Saturday, November 12, 2011

Big Hair, Big Voice

Every inch the Principessa, force of nature mezzo Anita Rachvelishvili easily won the Act III catfight with Adriana Lecouvreur in the eponymous realismo opera by Francesco Cilea given by The Opera Orchestra of New York in concert version at Carnegie Hall. Such female rivalry seems to be a common theme in 19th c. opera. Think Aida, Anna Bolena, Norma. In this early 20th c. opera, the one with the bigger voice took the day. Both women looked ravishing, lavishly gowned and coiffed. But, painful to say, poor Angela Georghiu, so effective in La Rondine last season, was rather overwhelmed by the part. Her lovely voice shimmered when the orchestra was silent, but otherwise it was swallowed up, even in the alpine reaches of Stern Auditorium where the sound is usually superb. It appears that a bigger voice is needed to do the role justice.

On the other hand Ms. Rachvelishvili let loose with a large and dusky sound that filled the house. You loved her even as you hated the character. Her scenes with glamorous tenor Jonas Kaufmann generated far more chemistry and excitement than his scenes with Ms. Gheorghiu. There is something amiss when an unrequited love is more exciting than a requited one. Mr. Kaufmann had sung with Ms. R. in the final scene from Carmen Sunday evening at the Richard Tucker Gala and the same excitement was evident; they seem to be opera’s new power couple. It didn’t make much difference whether it was the man or the woman who went unloved; the singing was intense and riveting. The third remarkable presence of the evening was baritone Ambrogio Maestri, performing in New York, I believe, for the first time--but not the last. His upcoming performance at The Met as Falstaff is one to be highly anticipated. As Michonnet, stage manager of La Comedie Francaise, he created a character with a heart as big and warm as his voice.

It was strange to see anyone on the podium but Ms. Queler, the founder and conductor laureate of OONY, but Maestro Alberto Veronesi was a welcome presence and conducted with panache. The New York Choral Ensemble did a fine job, but somehow not as fine as the Metropolitan Chorus.

As far as the libretto goes, perhaps the less said the better. Adapted by Arturo Colautti from the drama by Eugene Scribe and E. Legouve, it concerns a romantic intrigue leading to the death of the heroine--death by poisoned violets as a matter of fact. Nothing was done to make the story clear; the lengthy and confusing summary in the program was no help. The situation dictated that one sit back and revel in Cilea’s gorgeous tunes which wove in and out of the action almost like Wagnerian leitmotifs.
Also heard were the fine Nicola Pamio as the almost comic Abbe and the equally fine Craig Hart as the cuckolded Principe. Various members of the acting company were portrayed by Danielle Walker, Jennifer Feinstein, Zachary Nelson, and Alexander Lewis from the Lindemann Young Artist Program.

© meche kroop for The Opera Insider

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