Friday, March 6, 2009

The Caps And The Monties, by Vinny Bellini

Sooooo... I went to London to catch an ex-Soviet, huge voiced, bloody-good-looking, great actress, big favourite of mine. I was really stressed out in case she cancellled. I mean, I was getting so angry in advance thinking about potential microbes buggering up my long-awaited trip, that I was determined to kick her shapely ass if she did cancel.

But not to worry, there she was, and in glorious voice too. She delivered the goods, plus interest. She was a godess. A force of nature. She ruled.

I mean Elina Garanca, of course.

Ever since the revelation that was her ROH Dorabella in the summer of 2007, during the inverval of which I pulled out my mobile and asked my sis "Who the hell is Elina Garanca, and why didn't I know her before, the silly bugger?", I have been meaning to see her again in live performance. Sadly, I had to wait two years, as she didn't do another ROH appointment since then and going to NY is not always easy in my line of work (so no Rosina last year for me. Bummer). And recordings are a very poor substitute - unless the singer is deceased or retired of course (I’m *Popp* Fanatic, after all).

Superlatives really fail me in describing Monday’s vocal performance by the comely Latviette. The range, the projection, the colour, the effortlessness of it all. With my untrained and uneducated ears I could find no fault. What I really admire about Garanca’s voice is that it’s so easy to distinguish – in a very crowded field of very talented mezzos these days, she’s the one I can pick out without looking.

I only have a tiny criticism, that she hasn't yet learned that loud is not always best. Oh, I love the way her voice fills the auditorium. Sometimes however, the quiet parts are the ones that make the difference. See further on for more on that.

Garanca, we know, is a talented actress, and not just because of her charisma. The aforementioned Dorabella was the pick of the acting performances in a uniformly brilliantly acted Cosi. On Monday night, though, she really didn’t have to do all that much other than strut around and look heroic. Not her fault – rather the stilted libretto’s and the archaic production’s (of which, also see further on). After she got poisoned, she did try to give another dimension to the basic impetuous-adolescent-full-of-hormones interpretation of Act 1, but really she needs better material to work with if she’s going to show us what she can do.

And Trebs, you will ask? Come on, admit it. You don't want to know about Garanca, great though she was. You want to now about the *other* ex-Soviet, huge voiced, bloody-good-looking, great actress, big favourite of mine. Even if you hate her, you can't help talking about her. So: how was Trebs?

Oh, Trebs, Trebs, Trebs... we all know Trebs, right? We've got her all figured out by now. Doesn't the Trebs Dialectic go like this?

-Pretty girl, thin, raven-black hair, great legs. A bit short for my tastes, but a doll nonetheless.

-Oodles of charisma, wonderful, though amateur, acting instincts, overenergetic sometimes, but a total stage animal.

-Huge Russian voice, gorgeous dark timbre, surround-sound effect, some problems up top, more problems with breathing and stamina in long phrases, even more problems with very fast sequences because that huge dark sound takes a toll on agility. No trill.

-Insistently picks the wrong roles for her voice, the silly cow. Should stick to nice, solidly lyric, parts. If she feels adventurous, perhaps she could experiment downwards to spinto territory, but should definetely leave coloratura well alone.

That's Trebs, right?

Well, on Monday's evidence, perhaps we're seeing a different kind of Trebs these days. Call it Trebs 2.0. I will go even further and say that we have been seeing this new, more mature, version ever since her fabulous Trav here last winter (“here”, being London). The new Trebs is more understated and withdrawn in her acting, and when she *does* punctuate it with an extroverted burst it’s that much more effective. She may not be turning somersaults these days, but when after being thrown Alfredo’s gambling winnings to her face she waited a good ten seconds before she responded by rubbing the chips over her, tacitly accepting that she is the prostitute he called her, the audience melted. And melted again on Monday at the end of her Act 2 aria when, after an almost static delivery to that point, she suddenly felt the poison taking effect, turned, *ran* back and desperately clung to her father as she was led away. The abruptness of it all made it so moving.

