Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Fat Lady Sings

Last night I saw the last of the operas in my series at Opera Boston. I was not overwhelmed. Don't get me wrong. It wasn't terrible, it just wasn't very exciting either.

The production was Ernani. Not one of Verdi's strongest operas and while a good fair few of Verdi's opus has holes in the plot that you could drive a train through, quite often you don't mind because the music is so gorgeous and if well sung make for a compelling if incomprehensible evening. But as the late Anna Russell once said, "It doesn't have to make sense, as long as you sing it!"

The production itself was quite handsome and rather elaborate by the standards of Opera Boston. They are saddled with a stage that is the size of a postage stamp, and in the past have made the most of it with inventive sets and lighting.

Last night was an attempt at a much more traditional production and while well executed managed to fail to dazzle. The costumes were beautiful, but once again seemed to be just standard operatic furniture.

I won't go into the lighting, since it managed to simply be unnoticeable which far from a condemnation means only that is was workmanlike and adequate to it's purpose.

Musically? Praise where praise is due. Gil Rose is a talented conductor and the orchestra played beautifully and the chorus of Opera Boston put in a superb performance throughout. I was impressed from the moment that the troup of bandits began and was impressed with the quality of the singing. Verdi's chorus work is beautiful and the ladies and gentlemen of the chorus did the music justice.

However the principals are another matter. Ernani, (Eduardo Villa) got in trouble pretty much straight out of the gate. He started off his opening aria with a great deal of strength, but half way in started to wobble here and there. He has a very pleasing tenor, but may have been having an off night because throughout the evening I failed to get a sense of confidence in his voice. I was a little disappointed, not because the singing was over all terrible, but because there were moments of truly wonderful singing that were spoiled by other moments of lack of vocal control.

Elvira sung by a local girl, Barbara Quintilliani sang well and if she had a rather lackluster start continued to grow vocally as the evening progressed. She really does have a good voice and technically I can not find any fault in her singing. As I said, her performance grew as the evening progressed and rose above mere technique and leant some emotion and verve to what is really not a terrifically good role. What after all is she to do with a character that has been written so one dimensionally and really is only a vehicle for Verdi's early attempt at a star crossed heroine? Whatever else, Verdi's music is vocally very challenging and Quintilliani was more than equal to it. I think I would enjoy hearing her in a better role where she would be able to express a better defined character and be given the full range for emotion that I was only able to get hints of.

The baritone roles of Don Carlo (Jason Stearns) and Don Silva (Young-Bok Kim) were probably for me the most..... not mediocre, lets just say, uninspired of the evening. In all fairness, the character of Don Carlo is a continuous contradiction. One moment he is overwhelmed with jealousy for Elvira's love for Ernani, the next he is all noble forgiveness, the next he is plotting to steal Elvira from Don Silva, the aging nobleman who is scheduled to marry our hapless heroine. It may be too much to ask of any actor to try and create a consistent performance for a character who seems to be suffering from multiple personality disorder.

Don Silva is probably a more comprehensible character, he seems to have 2 motives, lust for Elvira and hatred towards his rivals, Ernani and Don Carlo. Yet, I never got the sense of this bitter old man from Mr. Kim.

Add to this mix, the rather unfortunate choice in translation that was projected on the proscenium and it made for a rather more humorous evening than one usually associates with grand guignol opera. Some, what one would hope were, inadvertent double entendre as well as unintentionally funny lines caused a certain amount of tittering from the audience. In a way, it may have added a level of enjoyment to the evening.

On the whole, I have to say I'm pleased with Opera Boston. Enough so that I will be going to next years series. They choose interesting material. I can't help but admire the way they are able to work to such great effect with the limitations of their home at the Cutler Majestic. They also seem to have the chops to bring in some real talent, be it someone like Dawn Upshaw, or some new and coming talent. Next years series which is comprised of "Der Freischutz", "The Nose" and "The Bartered Bride" all look interesting. Some of this seems to be rubbing off on Lyric Opera, which will be producing "Tales of Hoffman", Hansel and Gretel" and "Don Giovanni".

Next year should be an interesting opera season here in the provinces, so you might be getting more opera reportage out of my in '08-'09. I know Cowbell and RG can hardly wait.