Deutsche Oper Berlin:”Il Trovatore”

Berlino, Deutsche Oper, Stagione Lirica 2011/2012
Dramma in quattro parti di Salvatore Cammarano, da dramma El Trovador di Antonio Garcìa-Gutiérrez
Musica di Giuseppe Verdi
Edizioni Universal Music Publishing Ricordi srl, Milano
Un Vecchio Zingaro TOBIAS KEHRER
Coro  e Orchestra della Deutsche Oper Berlin
Direttore Andrea Battistoni
Maestro del Coro William Spaulding
Esecuzione in forma di concerto
Berlino, 6 giugno 2012
Like Il Trovatore itself, the new and the old met onstage at the Deutsche Oper Berlin June 6, with some spectacular and many exciting results. Straddling old forms with new vocal expression, this opera has set the standard for great singing and expression for generations, so when the Deutsche Oper Berlin presents a concert version it’s an opportunity to hear how some of today’s top talent measures up. As luck would have it this comparison was made concrete by the replacement of Stephanie Blythe by Dolora Zajick, so the audience could directly experience an absolute premiere Azucena still going strong from the last generation with todays singers.
Also among the new was the young conductor, Andrea Battistoni, The powerful Deutsche Oper Orchestra followed his fast, at times driven tempi, but this technically accomplished conductor always kept control, and the strings delivered some remarkable passages. Born the same year Ms. Zajick made her San Francisco debut, Battistoni also demanded extreme piani and mostly got them to great effect. The chorus distinguished itself at the end of a strong Anvil Chorus, when standing onstage they brilliantly imitated the usual exit and fading offstage singing with marvelously executed diminuendi. The extreme dynamics were harder to bring off for the a cappella entrances which were a bit shaky, but the effect were well worth the effort. Unable to distinguish between the bad and the new, the usual coterie of conductor boo-birds was stronger and less justified than usual.   While the old fashioned dramatic structure makes the opera hard to follow, the old fashioned musical structure makes singers easier to judge and enjoy. Not only does the recit-aria-cabaletta form show different kinds of singing in one scene, they have to repeat the feat later and in other ways.
The Croatian Bass-baritone Marko Mimica shares more than just a birth-year with tonights gifted conductor. He too showed a musical and technical accomplishment remarkable for his age. Although the voice sounded overproduced in the opening, he excellently managed the tessitura and the fioratura which so often confound more experienced singers.  More natural, ringing and full in the opening of Act III, his Italian while not native was absolutely spot on in the treacherous parlando phrases which follow in the later trio. This is a new talent  with great potential.
But Il Trovatore does not rise or fall on Ferrando. The drama both onstage and for opera fans really begins with Leonora’s entrance. Opera fans and sopranos alike can’t help but hark back to names like Renata, Leontyne, Rosa or Maria. Introduced by a nervous sounding Jana Kurucova as Inez, Anja HarterosTacea la notte seemed to go from one effect to another-here a piano, there a Leontyne-and lacked line, content and ultimately affect. Fortunately, as demanding as Mr. Verdi is, he is very generous, and Ms Harteros took full advantage of her second chance and delivered a superbly sung ‘D’amor sull’ale rose’, with a long sustained C# and moving phrasing throughout. Not the richest of voice the low starting range and the high extension suited her and she could be herself and have a huge success.
As Luna, Dalibor Jenis lacked the last degree of size or vocal clout required of the great Verdi baritones. ‘Il balen‘ requires so much expression in the middle voice which he simply did not have the means to deliver. Good long high notes could not compensate for this, and he was not heard well in the cabaletta. An attractive voice and a good singer, he also lacked the vocal authority required in the Third Act to command Azucena in the trio.  Stuart Neill may have the high C of his generation, and for a successful Manrico that is all that matters. His voice is truly at home above the staff, but handsome throughout. Many Manricos either sing a great Ah si, ben mio, or a great ‘di quella pira‘ and Mr. Neill was no exception. The voice has a lovely color for the aria, but it lacked sweep and never came close to ravishing. The passagio was squeezed at times  and his solutions, while they worked, distracted. Mr. Neill used half-voice singing to good effect at the end of the recitative preceding the aria, but in the aria and particularly the brief duet afterwards they were affected and off the voice. His stretta, with the repeat, ended with a spectacularly solid and long high C.
Dolora Zajick has been famed for her Azucena since she first sang it in 1987, and with good reason. On top and at the bottom, where Azucena must make her most important points, she is stunning. There is probably no one today with such a chest voice, and while she can power her high notes to fabulous effect, she also started her high C in the cadenza of her early duet with Manrico as a piano and crescendoed. She uses her vocal powers in diverse and often subtle ways to suit the character. Her Azucena makes remarkable sense (for a madwoman) from start to finish, and perhaps no other mezzo has drilled Di Luna more intensely with the usually thrown away ‘egli era tuo fratello’. Her fiery “sei vendicata, mia madre” was not just a triumph of sound, it was the triumph of the character. It illuminated the evening and the entire opera. The power and presence of her low and high give us a standard by which to measure, and in this respect Ms. Zajick was in a class by herself, but it was not only with decibels that she set a standard. Her middle register does not have nearly as much power, yet in this register she showed that a singer is not just a voice. Answering Mr. Neill’s half-voice piani in the Act IV duet  she matched and then literally sang circles around them,  crescendoing seamlessly to full voice and back again in the span of a short phrase.  A very exciting performance, in which every major character had their moments, but only one had the evening.