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Posts Tagged ‘Gianandrea Noseda’

Verdi. Betrayed.

In Classical Music, Opera, Review, Verdi on August 23, 2013 at 8:04 am

Review – Verdi Arias (Anna Netrebko, Orchestra Teatro Regio Torina, Gianandrea Noseda)

It sometimes feels like the Verdi bicentenary is being overlooked. Verdi has certainly not fared as well as his German contemporary at the Proms. Or maybe it’s just that Wagner fans are more vocal.

However I recently picked up three recital discs of Verdi arias so perhaps he has not been completely forsaken.

The first disc, by Anna Netrebko has the full weight of the label’s marketing effort behind it.

Initially I wasn’t going to pen this review because of Ms Netrebko’s position on the dehumanization of gay people in Russia and her own sit-on-the-fence statement. However this recital marks a well-publicised shift in the soprano’s repertoire that will also see her tackle the role of Lady Macbeth on the Munich stage. As such there is no avoiding that this disc being positioned as a major additional to the catalogue.

But that it were. In the true sense of a Verdian tragedy, this recital is one that betrays the listener.

Voices change and talented, wise sopranos manage the transition with great skill.

So I am not quite sure what has happened with Ms Netrebko.

Listening back to her Giulietta in Bellini’s Capuleti – a recording I still enjoy immensely – she seems to have lost a great deal and gained not very much as a consequence.

The Verdi roles featured here require two qualities, to varying degrees, which are lacking in this recital – profundità and agilità.

The first is essential for any successful and meaningful characterization with agilità equally vital not only to tackle the coloratura but also to ensure that the purity and fluidity of Verdi’s vocal lines are uninterrupted.

The voice is indeed darker or rather heavier and at times unwieldy. There isn’t the assurance in terms of navigating the more florid passages and the longer phrases are marred by distracting gasps for breath and are neither smooth nor fluid.

Moreover Ms Netrebko exhibits distinct intonation problems, more often than not a distinct wobble and a spread in the higher reaches of her range. These factors heighten a general lack of clear diction.

Indeed on repeated listening it seems to be a voice not quite where it should be – still very much in transition and a voice not yet under the control of a secure technique.

As I mentioned earlier, Lady Macbeth is a role she will tackle in Munich in 2014 and here they form the weakest part of the recital. The faux melodrama of Nel di della vittoria is matched only by the photography in the booklet and the subsequent cavatina is hardly helped by a lack of any sense of urgency in terms of tempo. The result is that Ms Netrebko makes heavy work of what should be a thrilling scena, heightened by some rather clumsy handling of the closing coloratura.

La luce langue is similarly lacklustre with Netrebko declaring the deed of killing Banquo as if she was reading a shopping list. In this aria in particular, the soprano mistakes the ability to generate over generous volumes of sound for dramatic interpretation while a greater attention to the words and dynamic range would have been more effective.

The famous sleepwalking scene is unintentionally more somnambulistic that either Shakespeare or Verdi intended. This is not helped by Noseda’s rather bland handling of the orchestra and the lack of any sense of breadth in the marvelous tune that Verdi spins out and here more than elsewhere on the disc Netrebko sings to get through the music without any sense of interpreting the horror of the scene. Shaky intonation mars the ending.

A letto, a letto indeed.

In the title role of Giovanna d’Arco she fares slightly better. Perhaps this is because this scena and romanza are closer to the Verdi roles she has sung previously.Indeed there are moments of delicacy and wistfulness to O faticida foresta that underline for me that perhaps there is true capability somewhere in Ms Netrebko but it needs more tutoring and development.

Sadly what follows undermines the success of the previous romanza.

I Vespri Siciliani is represented by Arrigo! Ah, parli a un core which Netrebko sings through competently enough only for the listener to be subjected to limping Mercé, dilette amiche.

Where is the swagger? The lightness of touch? Not only in the vocal line but also in the orchestral playing? It’s missing, perhaps lost in the ponderous tempo that Noseda sets.

