Posts Tagged ‘Max Emanuel Cencic’

Misero, dove son?

In Classical Music, Opera, Review on December 18, 2016 at 3:55 pm

Review – Ezio (Oper Frankfurt, Saturday 17 December 2016)

Valentiniano – Rupert Enticknap
Ezio – Max Emanuel Cencic
Fulvia – Cecelia Hall
Massimo – Theo Lebow
Onoria – Sydney Mancasola
Varo – Michael Porter

Director – Vincent Boussard
Assistant Director – Carerina Panti Liberovicí
Staging – Kaspar Glarner
Costume – Christian Lacroix
Lighting – Joachim Klein
Video – Bibi Abel
Dramaturg – Zsolt Horpácsy

Frankfurter Opern- und Museumorchester
Simone Di Felice (Conductor)

Gluck originally wrote Ezio for Prague in 1750, for which there is an excellent recording by Il Complesso Barocco under the late Alan Curtis. Gluck subsequently edited the opera for Viennese performances in 1763, replacing some of the music that had found its way into Orfeo and adding new arias.

Eighteenth Century opera – and in particular Metastasian opera seria – is all about balance. Admittedly for some it might not always seem like that if you view sitting through one as an ‘interminable marathon of da capo aria and secco recitative’ as a friend once put it. He’s still a friend – we just don’t go to opera seria together anymore. The balance is more that just the music. It’s the relationships between the characters. Their interplay as the drama unfolds. And following the rules set out by Metastasio himself, and followed almost slavishly by composers including Gluck – at least to start with.

Without that balance something doesn’t quite feel right and that feeling grew as my evening in Frankfurt passed by. I’m far from an expert on this opera – despite enjoying Curtis’ vibrant recording – or opera in general but something seemed awry. And I don’t just mean the singing, playing and production. I don’t know what hybrid of the original score(s) were used but by the end it felt that Attila – Ezio’s adversary – had himself taken a sword to the score. Personally I don’t see what the problem is with performing all three acts as originally intended – squeezing the drama into two halves is simply nonsensical. There were also specific moments when it was clear that arias had been ejected. For example, the end of the first ‘half’ didn’t end with an expected aria or duet, but rather a slightly awkward glove puppet narration by Varo. Any sense of dramatic momentum from the first half – which was already minimal – was completely destroyed. The second half opened with a huge swathe of secco recitative – by my watch almost, if not over fifteen minutes. I can’t imagine that this would have been in the original score unless Gluck really wanted his patrons to finish another round of canasta in their boxes. Even for me, it was almost interminable.

On stage, Rupert Enticknap’s Valentiniano was ultimately entitled to Caesar’s laurels. He may have tired towards the end, most noticeably in the trio, but his voice was bright, light and true. At times Enticknap’s voice could have benefitted from more heft and as with the rest of the cast, his da capo lines could have shown greater originality in their ornamentation. As this lack of inventiveness was true of all the singers, I had to wonder if Broussard and his dramaturg Horpácsy had forgotten that Gluck wrote this before his own reforms excised ornamentation from his music.

Of the remaining cast, Theo Lebow’s Massimo and the Varo of Michael Porter came off best. Lebow’s singing was both characterful and mostly effortless – matched by some pretty smart acting – and Porter had a mellifluous tenor which came across well in his single aria.

The two women, Cecelia Hall’s Fulvia and Sydney Mancasola’s Onoria were miscast for different reasons. Both had pleasant enough voices although Mancasola’s was on the slightly harsh and brittle side, but neither had the necessary heft nor range of colour. This was particularly true of Hall with a distinct lack of colour or dramatic delivery missing most of the time. She was more often than not inaudible in the Gluck’s excellent trio and in Misera, dove son? she failed to deliver any of the range of emotions contained therein.

However, Max Emanuel Cencic proved the greatest disappointment. Having recently seen him in London, I had hoped that on stage, sans score, there would be a noticeable improvement. There was some, but not much. It may be the fault of the direction – there was a lot of leaping on benches but not much else – but Cencic’s dramatic vocabulary didn’t extend beyond raising his hands quite a lot. Vocally, his diction was indistinct much of the time, his da capos lacklustre and at times he failed to carry above the orchestra.

The orchestra itself didn’t acquit itself from the start. There was a lack of vigour from the opening notes of the overture, with brass and winds mysteriously muted. Simone De Felice single approach to the music seemed ‘tutissimo legato’ although as if to banish the aural cobwebs that had collected at the beginning of the second act, the subsequent aria had more bite before the musicians returned to a more lax – even lazy – performance attitude. Indeed, by the final chorus everyone sounded like they just wanted to go home. Judging from the audience departures at half time, they weren’t the only ones.

Boussard’s direction was handsomely supported by costumes by Monsieur Lacroix, although Fulvia almost came a cropper on her first entrance. There was some clever use of light and reflection but nothing could quite mask the overall lack of inspiration. I’ve already mentioned the quite distracting – almost comic – leaping on and off strategically placed benches which seemed to be the extent of the acting lexicon. At the end, the transition to a modern museum seemed more like a desperate attempt to inject some actual interest than a logical part of the drama. If Fulvia was lost, so were we.

