Flashes of brilliance

Bizet – Les pêcheurs de perles

Léila – Patrizia Ciofi
Nadir – Juan Diego Flórez
Zurga – Mariusz Kwiecien, Luca Grassi
Nourabad – Roberto Tagliavini

Coro y Orquesta Titulares del Teatro Real de Madrid / Daniel Oren.
Concert performance.

Teatro Real, Madrid, Sunday, March 31st, 2013.

This was a show that carried a lot of expectation before it. One of the world’s leading tenors taking on a new role, one of the world’s finest baritones singing in a repertoire he doesn’t normally sing and a leading soprano singing a role that fits her perfectly. Perhaps it was the weight of these expectations that meant that the show did not quite fulfill them but there were times where it came very close.

Les pêcheurs de perles does not enjoy the exposure of Carmen but it is a remarkable score nonetheless. There is of course ‘that’ duet but also a number of memorable choruses and some beautiful writing for the soprano. This was the third of a series of concert performances and seeing it in concert allowed one to concentrate on the often glorious music without having to worry about the more dramatically implausible moments (setting fire to huts to imitate divine intervention for example).

Juan Diego Flórez was far better suited to the Nadir of the later acts than the first. He was overpowered in ‘that’ duet by Mariusz Kwiecien’s Zurga and there was a lack of amplitude to the voice that did not adapt well to this music. While Flórez is without doubt one of the (if not the) greatest Rossini tenors of today, I’m afraid that Nadir is not really his role. While ‘je crois entendre encore’ was sensitively sung and had great atmosphere, it was also painfully flat and the strain was audible. The public went wild yet for me, his narrow tenor – again so perfectly matched to bel canto – failed to dominate in the way that it should have. While I completely sympathize with Flórez’ wish to expand his repertoire, I hope that he drops this role, at least for the time being. Indeed, this made for an interesting comparison with Pavol Breslík’s recent Lensky at Covent Garden. Both are examples of singers taking on roles that are slightly larger but Breslík succeeded simply because he was able to match his resources perfectly to the music, never forcing to create the sound.

Mariusz Kwiecien seemed out of sorts at first (there were reports from the previous performance that he was sick) and it was clear that he was not at his best. Despite this, there was an aristocratic line, impeccable diction (his French was easily the best of the cast’s) and his stunningly burnished baritone showed real identification with the idiom. Sadly, he was unable to complete the performance, an announcement was made of an infection and he was replaced mid-show by Luca Grassi. While Grassi’s was a very good performance, I felt sorry that he had to take over from someone who had set the bar very high. I very much hope to have the opportunity to hear Kwiecien again as Zurga very soon and in full health.

Patrizia Ciofi was a delicious Léila. I realized that this was actually the first time I had heard her live having come across her as an irrepressible Susanna in René Jacobs epochal Figaro. Her dusky soprano with its pearly top is perfectly suited to Léila and she provided the best singing of the night, the voice apparently without limits, the top free and easy, trills beautifully executed and crystal-clear diction. If only she would stop waving her hands around like a windmill constantly.

I wish I could be complimentary about Daniel Oren’s conducting but I can’t. He had a habit of slowing down for the ‘big’ moments – ‘au fond du temple saint’ basically came to a halt and every big aria was taken as slowly as possible as if to stress its importance. The rhythms and ‘local’ colour so in-grained in the music went for nothing and the whole thing felt flat. The orchestra, so striking in Macbeth a couple of months ago, here sounded on auto-pilot. The chorus badly needed a language coach – ‘viens’ was pronounced as ‘vi-on’ for example and I had to keep referring to the Castilian surtitles to find out what it was they were singing. The sound was very nice but they were badly disciplined – visibly chatting during the arias for example. Not their best evening then.

Despite the issues, this was an enjoyable evening overall. I saw tantalizing flashes of brilliance in Kwiecien’s Zurga and Ciofi was an exceptional Léila. It allowed me to hear a wonderful score live and I am very much looking forward to Opera Holland Park’s production this summer

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3 responses to “Flashes of brilliance

  1. Actually, Florez has sung his first Nadir last year in Las Palmas, already with Ciofi as Leila.
    Thanks for your impressions!

    • And thank you so much for reading! There’s no doubt that Flórez is a great singer and in the right repertoire he is exceptional but I don’t think Nadir is for him and the strain that was evident in his aria was troubling. Sometimes, these things can be a ‘one off’ and due to issues on the night, singers are after all human but my instinct is that this may not be the right role for him. I am very much looking forward to seeing him in La Donna del lago soon though.

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