La Scena Musicale

Monday, July 6, 2009

Puccini: La rondine

Svetla Vassileva, (Magda); Maya Dashuk, (Lisette); Fabio Sartori, (Ruggero); Emanuele Giannino, (Prunier); Marzio Giossi, (Rambaldo)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Puccini Festival/Alberto Veronesi
Director: Lorenzo Amato
Naxos 2.110266 (110 min 54 s)
**** $$$
It’s good to have this performance, previously available as an expensive import on the Dynamic label, now on Naxos in Canada at more affordable prices. Dynamic specializes in live performances from Italian regional houses. While often not on the level of La Scala, these productions often have their special charm. This La Rondine comes from the 2007 Puccini Festival in Torre del Lago. Bulgarian soprano Svetla Vassilieva – the best-known singer here – is a good but not scintillating Magda, rather lean of voice and occasionally shrill at the top (incidentally, she was replaced in the recent La Scala I due Foscari by Quebec soprano Manon Feubel). Russian soprano Maya Dashuk is an unusually glamorous Lisette; tenor Emanuele Giannino sings a stylish Prunier. Even though he does not cut a romantic figure, the most outstanding is the ingratiating tenor of Fabio Sartori as Ruggero. Puccini wrote three versions of this opera, but producer Alberto Dellepiane could not resist tinkering with it. He combines parts of the first two versions with a 1994 orchestration by Lorenzo Ferrero in the finale of the third version, left unfinished by Puccini. The co-production with Opera de Nice has nice costumes and decent sets, except for the huge monochrome projections as backdrops. The endless ballet sequences with Broadway-style choreography and heightened eroticism in the background prove jarring in a period production, also hopelessly upstaging the singers. These quibbles aside, anyone who has seen the recent Met in HD production will find this Italian performance an interesting contrast.

- Joseph K. So

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Today's Birthday in Music: December 22 (Puccini)

1858 - Giacomo Puccini, Lucca, Italy; composer


Tito Gobbi and Maria Callas in the finale of Act 2 of Tosca (Covent Garden, 1964)

Renata Scotto sings "Quando m'en vo'" (Musetta's Waltz Song) from La Bohème (1982 Franco Zeffirelli Metropolitan Opera production; conductor James Levine)

"Gloria" from Messa di Gloria (Coro Rossini, Sassano, Sardinia)

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Puccini: Manon Lescaut

Karita Mattila, Marcello Giordani, Dwayne Croft, Dale Travis
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus / James Levine
EMI Classics 50999 2 17420 9 5 DVD (137 min)
***** $$$
This Manon Lescaut is Puccini at his verismo best. If you are a tenor fan, you’ll love Des Grieux’s four arias and the extended Art Two duet. But the centerpiece here is the great Karita Mattila as Manon Lescaut. A great Eva, Elsa, Jenufa, Katya, Elisabetta, Lisa, Tatyana, Arabella, Salome, and Leonore, Mattila is not an ideal Puccini singer, since her Nordic sound with its cool timbre and relatively "straight tone" is not suited to the "blood and guts" verismo genre. But she is quite wonderful here. Partnering her is Italian tenor Marcello Giordani as Des Grieux. Baritone Dwayne Croft is the callous brother Lescaut and character baritone Dale Travis is Geronte. This quarter-century-old production looks handsome if rather old fashioned. Large gestures in the theatre enable those sitting in the gallery to see what’s going on and heavy make-up prevents the singers' faces from looking washed out. However, such exaggerated acting and heavy make-up have been toned down for the telecast. At 47, Mattila still looks youthful, but there is no point in pretending that she is the embodiment of the teenage Manon, especially when closeups are so unforgiving. Her two high Cs and loads of Bs are thrilling; less attractive are her weak middle and lower registers. Her Manon is dramatically nuanced, vulnerable and sympathetic. As Des Grieux, Giordani sings with a secure top and is suitably ardent, but he looks a bit mature. Act One is always a bit slow, but by the last two acts, Mattila and Giordani burn up the stage. American baritone Dwyane Croft is good if a little anonymous in the rather thankless role of Lescaut. Dale Travis is excellent as Geronte. Not exactly a Puccini conductor, James Levine surprises everyone with his passionate and involved conducting in an opera he has not touched in twenty years, drawing torrents of sound from the orchestra at the climaxes. Perhaps not a Manon Lescaut for the ages, but overall a satisfying performance.

- Joseph K. So

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