One of the highlights of the operatic season was the Collegiate Chorale’s
concert performance of Verdi’s La Forza del Destino at Carnegie Hall on
Jan. 23, 2003. Opera buffs and industry types (including Metropolitan
Opera boss Joe Volpe, and reportedly Placido Domingo and Martina Arroyo)
were out in force to hear Italian tenor Salvatore Licitra, who famously
replaced Pavarotti in Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera last spring. Since
then he has been hyped as The Next Big Thing by his record company (Sony),
though his debut CD was a disappointment.
good news is that Licitra (photo left) is better live than on disc. He
has a very powerful, natural-sounding voice produced without much apparent
effort. His range is not immense and like Domingo his timbre is baritonal,
without the ringing top notes that Pavarotti had in his youth (and that
were standard in the great tenors of yore). There is a definite ceiling
to his voice. Instead of singing the highest notes, he just sings louder
and constricts his sound, a trick that “represents” the high note. This
trickery is standard today, since tenors are in short supply.
Aesthetically, Licitra’s voice is pleasant to hear and sounds natural,
with some velvet and a few rays of sunshine. Physically, he is of medium
height, stout, but not fat. He projects energy, virility and confidence.
No question he would be a valuable addition to any opera house, including
African-American baritone Mark Rucker was an audience favorite. His Don
Carlo was on the light side but tastefully sung.
The plump mezzo Marianne Cornetti brought a medium-weight, plush voice
and winning personality to the role of Preziosilla.
Veteran bass Simon Estes replaced Julian Konstantinov as Padre Guardiano.
Well into his 60s, Estes sounded good for his age though as a last minute
replacement he stuck close to his score and made a few mistakes.
Bass Paul Plishka's voice has begun to tremble in the last few years but
he is a consummate actor and has Friar Melitone’s comic moves down pat.
Maria Guleghina (photo left) is strikingly pretty, has an impressive technique,
and a remarkable dramatic instrument. But she sang Leonore with more force
than subtlety, as if inside Miss Calatrava there was a Lady MacBeth trying
to get out. One recalled with nostalgia Leontyne Price’s warm, sympathetic
tone and soft feminine pathos in this role.
The performance was almost uncut and ran for four hours. The Orchestra
of St. Lukes under Robert Bass gave a dramatic and nuanced reading of
the score though there were false notes from a cello and a clarinet. The
Collegiate Chorale sang with spirit and power.
Reviews were very positive. New York magazine called the show "a
small miracle." Newsday called it “incandescent” and lauded everyone
involved. The New York Times was generally positive, while noting vocal
limitations in Guleghina and Licitra. The Associated Press judged the
performance “a far more compelling Forza than the Met has been able to
muster in years.”
> Collegiate Chorale