Routine

Verdi – la Forza del Destino.

Leonora – Violeta Urmana

Don Carlos – Alberto Gazale

Alvaro – Aquiles Machado

Padre Guardiano – Ain Anger

Preziosilla – Nadia Krasteva

Fra Melitone – Tomasz Konieczny

Curra – Elisabeta Marin

Staatsballett, Chor, Zusatzchor, Bühnenorchester und Orchester der Wiener Staatsoper / Jesús López Cobos.  Stage Director – David Pountney.  Staatsoper, Vienna.  Saturday, January 14th, 2012. 

The last show I had the pleasure of seeing at the Wiener Staatsoper was a superb Billy Budd.  It was outstandingly rehearsed and the reception of the Viennese audience was rapturous.  Tonight, I was there to see one of my favourite singers in a role for which she has recently received plaudits at the Paris Opéra.  The Staatsoper is a beautiful house, with a great tradition.  It is also a place where, with a different show every night, routine can creep in and a sense of just doing things for the sake of it.  Effectively, while for the audience, it’s a great privilege to sit in that historic venue, for the musicians, it’s just another day at work.  The problem is with a top ticket price of EUR180 and many people travelling from far and wide to be there, just good enough doesn’t cut it.

This is a miraculous score full of drama that starts with that famous three note motif in the brass.  You wouldn’t think it in Jesús López Cobos’ dreary conducting though.  The orchestral playing was secure and proficient but none of it was at the white heat that the score cries out for.  I wished so much for the dynamism of a Solti or a Mackerras, someone who would really bring out the sheer passion of the writing.  Instead, López simply made the piece sound dull and given by the number of times my neighbours were checking their watches, it didn’t seem to convince them either.

Thomas Lang’s chorus also seemed weary and tired.  The ‘rataplan’ was the sole exception and was delivered with terrific vigour.  It benefitted from the game Preziosilla of Nadia Krasteva who managed those awkward leaps with aplomb and even did the splits.

Not all of the individual performances convinced and I think a lot of it was due to the production.  I don’t know how much rehearsal they had either.  Effectively, it was in modern dress and located someplace I presume in the Americas.  I presume simply because Preziosilla and her friends were dressed like cowboys and cheerleaders.  The set revolved around a structure that functioned as all of the different locations combined and which noisily revolved around the stage.  There was some religious imagery and the occasional bit of film that didn’t really add much but at least gave some visual interest.  The principals did a fair bit of standing and emoting to the front as a result.

Alberto Gazale is a singer new to me but has quite a busy career singing the Verdi baritone roles.  His voice seems to me to be a size too small for the part but he sings with great passion which seems to get him through.  Both he and Aquiles Machado’s Alvaro were drowned out by the Vienna brass at times.  Machado has a beautiful sound to his voice but he really should not be singing this music.  He is a Duke or a Macduff and not an Alvaro.  His singing was stylistically impeccable.  But then, there were audible sounds of strain as if he was pushing his handsome voice far too hard.  He lasted the course though but I strongly believe that he should not be singing this role – he’s still young and has plenty of time to take on these heavier roles.

Ain Anger was a woolly Marchese but then warmed up and gave a decent enough account of the Padre Guardiano’s music.  Tomasz Konieczny wasn’t quite the comic relief we needed as Melitone.

Then there was Violeta Urmana’s Leonora.  She is a consummate Verdi stylist, her singing was stylistically spot-on and the language perfectly done.  You genuinely believed every single word she sang.  There were  one or two ungainly top notes here and there but this was top-class singing in every sense of the word.  Her ‘vergine degli angeli’ at the end of Act II was perfectly done, the legato flawless, the high notes perfectly placed.  She capped the evening off with a ‘pace, pace’ of sheer distinction the climactic top note held on for what seemed like for ever and she had no problem being heard over the orchestra even though she was placed at the back of the stage.  There are some roles that I really wish that a visionary opera company would cast her in – Cassandre, Brünnhilde and of course Elektra.  Incidentally, she will be making her role debut in Cherubini’s Medea, in Valencia in June this year.

This was a frustrating evening – effectively what could have been a superb performance let down by poor conducting and an inability on behalf of many of the performers to overcome a sense of routine.

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