Beethoven – Symphony No. 4, Karajan (1977)
Saturday – This evening I am seeing Verdi’s Otello at Bridgewater Hall. The cast is Clifton Forbis in the title role, Barbara Frittoli is his Desdemona and Lado Ataneli is Iago. The conductor is Noseda. I am not a huge Verdi fan. Simon Boccanegra is my favourite and I am seeing the new production at ENO late this year. I am hoping that it isn’t the dog’s dinner that they made of Il Ritorno d’Ulisse. But who knows?
Apart from Simon Boccanegra, Don Carlos, Otello and La Traviata are the only other Verdi operas that I would choose to see. It somewhat surprises me that I enjoy Simon Boccanegra so much. It doesn’t have a dominant soprano role like La Traviata so perhaps it’s the sense of tragedy, like Otello and Don Carlo, that appeals.
Anyway, back to Otello. For me it has one of the most thrilling openings of any opera. That huge wall of sound from the orchestra and chorus. Reminds me of the his Requiem. And of course the wonderful duet at the end of the First Act, Iago’s chilling Credo and Desdemona’s beautiful scene before the final denouement. And of course, in this opera more than the others, Verdi shows himself to be a master of orchestration. The orchestra during Desdemona’s scene, and around that single phrase, “un bacio” are genius.
I haven’t heard any of the performers before although I do have Frittoli on CD. And while I have heard of Frittoli and Clifton Forbis, Ataneli will be new to me so I look forward to that. Noseda I have heard before and enjoy his conducting of orchestral music. This will be his ‘opera first’ for me. It should be interesting.
Next week I am off to The Met for Die Walkure with Deborah Voigt – twice if you can believe it, Renee Fleming in Capriccio and a performance of Il Trovatore, a first performance completely. Last time I travelled to The Met to see Voigt in Tristan und Isolde, she cancelled. So, fingers crossed!
Anyway, back to tonight’s performance. It’s a concert performance which, as you would expect, is a different experience altogether. For me it’s slightly purer. Don’t get me wrong, I love staged productions, but concert performances are more focused. I remember a Elektra at the Barbican with Jean-Michele Charbonnet in the lead, Felicity Palmer as Clytemnestra and Gergiev conducting. It was mesmerising and completely exhausting. She was thrilling to listen to and watch, Palmer magnificent and Gergiev’s conducting electric, if you will pardon the pun. Charbonnet’s voice isn’t exactly beautiful and she didn’t always have the heft for the role, but she had me from the very start.
Last year I saw a concert performance of Otello with simon O’Neill, Gerald Finley and Anne Schwanewilms at the Barbican. Finley, a complete revelation in the role, stole the evening. I was surprised with Schwanewilms. I’ve seen her in a Strauss – Ariadne auf Naxos and Elektra – so was intrigued to hear her Desdamona. I wasn’t disappointed but neither was I amazed. More Strauss please!
Enough for now. More post performance.
Sondra Rodvanovsky, Verdi Arias
Sunday – It was a great night. First and foremost the night was Noseda’s. He drew magnificent, supple and intelligent playing from the BBC Philharmonic. The end was, as you would expect for his final performance with the orchestra as Chief Conductor, emotionally charged. But undoubtedly he is an ‘opera’ conductor, as comfortable in orchestral repertoire as he seems in opera. Or Verdi at least, as I have notheard him conduct any other opera. But he was recently at The Met and is also associated with Turin. I will be making an effort to see him conduct more opera.
From the opening bars, he kept a close rein on the orchestra, allowing it to shine but never overpower the singers. The strings had a sheen and warmth to them that is rarely heard in a British orchestra. The brass, bar some awkward timing issues in the Third Act, were bright, and the wind playing was exemplary. The opening of the Act Four was beautifully done.
As far as the singers, the night was stolen by Ataneli and Frittoli. As I mentioned I hadn’t heard of Lado Ataneli before last night. His Iago was on a par with Finlay’s. He has a rich, even tone which easily carried above the orchestra for the most part. With an orchestra in the pit he would easily sail above it. His Credo was chilling, and his sense of ensemble was intelligent.
Frittoli performed an intelligent, sensitive Desdemona. She certainly has the heft for the role and again roseabove the orchestra and her other colleagues when required. Yet she also spun the most beautiful portamento for the most part, floating to top notes with great ease and discipline and displaying a real sense of phrasing. A small gripe? In the Ave Maria she was slightly too literal in her first rising phrase. But a small gripe in an otherwise beautifully felt and delivered performance.
Unfortunately, Cifton Forbis was a disappointment. He was, from the start, clearly struggling with the role. But what struck me was Noseda’s sensitive and intelligent support. If I think back to Dresden, where the hapless Tristan of Leonid Zakhozhaev was simply drowned out, Noseda steered the orchestra around Forbis. However based on last night’s performance I had to wonder, as I did with Schwanewilms’ Desdemona, whether the role suited. From his biography I see he is also a Wagnerian – do the two sit comfortably together I wonder? There were some moments of great insight but for most of the time he struggled and, I am afraid to say, delivered for me at least, a bland and insensitive performance.
Otello is very much a show shared between Iago and Desdemona. The other roles were well performed well – particularly the Cassio of ??? – and again there was a real sense of ensemble.
But at the end of the performance, to quote Noseda himself, the night “belonged to Verdi”.