Tu che la Vanità again comes close but doesn’t quite past muster. The orchestra –sadly lacking any sense of finesse, colouror energy throughout the rest of the recital – play their best in this famous scene. How could they not? But it still seems underpowered and bland.

Anna Netrebko – gasping it seems for breath at points – demonstrates that she almost has the notes down pat, but there is a distinct lack of character. Again, it as if she is reading a shopping list rather than portraying a woman riven by inner conflict – “I’ll take a Prince to go. Don’t bother wrapping him, I will just throw Carlo in with the rest of the shopping”.

The final selections come from Il Trovatore and again Netrebko seems for the most part, more confortable in the role of Leonora. She gets through D’amor sull’ali rosee more or less intact although on more than one occasion the span of the vocal line gets the better of her breath control. The subsequent Miserere … Quel suon, quelle preci with Rolando Villazón – not my favourite tenor with his unattractive and strained timbre – is messy. Netrebko again misinterprets volume for dramatic characterization and her handling of al labbro il respiro, il palpiti al cor is simply ugly.

And the closing Tu vedrai che amore in terra sounds like a desperate dash for the finishing line. Complete with snatched breaths, stodgy coloratura and a distinct harshness in the closing phrases, Ms Netrebko barely makes it to the finishing line.

Considering the hype heralding this release, the recital is a massive disappointment. Hints of technical assurance are betrayed by a general lack of musical intelligence, poor characterization and bland support from Noseda and the orchestra.

Which brings me back to the question of whether this disc and Ms Netrebko’s ambition are far too early? There are hints here and there that with more preparation and training the soprano could successfully tackle some of these roles but at the moment, it is simply premature.

And what of Gianandrea Noseda? As I said of Noseda on the Mozart recital disc with Ildebrando d’Arcangelo, his accompaniment seems for the most part simply there to provide background. In the excerpts from Macbeth – for example the opening tracks, there is no sense of menace or bite in the marvelous music that Verdi wrote – music that should chill the bones. But more surprisingly is that Noseda not only fails to find the expansive lyricism in Verdi’s music but he seems to make no effort to tease out the instrumental colours that the composer fused into this music. Clearly he is better when heard live.

So if Anna Netrebko lets us down through her premature ambition to sing these roles, then Noseda lets both soprano and the listener down with his disinterested conducting.

Mena’s Moto Perpetuo Mahler

In Classical Music, Gustav Mahler, Review on September 30, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Review – Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection”.
Ailish Tynan, Iris Vermillion, London Symphony Chorus.
BBC Philharmonic, Juanjo Mena.
Saturday 24 September, 2011.

As I have mentioned in a previous post, Mahler is challenging to conduct convincingly. As well as being a master of orchestration and – what is often forgotten – having an incredibly keen sense of the orchestra’s colour palette and dynamic flexibility, he was himself an excellent conductor. Having been educated at the Vienna Conservatory he was well acquainted with – in fact acutely knowledgeable about – the music of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven as well as of Wagner and additionally he was one of the few exponents of Bruckner.

All of these elements have to be considered, combined and balanced when it comes to performing his music. In the right combination, with an ensemble of the highest standard and under a conductor of intelligence, passion and experience, a performance can be truly remarkable.

And on Saturday night at Bridgewater Hall, at the inaugural concert of the BBC Philharmonic under their new Chief Conductor Juanjo Mena, all the elements came together, fused brilliantly and created just such a memorable evening.

Mena opened the first movement at a brisker pace than usual. From the first ‘bite’ in the tremolando strings and the rhythmically muscular cello entry – every note clearly discernable – it was clear that Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony was a piece that Mena was both steeped in and loved.

And in the opening section it was also clear that Mena’s approach would balance the “bite” with the lyrical. The violin theme is so often “chopped up” by conductors – even Jurowski in his recent and excellent recording – but Mena’s handling was much more song-like. And throughout the first movement, the attention was in the detail. Mena perfectly balanced the ‘walking bass’ against the woodwind so that as ever before I heard so clearly the inference to chorales.