I am not saying that Eighteenth Century opera has to be performed precisely as it was in the 1700s but Oper Franfurt’s Ezio didn’t so much fall between stools as much as leap off the creative abyss. I’m sure the company is excellent in many operas but I’m not sure Gluck is ‘their man’.


Countertenorism – Nessuno suona la stesso?

In Baroque, Classical Music, Opera, Review on May 24, 2015 at 10:45 am

Review – The Five Countertenors (Valer Sabadus, Xavier Sabata, Max Emanuel Cencic, Yuri Mynenko & Vince Yi; Armonia Atenea & George Petrou)

It was inevitable that at some point an album such as this would appear – perhaps the marketing people thought it might do for countertenors what the Three Tenors did back in July 1990? It might not be the worst album cover, but it simply doesn’t do justice to the level of musicianship on this new recital album.

Rather than Nessun dorma of the three tenors, perhaps this album should be Nessuno suona la stesso, because what strikes me immediately is the broad range of voices in terms of range and distinctive tmibres of the performers.

And what is equally refreshing is that rather than a list of common-hackney’d arias, there’s music by Jomelli, JC Bach (hopefully is star will become increasingly in the ascendant), Mysliviček, Galuppi and Bertoni alongside Handel and Popora and Gluck.

Personally, the performances by Valer Sabadus are at the top of my list. Both the arias he performs here – by Jomelli and Gluck – were written for the same castrato, Felice Salimbeni and the demonstrate not only Sabadus’ technical virtuosity and his ability to deliver a beautifully sustained vocal line but also the warmth and depth of his voice. Jomelli’s Spezza lo stral piagato from Tito Manlio is a typical simile aria and perhaps also evidence of Jomelli’s more pioneering spirit in that the second section of the aria is simply an extension – but not a strict development – of opening material.

Non so frenare il pianto from Gluck’s Demetrio is more “pathetic” in mood. The composer fully deploys dissonance and rhythmic motifs to portray the grief and tears of the protagonist, above which Sabadus spins out the vocal line. The contrasting and faster mid-section remains in the minor key and only helps in reinforcing the tragedy befalling Demetrio before Sabadus’ ornamentation in the returning da capo ensures that this is one of the highlights of the entire disc.

Xavier Sabata more ‘earthy’ timbre is perfectly suited to O di spietati numi più spietato ministro! …Tu, spietato, non farai cader vittima from Popora’s Ifigenia , written for Senesino in London in direct competition with Handel. After a suitably dramatic accompagnato, the defiance of Tu, spietato with its combination of declamation, coloratura and unison passages is wonderfully depicted by Sabata. If you’ve heard Sabata in the latest recording of Tamerlano and his own recital disc of villains, then you will now Sabata is a Handelian par excellence. Otton, Otton, qual portentoso fulmine è questi? … Voi che udite il mio lamento is remarkable, considering Agrippina was one of Handel’s first operas, for the confidence of the writing and its emotional weight. The aria is an excellent example of Handel’s innate ability of portraying the protagonist’s emotional and psychological state of mind.

Max Emanuel Cencic gives us Galuppi and Bertoni. From Galuppi’s Penelope and performed in London he sings Telemacco’s aria A questa bianca mano, a well-crafted aria set apart by its somewhat memorable rhythmic accompaniment and scoring for oboe. If Addio, o miei sospire from Bertoni’s Tancredi sounds somewhat familiar then it’s because it is often accredited to Gluck and inserted in Orfeo ed Euridice. It’s a jolly aria and performed with panache – coloratura and all – by Cencic.

The final two countertenors of the quintet are unknown to me. Yuri Mynenko has a very pleasing timbre and zips through Handel’s Crude furie degl’ orridi abissi before delivering a very accomplished performance of Ch’io parta from JC Bach’s Temistocle. Its alternating passages underline how in 1772 the composer was experimenting with more traditional aria formats, and it’s also easy to hear the influence that Bach’s son had on a young Mozart and why the latter held him in such high esteem.

While listening to this disc with a friend, he referred to Vince Yi as a ‘male sopraniste’ rather than a countertenor. It’s a term I have heard in the past but not quite sure in what context. Yi effortlessly throws off the coloratura in Mysliviček’s Ti parli in seno amore and sails through Ah, non è ver, ben mio from Hasse’s Piramo e Tisbe but there is no denying that Yi has a very distinct timbre. It offers the same flexibility and agility but with its more reed-like tone, doesn’t offer the same depth and colour. However it just demonstrates the range of ‘types’ when it comes to countertenors and he is – without doubt and like his companions on the disc – a performer of musical intelligence.

Underpinning each performance is some superlative playing by Armonia Atenea, directed by George Petrou. This ensemble produce a rich and intense sound, full of rhythmic vitality and for once I admit I wish that perhaps a few overtures had been thrown into the recital so that we could hear the ensemble in their own right.

This is not only a refreshing album, but an album brimming with excellent – and individually distinctive – performances, full of vigour and a clear passion for the music itself.

Perhaps these six will perform at the opening ceremony in Russia in 2018?


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