Posts Tagged ‘Vitalij Kowaljow’

Nabucco, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, March 2013

31 March, 2013

After Verdi’s dissatisfaction with his second opera he nearly gave up, but thank goodness he didn’t because this third one is magnificent, apart from its rather weak ending. Placing the action in the 1940s rather than the original setting of 586 BC is a good idea, but it never really gelled and I found Daniele Abbado’s new production disappointing.

Va pensiero

Va pensiero

The singing however was quite another matter. Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska was spectacular as Nabucco’s adopted daughter Abigail. Covent Garden audiences who remember her terrific Lady Macbeth from June 2011 will know what to expect, and she certainly provided it, giving huge colour to a bland production. Her recitative, aria and cabaletta at the start of Act II were riveting — her voice so expressive and powerful.

Her fellow Ukrainian, Vitalij Kowljow brought a full rich tone to the bass role of the Hebrew high priest Zaccaria, and Italian tenor Andrea Caré sang beautifully in the tenor role of Ismaele who is loved by both Abigail and her half-sister Fenena. Ismaele loves Fenena and although the heavy presence of Marianna Pizzolato in that role was rather lifeless, she sang with a lovely clarity of tone.

Royal Opera

Conducting by Nicola Luisotti showed great attention to the singers, and the chorus sang superbly, with a lovely Va pensiero in Act III. Leo Nucci as Nabucco showed very well the confusion that Solera’s libretto gives him after he calls himself a god, and then produced a glorious Act IV aria accepting the God of Israel. The cello solo when Abigail shows remorse was beautifully played, and Luisotti produced fine musicianship from the orchestra.

Zaccaria, Nabucco, Abigail

Zaccaria, Nabucco, Abigail

From the Amphitheatre the movements of the chorus looked rather contrived, with one group of people waiting to move forward before another group moved aside, though it may have appeared more natural from lower in the House. And the video projections were not fully visible from the front row of the Amphi rendering them only partially visible to nearly half the audience — no wonder it was not liked from the greater heights of La Scala. The fact that it’s a co-production with Milan, Barcelona and Chicago doesn’t surprise me in these days of austerity, but if resources are scarce perhaps we should leave such minimalist new productions to the English National Opera, with Covent Garden concentrating on bringing in world class singers, which they have done here to great effect.

Performances with this cast continue until April 8, and from April 15 to 26, Domingo takes over from Nucci — for details click here. On April 29 there will be a delayed live cinema screening, and it will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on June 8 at 6pm.

Advertisements

Aida, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, March 2011

12 March, 2011

Exiles and refugees in the modern world can take their gods with them, but it was not always so. This production places the action in a very distant past, and when Roberto Alagna as Radames sings in Act III that Aida is demanding he abandon his homeland, and therefore his gods too (Abbandonar la patria, l’are de’ nostri dei!), it was a riveting moment.

Radames being smeared with blood, all images Bill Cooper

In my review last year when David McVicar’s new production was first performed, I was very positive about the fact that it was set in an ancient civilization having nothing particularly Egyptian about it. I appreciated its raw energy, with the stylized masculine combat, human sacrifice, and female sexuality, and this was all very welcome. On a second viewing I found things to criticise that may or may not have been present a year ago. When Aida enters along with other slave women beholden to the princess Amneris, all except Aida hang their heads and droop their bodies in a way that would be more likely to irritate than please a princess, and if Amneris likes to see around her women who are cowed into abject submission, then why does she tolerate Aida being so vastly different? The poses of the ballet dancers as warriors seemed a bit overdone, and the lesbian choreography for the women was dull. When the Ethiopian prisoners are brought on stage, the guards’ over-aggressive poses seemed to indicate a lack of confidence on their part. But these complaints are mostly to do with the movement on stage, and are not necessarily intrinsic to the production.

Michael Volle as Amonasro

The singing and conducting are the main things, of course, and Olga Borodina as Amneris showed enormous gravitas, singing with huge lyrical power. For me she was the star of the show, though I also found Michael Volle terrific both vocally and in terms of his stage presence as Amonasro, king of the Ethiopians and father of Aida. At the dress rehearsal, Roberto Alagna gained ground as the opera progressed, eventually carrying off the role of Radames with utter conviction. Brindley Sherratt gave a powerful presence to the King of Egypt, and I rather like the fact that this production portrays him as blind, or at any rate partially sighted, led round by a slave boy. Vitalij Kowaljov sang strongly as Ramfis the high priest, and in the dress rehearsal that I attended, Micaela Carosi reprised her role of Aida from one year ago, but despite some lovely quiet passages I felt she was too exposed on the high notes, with pitch problems in the loud passages. I gather she was replaced on the first night by Ukrainian soprano, Liudmyla Monastyrska, who is due to sing Lady Macbeth in May, opposite Simon Keenlyside.

Conducting by Fabio Luisi was effective, and I loved the off-stage trumpets in the balcony. They played with such power and clarity it was a thrill to hear them.

Kowaljow as High Priest, and Borodina as Amneris

Performances, albeit with various cast changes, continue until April 15. For example, Alagna is replaced by Carlo Ventre after the first three performances, and there are extensive changes in the last three performances, with Brindley Sherratt switching from King of Egypt to Ramfis the high priest — for more details click here.

Die Walküre, La Scala, Milan, December 2010

24 December, 2010

The mighty cathedral in Milan — the third largest in Europe after Seville and Rome — contains vast columns reaching up to an immense height. Nearby is La Scala with its four tiers of boxes ascending to two further tiers of row-seats, and during the final curtain calls the performers looked heavenwards to right and left, relishing the applause from the gods, while Daniel Barenboim, who conducted a magnificent Walküre, waved to the rafters.

