat fulsomeness of voice he can command. Extra emphasis on bluster invited some strain, but the agility for runs and rapid patter, including in stern rebuttal to Nemorino’s entreaties Viviani clearly made known. Viviani commands a supple line, nuance thereof, especially when most relaxed - evident as Riccardo Forth throughout a Bologna Puritani seen here last year.

Nearly a week after the Puritani, courtesy of Rave and Emerging Pictures, Houston Grand Opera staged its Elisir d’amore, borrowed from Glyndebourne, starring Alessandro Corbelli as Dr. Dulcamara. By and large, let Corbelli be his own stage director, as Jack O’Brien (Met Trittico) and Giulio Chazzaletes have done, and out comes an artist entirely worthy of our trust. This Dulcamara was not only hilarious, but definitively revealed Corbelli’s love for both the part and the character. He even let on about chance of Dulcamara’s quackery catching up with him one day.

Corbelli made up for a little vocal stiffening that comes with age, with tremendous wit with the words. He commanded the stage here from first ‘Udite’ to both finish heralding his entrance and introduce his catalogue of wares and mostly elixirs with great aplomb. The awareness of all the highly varied whim and demand Dulcamara finds out on the street was acute, together with pointed parody of the clientele. Whatever trick might work with any of his clients, even if it is affecting amnesia, as with Adina, or befuddlement upon first meeting Nemorino (as though trying to keep pace with him) there was for us no mistaking it and no self-conscious underlining of the least bit. He even, upon reprise of ‘Io son ricco’ skipped a beat during the tune on purpose to affect catching himself saying something he should not, lest the cat get completely let out of the bag. Here was classic Corbelli, equal to any of the best he has given us in the past. With audience instead on or attentive to so much excess clutter, Corbelli too willingly took a back seat to it all, as he surmised what was demanded of him here in Houston. Such was our loss, but concerning Corbelli, all is definitely (forgotten and) forgiven now.

Guaranteeing that no number in this Elisir might seem least bit insignificant was Bruno Campanella on the podium. Take for instance the quasi-conspiratorial chorus (“Saria possible?’”) of girls, led by “Or Nemorino e milionario” that can so easily become so much marking of time. Between the very saucy Giannetta of Angela Mannino and Bruno Campanella’s highly attentive, but never obtrusive pointing of accents, it all instead turned out as much fun as all the rest of this very witty Elisir. Campanella’s leadership showed some awareness of ‘period’ in keeping string vibrato light, but without encrusting Donizetti with a level of tautology – of which it should never be in any need. While still keeping things a little subdued for it, he had the better shaping of ‘Adina, credimi’ during the finale to Act One than either Patrick Summers or Edoardo Muller. The animated passages that surrounded the moment of poignancy had all the air, lift, bounce, wit they ever needed. There was more detail heard throughout it all than we are most accustomed to hearing, not only for at times just Donizetti’s rhythms themselves – but for so very much that can infuse them with so much life.

The reading between the lines was also so complete, most of all in allowing deft space needed for his singers to make all of their words count – even at a few tempos mildly breezier than usual. All worked as though magically to the singers’ advantage. All backed off from contributing to a situation in which they might strain their voices. Much highly attentive rehearsal, sufficient time for such contributed so much – such that Campanella may have been denied months earlier in San Francisco; performance broadcast from that run did not lift spirits to the level this one did. All effervesced, bubbled here - even preceding excellent flute principal in the sinfonia - to extent as though no effort could have been put into it - indeed why to prepare Elisir so well.

Short work here can be made of the Tosca that followed. Andrew Davis’s conducting just about thoroughly missed it in line, sostenuto, and in sufficient necessary buildup, maintenance of dramatic tension. Past the dryly enunciated opening ‘trionfar’ on solo horn more color and nuance emerged for much of Act Three – taken less draggy overall than Act One. Even the dryly enunciated Scarpia chords opening Act One (with urbane manner for much of the rest of this Tosca) showed incomplete understanding of their import, even of the harmonic progression itself. Davis applied so much elision to in effect override scene of Scarpia’s murder that, as a result, he thoroughly deflated it. No, the heavy grind he made out of resuming the dirge that has moments before accompanied Scarpia’s writing of the safe-conduct did not help matters. Deborah Voigt could hardly be blamed for not knowing what to do with ‘Avanti a lui’, except to just do it by rote.

Deborah Voigt, in caressing so many lines, showed a very welcome feminine, even girlish vulnerability as Tosca that helped obscure some hollowness of midrange and wiry strain on top. It became a little too evident, however, during ‘Vissi d’arte’ a lack of grandeur of expression, but of course a very opposite way of playing the Roman diva has seldom worked well either. A little of such glibness carried over into Act Three, but not enough to ruin matters. The fear, anxiety in Voigt’s voice during tense moments with Scarpia rang true, especially as far as through the interrogation scene.

Vladimir Galuzin was out-and-out disastrous as Mario Cavaradossi – all thick bluster and little else, and even in effect, with as thick a wobble as he could let out, gave off ability to hit a good several pitches at once (at crest of 'Trionfar', for instance). It is such at which Buddhist monks in remote parts of Mongolia are adept - to depict varied states of nature, as host of PBS travelogue let us see probably the same Saturday afternoon this broadcast. First of two ‘Vittoria’s in Act Two wobbled out of control, followed by second one that seemed to get stuck on its second syllable. Number of sub-phrases Galuzin managed to sing softly could be counted on the fingers of one hand. There was little meaning to Cavaradossi’s defiance of Scarpia or of his circumstances, as so many lighter, more ardent passages contained the same bluster as well.

Garnett Bruce, for this restaging of the Met Zeffirelli production, spoke of the Russian pessimistic view of the final scene, regarding Cavaradossi, for Cavaradossi to be telling Tosca, ‘Don’t worry, honey. I will look good’ – in response to coaching of how to handle supposedly simulated situation at hand. One can not doubt Galuzin’s ability to look good, act well and have some feeling for Cavaradossi, but a much more relaxed approach to all this is necessary for any of it to come across vocally.

James Morris, seen soon thereafter as a disastrous Fiesco for Met revival of Simon Boccanegra, showed unerring command of the words and of even some of the gravitas of Scarpia, not to mention the to-be-feared aspects of this character. Voice was too dry to sustain well the legato for ‘Ella verra’, but he made much of the declamation in the Te Deum and of so many lines, playing off the vulnerable sounding Deborah Voigt, both in his Act One interview of Tosca and throughout the interrogation scene in Act Two.

Among supporting cast, John Easterlin (Spoletta), Paul Corona (Sciarrone) and sonorous jailer of Sam Handley distinguished themselves most, but weak Angelotti (Craig Irvin) and extra-buffo, vocally weak Dale Travis as the Sacristan less so. Angela Mannino made ideal a picture of boyish wistful innocence, as treble-toned Shepherd to help open Act Three.

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