Sunday, February 22, 2009

Singalong with me at the Tirana Opera House

This is a photo of the Tirana Opera House.
Never been there.
Never heard of it.
You neither I suppose?

It seems that Opera Magazine reviewer, Kate Molleson, had a good reason to attend a performance of Lucia di Lammermoor there and she doesn't seem to have regretted it...

"Lucia's Mad Scene is not generally played as comedy, but I wonder whether OPERA TIRANA, is inadvertently on to something. The performance on November 5 descended into mass hilarity when Donizetti's distraught heroine, sung by the local soprano Oriana Kurteshi, was interrupted by a loud sneeze from someone in the audience, and everyone in the auditorium, including the orchestra, fell about laughing. So much for pathos, apparently; Kurteshi shook her head and soldiered on.

Opera in Tirana remains the kind of rowdy occasion it often was in Italy when Donizetti wrote Lucia. It is housed in a relic of socialist-realist architecture on the city's main square, the state-funded TEATRI I OPERE DHE BALETIT, which was a much-prized cultural outlet during Albania's 50-year political isolation, with daily performances of Italian and Albanian repertoire and tickets for the price of a cup of coffee. "The opera house was where we used to come on dates after school" an audience member told me while munching on her sandwich between acts. "The boys would try to impress us by singing along the famous bits, but I don't remember ever being very impressed".

The price has gone up a bit -two or three coffees- and months pass between cash-strapped productions with recycled sets and makeshift costumes. But there's still a sense of the everyday among opera-goers; the chatting, the singing along, the booing of baddies and cheering of goodies. When the Lucia audience got especially raucous (clapping often started well before an aria was finished), the conductor turned from the pit to gesture for silence with his right hand, bringing the aria to a close with his left. Attention to musical detail seemed a secondary concern to the spectators, which, I realized as the orchestra lumbered its way through the overture, was just as well. Male roles were taken mostly in the look-straight-ahead-and-belt tradition, and poor Edgardo (Cristiano Oliveri) had lost his voice so completely by the end of the third act that his death came as a relief to all.

There were some determined efforts, notably by an enthusiastic chorus and by Kurteshi, who made for a poignant Lucia, poised and tender amid the general hubbub. Despite a thin upper register, she had the technical command and dramatic presence to drive a stodgy orchestra and project over an unruly audience. At 33, she is attracting attention outside her home town, with minor roles this year in Liege, Strasbourg and Venice. And she's in good Albanian company. For a long-time hermit state of four million people, Albania has produced more than its share of operatic talent-think only of Inva Mula-and a large part of this success must be due to the inclusion of opera in everyday social life. However noisy this makes the audience, it goes some way to achieving the kind of democratization of opera that cultural programmers in Britain have been agonizing over for years. What's more, it's fun. Sneezes and singalongs belong to an age of opera long gone in most parts of the world; perhaps the Teatri i Opere dhe Baletit should bill itself as a site of 'authentic audience practice'.

(C) Opera Magazine, March 2009

And just in case you 're interested, check Oriana Kurteshi as Nannetta

Thanks Will!


Willym said...

Almost - you'll notice I said almost - made me wish I had down to Tirana with Laurent this week.

mahler76 said...

οκ είσαι για ταξιδάκι με πούλμαν στα Τίρανα για όπερα? Τσάμπα θα μας έρθει.

Anonymous said...

Tυρανισμένα Τίρανα!