In the first movement Mena also demonstrated a clear grip on the need for transparency and dynamic control. Throughout this movement and indeed the whole performance, he skillfully balanced the need for transparency so that Mahler’s detailed orchestration could be heard with a broad and at times astonishing dynamic range. It wasn’t until the cataclysmic chord halfway through the first movement that I thought that Mena finally unleashed the full dynamic power of the BBC Philharmonic. It literally made Bridgewater Hall hum. But I was wrong. He held back the full force of the orchestra until the final moments of the whole symphony and pinned the fact that he had – from the beginning – an unerring sense of the whole architecture of the symphony.

Mena took the landler-like second movement at a pace a hair’s breath faster than Jurowski. But while the latter conveyed more of a sense of ‘weight’ – and perhaps not the sense of ‘intermezzo’ that Mahler had originally envisaged – Mena struck a lighter, more genial note with an almost Latin lilt that was clearly conveyed by his own movements when conducting the orchestra. Methinks that on the dance floor Mena is light on his feet and a ‘mover’. However again transparency was never sacrificed for a sense of ‘moto perpetuo’ and at times Mena’s chambelike handling of the orchestra harked back to the symphonies of Beethoven.

The sense of perpetual motion in the second movement was carried over and maintained in the third movement. Yet Mena’s pointing up of the orchestral colours – particularly in the wind – created a different palette – nervous and threatening at the same time, ratcheting up the tension into the outburst from the brass. For the conductor this was a movement of distinct contrasts.

Iris Vermillion’s entry in Urlicht with “O Röschen rot!”, for which Mena daringly brought the tempo to its slowest ebb, was nothing less than magical. Hers is a rich and warm mezzo and she delivered a wonderfully sustained vocal line with clear diction and conveying a real sense of the words, particularly at “Ach nein! Ich liess mich nicht abweisen! Ich bin von Gott und will wieder zu Gott”. If you haven’t heard her then I would recommend her Abschied with Sinopoli or her recording of Alma Mahler’s lieder.

The final movement, opening as it does with the orchestra at almost full tilt created the right sense of rude awakening from the preceding bliss. Mena skillfully handled the off-stage performers against the full orchestra, managing the transition to the dialogue between the off-stage brass and the flutes. But it was the first hushed entry of the London Symphony Chorus with “Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n wirst du” was breathtaking in its simple beauty. The sound they produced seemed to appear as if from nothing, perfectly balanced with clear diction and joined by the crystalline soprano of Ailish Tynan, a late replacement for the indisposed Susan Gritton. Ms Tynan’s voice glided over the chorus and melded beautifully with Ms Vermillion’s voice.

Mena kept control throughout the closing sections of the symphony, marshalling the soloists, chorus and orchestra to the thrilling climax at “Sterben werd’ ich, zu leben … Aufersteh’n, ja aufersteh’n wirst du … Zu Gott wird es dich tragen!” and the closing bars of the orchestra. The silence at Mena lowered his baton, and the final sounds died away in the hall, was palpable.

Throughout the evening the BBC Philharmonic followed Mena with complete focus, instinctively translating every gesture and movement into music making of the highest calibre. Under Gianandrea Noseda the BBC Philharmonic developed a distinctly ‘European’ sound – warm strings, sonorous winds and some of the best brass playing I have heard. And under Mena this direction of travel seems set to continue. Is it perhaps no coincidence that Richard Wigley, General Manager and the orchestra have veered more towards European conductors than their other BBC orchestra colleagues? This distinction stands them in good stead and sets them apart. The other BBC orchestras are excellent but having heard them all at the Proms, and after last night, I believe that the BBC Philharmonic is the strongest of them all in terms of performance.