Brünnhilde and Valkyries, La Scala photos, Brescia and Amisano

What a performance it was, in a new production by Guy Cassiers, with simple abstract sets by Enrico Bagnoli, and clever video projections by Arjen Klerkx and Kurt d’Haeseleer. La Scala has seen its share of Verdi operas with their powerful family relationships, but Wotan and his daughter Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Die Walküre is the equal of anything in Verdi, and here we had a young and glorious Brünnhilde in Nina Stemme. In the final scene, embraced by her father, with warm reddish light falling on her bare shoulders, she was the perfect sleeping beauty to be surrounded by fire until woken by a mighty hero in the next opera of The Ring.

That hero has yet to be born, but at the end of Act II, Brünnhilde drags his mother Sieglinde — magnificently sung by Waltraud Meier — away from the fatally wounded body of her lover and brother Siegmund, powerfully sung here by Simon O’Neill. After they leave, Sieglinde’s abandoned husband Hunding thrusts his sword deep into Siegmund’s dying body. This is too much for Vitalij Kowaljow’s sympathetic Wotan, father to Siegmund and Sieglinde, and with the emphasis on the second Geh! he sweeps a hand sideways, and Hunding falls dead. But what a Hunding this was, with his rich dark tone — the best I have ever seen — sung by Britain’s very own John Tomlinson. Wotan, of course, threw the battle to Hunding after his wife Fricka demanded it. She was strongly sung by Ekaterina Gubanova, and after his argument with her, his declamation “In eigner Fessel fing ich mich, die unfreiester aller!” (In my own bonds I’m trapped, the least free of everyone!) was strongly delivered with perfect diction.

John Tomlinson as Hunding

The appearance of the nine Valkyries at the start of Act III, in voluminous black dresses by Tim Van Steenbergen, was very effective. At this point, Sieglinde yearns only for death, but suddenly comes to life after Brünnhilde foretells her pregnancy. Her “Rette mich Kühne! Rette mein Kind!” (Rescue me, brave one! Rescue my child!) filled the auditorium, and her final “O herhstes WunderHeiligste Maid!” sailed over the orchestra and up to gods.

This was more than a miracle, it was opera magic, and at the end of the final act as red lighting bespoke the fire that would encircle Brünnhilde, an asymmetrical collection of twenty-eight red lights — a mathematically perfect number — descended from above. All praise to the production team and singers, but to no one more so than Barenboim, whose nuanced conducting brought out the full depth and passion of Wagner’s music.

For a more concise version of this review see the Daily Telegraph on 24thDecember.

Roméo et Juliette, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, October 2010

27 October, 2010

When Nino Machaidze sang Juliet’s fourth Act aria, Amour ranime mon courage she rose beautifully to the heights of emotion, and the tension was sustained in Act 5. This is when Romeo finds her in the tomb, drinks poison and she awakes so they can sing together, which they did superbly.

Romeo dies in the Capulet tomb, photo by Bill Cooper

It was a glorious ending, and Ms. Machaidze was obviously delighted with the well-deserved applause, though she had made a wobbly start with Je veux vivre dans ce rêve in Act 1, which expresses Juliet’s desire to remain in her girlish state. It was delivered with a harsh tone and excessive vibrato, more suitable for Tosca than the young Juliet, but in fairness to the singer it was her Covent Garden debut in this role, and she was understandably nervous. Her performance gained strength and subtlety as the evening progressed, and by the end she was terrific. Piotr Beczala as Romeo was inspired throughout. His voice was strong, well-controlled and romantically lyrical, and he seems to have an excellent knack for portraying impassioned young men — in 2009 I admired him as Rodolfo in Boheme at Covent Garden, and Edgardo in the live Lucia broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera.

The chorus was very powerful, particularly in Act 3, and the soloists produced excellent support. Ketevan Kemoklidze was wonderful as the Montague page, as was Alfie Boe as Tybalt, and Vitalij Kowaljow was a very fine Frère Laurent. Simon Neal sang strongly in the small part of the Duke, and Darren Jeffery as Capulet and Stephane Degout as Mercutio, portrayed their roles most convincingly. This production by Nicolas Joël, with designs by Carlo Tommasi, gives a sense of power and imperviousness to the Capulet house. What it failed to give was a convincing sense of emotion that might have been helped by concentrating on some small details. For instance Juliet is evidently in a state of distress when being conveyed to the altar, and collapses as she gets close to it, but the priests stood motionless until kneeling. Surely some expression of surprise and concern would not come amiss from the extras playing these roles.

Of course this wedding ceremony is one of several differences from Shakespeare. The libretto by Barbier and Carré is based on the Bard, but takes various liberties, including the ending: a final duet before Juliet kills herself, and no appearance of Paris at the tomb. I prefer Shakespeare, but Gounod’s music is strongly evocative of the drama, and was beautifully conducted by Daniel Oren. He started with enormous bounce, and showed a very gentle style in the right places, particularly the beginning of Act 2 in the garden where Piotr Beczala’s performance of Romeo’s cavatina Ah!  lève-toi, soleil! elicited huge applause and moved the performance into a higher gear.

Further performances are scheduled for October 29 and November 1, 5, 8, 11, 13, 17, with Maria Alejandres as Juliette on November 11 and 17. For more details click here.