Sunday, March 16, 2008

Collective paranoia. (Updated)

"I saw this kind of musical madness seize upon the orchestra and the spectators from the beginning of the first act, at the first burst of applause, and give everybody the wildest pleasure.
I took my part in this folly, which caused so much joy in a poor little theatre where certainly nothing rose above the level of the mediocre.
I hardly know how to explain how it all happened. There was nothing in this charming performance to recall the reality and the sadness of life. There was certainly not a person in the theatre who thought of judging what he saw.

The singing, the scenery, the lively playing of the orchestra, the acting full of improvisations-there was nothing in them all to halt the imagination of the spectator, who, if he had only some good-will, found himself in a different world, a world of another kind of gayety."

This is what Stendhal wrote back in 1817 when while visiting Italy, he found L' Italiana in Algeri playing simultaneously in Brescia, Verona, Venice, Vicenza and Treviso. Stendhal enjoyed himself greatly at "L' Italiana in Algeri" performed by a mediocre company in a minor Italian theatre. 190 years later and Stendhal's impressions seemed to me so fresh, so updated, so e-x-a-c-t-l-y what i had in mind but couldn't express with words...

48 hours after the opening night of the Italiana in Athens and i still cannot decide if i should write a review on the performance or an ode to joy! Even after having seen a most mediocre performance, i was feeling the happiest man on Planet Earth.

Isn't this what Stendhal had in mind?

Let's begin with the production: The Jean-Pierre Ponnelle 1987 production still looks fresh, full of ideas, chic, balanced, full of gags etc. etc. The audience seems to be having great fun and there was nothing in this charming performance to recall the reality and the sadness of life as already Stendhal told us above.

I am very aware that Agnes Baltsa is currently 64 y.o. (born 1944) and it has not been long since the last time i saw her on stage.

Agnes Baltsa has always been an idol for me. I worship her Eboli, I have listened to her Italianas, Rosinas, Angelinas, Santuzzas etc etc a thousand times and there are many things she has sung that I find top of the tops. For example her “O mio Fernando” from La Favorita. I still haven’t found any other singer who can send shivers up and down my spine when listening to this. Her 1981 rendition of this aria on "Orfeo" is unsurpassable. Period.

But singing Santuzza or Klytemnaestra is light years away from singing Rossini. And even if Agnes used to be a most accomplished rossinian, nowadays she doesn't have the voice capital to support it.

The once agile voice has lost agility, it's sometimes shriek, the coloratura is not clear enough, high notes are not there anymore , and whatever lies on the passaggio gives her a very hard time.

But what an artist of the calibre of Agnes Baltsa can still give to this role?

Agnes IS Isabella.

She 's so into it, she's done it a thousand times, and despite all difficulties she seems to be having great fun!

Mario Zeffiri (Lindoro) is a world renowned greek tenor (real surname Botsarakos) in the big league and tradition of tenors like Matteuzzi, Merritt, Ford etc. Impressive high notes, coloraturas, some showing off, but also instability, tone problems -in more than one occasion- and nasal sound, some times even squeeky.
Something that i didn't like
in particular: Poor Elvira has only a few occasions to shine on stage and i suppose that, what everybody will think about when reading this, is the Act 1 finale where Elvira has to sing these high C's. Well, if i were Elvira and the Lindoro stole one of my C's (as Mario Zeffiri did) i would kick his ass.

Lorenzo Regazzo, seemed to be lacking the power and volume of Mustafa and his high notes sounded really strangled at times. But on stage he was more than credible, an extremely funny Mustafa (his Alidoro that i watched in London in December was also beautiful).

Renato Girolami (Taddeo) and Andrea Patucelli (Ali) in their smaller but significant roles both gave excellent performances. So did Kleopatra Nasiou (Zulma), a young mezzo we should keep an eye on, who the past summer sang Lucia in La Gazza Ladra in Pesaro (with the surname Papatheologou).

Vassiliki Karayanni was a weak Elvira, sometimes unsteady, with mediocre volume and loooots of stress...

Last but not least, the Athens State Orchestra gave one of the worst performances ever! (So did the Fons Musicalis Choir!) I was really close to the pit and felt pity for maestro Antonello Allemandi who had to deal with so bad professionals.

But enough with grouching!

Listen to the Act I finale as performed in Athens on the 14th of March
Pay attention to Mario Zeffiri´s (stolen hehe) high C.

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Back from the second performance of L' Italiana in Algeri (17th of March). Not many changes, Agnes Baltsa -more confident- sang a lot better, Zeffiri also, Regazzo seemed a little bored, Karayanni (Elvira) was also a lot more stable and secure. The audience seemed to be having a great time, and offered a big, deserved applause to all.


operaduets said...

I feel so happy listening to Agnes Baltsa as Isabella in Athens. Thank you, Parsifal, for your review! I just wish I was in Athens right now with tickets for Italiana.

So different then what I felt going from Elektra in Florence. Elektra is so depressing. But ITALIANA is that is pure joy!!!

Viva Baltsa

Parsifal said...

And today is the second performance and Parsi will be there too!!!

Susanne said...

Thanks for the sound clip Parsi! I had actually planned to come to Athens for the performance on 21st March. But since it seems that Baltsa will probably not (?) be singing this last performance, I'm glad I decided I'd better cherish the moments of those two Italianas in Vienna some 13 and 10 years ago :-) Will probably visit Athens next autumn, with or without the Megaron. Must agree with you though: eventhough Baltsa seems to be having some problems with singing this role, I'm sure she still IS Isabella on stage. I for one, on the other hand, can't wait to hear and see her again in Jenufa (hopefully in 2009 in Vienna), a role which is, like Klytemnaestra, more suited for her voice now.

Parsifal said...

Hi Susanne! I ´ll try to write something for the today performance as well or maybe after all 4 i ´ll do a recap... Hope i see her as Kostelnicka soon...I had enough of Elektras i think...

Anonymous said...

I think Regazzo sang Alidoro, not Dandini in London. He's a great Mustafà, anyway! Thanks for the clip :)

Willym said...

Parsi... and after this report you expect me to write something? You took most of the words right out of my mouth. Laurent said pretty much the same thing: it was fun, it was enjoyable and he came out feeling good about the world. Still I'll put something together in the next day or two. Glad you enjoyed performance two - you little Italiana groupie you!

Parsifal said...

@ Anonymous
Of course he sang Alidoro and not Dandini...It was Simone Alberghini who sang Dandini...i ll correct it right away.

@ Will
Thanks Will! I saw my second italiana on Monday and today (Thursday) i ll see my third! Hoooray!!!