Mena’s control of speed showed a clear and in-depth knowledge of the overarching architecture of the symphony. From the brisker opening, through the incredibly slow yet serene Urlich to the closing bars, Mena had perfectly judged the tempi thoughout. Not only did he maintain a real sense of momentum as he unfold an incredibly musical interpretation, but never before have I heard the closing bars have such impact, not only in terms of sound but as a result of his perfect sense of proportion and balance in terms of tempo.

I look forward to future performances of Mahler by Mena and the BBC Philharmonic.

Saturday night’s performance of Mahler was – I think – one that the composer himself would have approved of.

Review – Mozart Arias (Ildebrando D’Arcangelo/Noseda)

In Classical Music, Mozart, Opera on May 16, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Mozart recitals by female artists are an almost weekly occurrence so it’s always always a pleasant change to be confronted by performances of Mozart’s lesser-recital’d arias for bass/baritone. And when the artist is the consummate ‘poster boy’ Ildebrando D’Arcangelo then the appetite is clearly whetted in advance. Add to that the conductor is Gianandrea Noseda and the combination should be perfect.

Having seen D’Arcangelo in Don Giovanni at Covent Garden, I was looking forward to a more-than-enjoyable recital disc. On stage he is a consummate actor, his Leporello was just the right balance of servile accomplice and wannabe grandee. In fact I seem to remember he almost stole the show with his almost feral sexuality and sense of nihilism.

And on the whole the performances are literally flawless. That is to say that, note for note, bar one single aria, the performances are flawless. D’Arcangelo’s voice is rich and deep, with a pleasing and equal resonance through every register. The orchestra of the Teatro Regio Di Torino also play flawlessly for Noseda. Having now left the BBC Philharmonic after a wonderful final performance of Otello (see Verdi’s Otello – A Fitting Farewell), I understand that he will be spending more time conducting this orchestra. They clearly have a good relationship as the playing is also incredibly refined, particularly the playing by the wind sections.

Yet while the performances are flawless, they lack any sense of character. D’Arcangelo essays all the major roles of Don Giovanni, Figaro and Cosí together with some of the insertion and concert arias that Mozart composed. Yet from his entrance in Madamina, il catalogo è questo – in the Prague version apparently – that vital element of characterisation is missing. This isn’t Leporello singing jealously of his master’s sexual conquests across Europe but simply a performance. And similarly his Don isn’t the great seducer in Deh! Vieni alla finestra. Had he sung like this in reality perhaps the servant girl would have stayed in and washed her hair!

And so it goes on, his Figaro cuts no dash and his arias drawn from Cosí simply lack interest.

Potentially of more interest are the concert/insertion arias that are included on the disc. Yet again there is no sense of characterisation. Indeed more here than in the more famous opera arias, there is a real sense of D’Arcangelo simply going through the motions. Alcandro lo confesso… Non sò d’onde viene (K512) almost topples into disaster. He is clearly uncomfortable in the coloratura, which is quite extensive for a bass aria, with the result that this is the single turgid performance on the disc. However it has to be said that none of the arias in this category really hit the mark.

Naturally it must be difficult in a recital situation to perfectly capture the character of differing individuals. Yet Mozart’s music and the libretti make for more than ample tools for at least an attempt. Changing dynamic range simply isn’t enough. Naturally his diction is very good, but the texts do not come alive in anyway. There is no sense of irony in Se vuol balare, and no sense of swagger in Fin ch’han il vino for example. And fan of Noseda as I am, even I must admit that the orchestral playing simply serves as accompaniment rather than supporting any sense of portrayal. Where are the heckling wind and brass in the catalogue aria? I missed their expected intrusion.

Perhaps, as is often the case with recital releases now, D’Arcangelo will now tour a series of concerts. And maybe his performances will come alive when he is in front of a concert hall audience.

I certainly hope so because until then this CD simply remains – for me at least – just another technically flawless recital disc.

Verdi’s Otello – A Fitting Farewell

In Classical Music, Opera on April 17, 2011 at 7:36 pm

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”.

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