She pulled the same trick off vocally as well. Yes, she turned on the loudspeaker in her throat early and often and let us bathe in that gorgeous enveloping sound. And yes, she also showed off, as usual, by singing with her back to the orchestra to prove that the decibels, baby hiatus and all, are still there. But it was the quiet parts, the unexpected diminuendos, where she really showed her true quality. She made what is really a silly, two-dimensional, character in the libretto really appear tortured and wracked by doubt, and she didn’t have to hang upside down in the orchestra pit to pull it off.

And hold on! Were those *trills* I heard her sing? Oh, yes they were. Twice, even! And whatever happened to the trademark obscene-phonecall-like Trebs heavy breathing? Gone, I’m telling you. She stood there and tackled those endless drawn-out Bellini lines with aplomb, and with nary a gasp for air to be heard. Listening to that performance I concluded that she picked the right role for her voice after all, the not-so-silly cow.

Not that the new, improved, Trebs is flawless. I don’t think I would like her if she were, anyway. The top end of her range is not always secure. You always feel that it’s a tightrope act when she has to go up high: most of the time she’s fine, but sometimes she can sharpen, and sometimes she hits the pitch square on but the volume hasn’t followed. The same thing happens with coloratura and speedy passages in general: in her opening recitative she hit every note bang on but you could feel that she was living on the edge. Unlike Garanca, Trebs performances don’t feel effortless.

Ok, that’s the Trebs Report. Oops, forgot the most important bit: yes, she seems to have put on weight, couldn’t tell how much through those stupid shapeless gowns they had her wear. Neither could I see the legs (bummer!). I was very annoyed by the ghastly light brown-blond mane she sported, which for her sake I hope was just a wig. Anyway, there it is: if all 38-year old women were as fat and ugly as her, it would be a happier planet. She’s still a bit short, though.

In case you are annoyed that I have spent so much time talking about the two ladies and not about the opera itself, well, what is this opera but a vehicle for the two leading ladies? I admit I didn’t know it at all before I booked my tickets a few months back, so I had to do my homework well in advance of Monday’s performance. This homework obviously included the Baltsa-Gruberova 1984 ROH recording of the selfsame production I saw, as well as the recent DG release. Well, it’s typical Bellini: lovely melodies, although his orchestration is not exactly Mozart, lots and lots of showy bits for the divas (plural here), the showiness being mostly of the long, drawn-out legato kind, rather than coloratura fireworks. A lot of inappropriately jaunty little tunes for what is supposed to be high tragedy, but lovely jaunty little tunes they are.

This being a diva vehicle, there are some peripheral guys out there to add some nondescript male voice counterpoint. I wouldn’t even call them secondary characters – that would be the chorus. Tertiary characters then, that’s what they are, though Tebaldo does have a nice little aria or two to sing at the start. The guys in Monday’s performance were accordingly nondescript. I was particularly underwhelmed by Dario Schmunck’s (thank god for that “n”!) Tebaldo. He wasn’t *horrible*, but he was a bit weak-voiced compared with our leather-lunged leading ladies. And being about half the size of Garanca in physical presence sadly takes something away from the supposed rivalry for the equally robust (though, I must repeat, short) Anna. I’ll just say that it was good for him that he didn’t get to fight Romeo in Act 2, Elina would have wiped the floor with him. And I don’t mean just vocally.

Anyone who knows me will not be surprised about my comments on the production: Classical ergo boring. It’s got what the British would call “handsome sets”, and they sure look nice with their Corinthian columns and quarter Colosseums in the distance. Handsome, yes. But boring. God, they’re boring. And the colour-coded chorus (red for the Caps, blue for the Monties) was past boring and all the way to silly. The bit where Romeo is “disguised” by wearing a red cloak was as believable as the hero in WWII movies sneaking past the evil Nazis by wearing a Wehrmacht uni.

Verdict: Concert In Costume. Wonderful performances by the girls, they should definetely sing more together. In a less boring production, if you please Mr Tony Hall.

* Wonderful review: by Popp Fanatic

** Wonderful pics with the kind permission of Dognorah


Felipe Cunha said...

Thanks for the reviews, Parsi. Any in-house recording has surfaced? ;-)

Parsifal said...

Noooooooooooope : (

Perro Muerto said...

Cough cough
We want recordings..

Parsifal said...

Cough cough!

i have the premiere!!!!!!!

Felipe Cunha said...

Really, Parsi! The première!!! Wonderful! Non ti scordar di me, per piacere. :-*