Bellini – I Puritani
Elvira – Maria Agresta
Arturo – Dmitri Korchak
Riccardo – Mariusz Kwiecień
Giorgio – Michele Petrusi
Bruno – Luca Lombardo
Enrichetta – Andreea Soare
Gualtiero – Wojtek Smilek
Choeur de l’Opéra national de Paris, Orchestre de l’Opéra national de Paris / Michele Mariotti.
Stage Director – Laurent Pelly
Opéra de Paris-Bastille, Paris. Saturday, November 30th, 2013.
What is bel canto without beautiful singing? It isn’t always the most dramatically gripping of operatic forms and this is perhaps the sensation that I left with this evening, beautifully sung yet missing in drama. This was actually my first live Puritani and Bellini is a composer that I haven’t really experienced much in the theatre. I always have a sense that music such as this needs an extra helping hand otherwise the awkward plots and occasionally awkward music can start to grate. Yet, when done well it can be one of the most spectacular and enjoyable evenings in the theatre.
I have heard great things of Maria Agresta and tonight they were fully realized. Hers is a medium-sized lyric soprano with an effortless trill, wonderful agility and an easy top. She also has an attractive white wine tone. Given her repertoire, I was expecting something along the lines of Caballé but the truth is that Agresta is a very individual artist with a full understanding of the style. Some beautiful diminuendi combined with some startling pianissimi showed an artist willing to take risks and put her own, individual stamp on the music. She has only been singing professionally since 2007 and she has already been booked to sing on some of the world’s leading stages. She is already a very good artist who has the potential to become a great one.
As any regular readers of this blog may know, Mariusz Kwiecień is a big favourite of mine. An announcement was made at the start of the evening on his behalf and it was clear that he was not on top form. Yet, his first aria demonstrated all that I enjoy in his singing – the endless breath control, the wonderful warmth of tone and a profound understanding of the style that cannot be taught, a singer either has or it or he doesn’t. And Kwiecień most certainly has it. I wish him a very swift recovery.
I hate to say that at first I found Michele Petrusi’s Giorgio a bit dull. But I think the blame actually lay on the conducting more than anything else. He had real warmth of tone and an easy legato and he blended nicely with Kwiecień in their big duet. It was nicely done. We have been spoilt recently for tenors in this repertoire and Dmitri Korchak definitely has an instrument of beauty and potential. I felt that he forced the tone a little – could very well be due to nerves – but he certainly does have the fundamentals of the style. He is without doubt an interesting artist.
I first came across Michele Mariotti at the Royal Opera House earlier this year in La Donna del Lago. He achieved playing of great beauty from the Opéra orchestra and he conducted a reading that was well-manicured, fluent and certainly matched in its beauty what was happening on stage. I admired it greatly but I can’t say I loved it. For me, this is music that has angular edges and the beauty on stage needs to be countered with a certain rhythmic precision and energy in the orchestral sound. There were tantalizing moments of what could have been in ‘suoni la tromba’ where the orchestra pushed the drama along nicely. He is also a very supportive accompanist to his singers. Of course, there are many who enjoyed this interpretation and so much of music appreciation is personal. I have to say that for me it was deeply impressive but just lacking in impetus and swing.
Laurent Pelly’s staging played the work relatively straight. That was perhaps the problem. There were some impressive stage pictures and it acted as a great framework for the vocal beauty taking place on the stage. At the same time there was a lot of standing and delivering and only Agresta and Kwiecień managed to pull me into their interpretations by sheer force of charisma and dramatic conviction. I’ve seen some great Pelly productions that I very much enjoyed, this wasn’t one of them.
Ultimately this was a very mixed evening. It introduced me to a major new talent, one who has the potential to be a major star. I also got to see flashes of brilliance from a favourite singer who demonstrated all the attributes that I appreciate in his singing. At the same time, I was not quite convinced that the performance as a whole managed to cover up the weaknesses of the work. In a way I’d like to see it again and I will certainly make an effort to catch the cinema relay of the production. It’s a show that is certainly worth seeing for Agresta and Kwiecień above all.