Another confirmation of Anja Harteros as the greatest Verdian soprano alive. Her interpretation in Un ballo in maschera in Munich has been legendary. Starting with the first notes, she gave life to a wonderful Amelia. Her two great arias were magnificent, a super-human legato and a marvelous voice.
Some details: Deh mi reggi, m’aita, Signor in one breath, as it should be, and too often is not (looking at you in the afterlife, Maria Callas). The slight sob in the voice in the phrase l’unico figlio mio breaks your heart. The high notes are absolutely solid, with a ringing quality, with a vibrato which goes down your veins. The recitativi are well thought, emotional and reasoned, la parola in musica. Who says this woman does not have an Italian voice? I’ve never heard a more Italian voice than hers. Wonderful, superb Harteros, please keep singing Verdi, you sound amazing in Verdi! Thank you!
The production was one of the ugliest and more meaningless that I have ever seen in my life. The whole opera takes place in a bedroom, with a gigantic bed in the middle of the stage, and an enormous spiral staircase around the scene, on which the characters go up and down. This might have made sense in the first scene, but it becomes completely not understandable during the second, which should be in Ulrica’s cavern. Moreover, for some reason, during the whole Ulrica scene the chorus is off stage, so almost impossible to hear. The Count arrives and some voices off-stage command “stay back, you lout!” Totally absurd. It gets even worse when the action should move to the cemetery, where Amelia should collect the herb that would cleanse her heart from the insane love for Riccardo. Here the bed is Renato and Amelia’s who are husband and wife, and sleep in it together. Amelia wakes up, and sings the whole aria in her bedroom, in her pajamas. Riccardo arrives (in their bedroom?!?), the love duet follows, then Renato wakes up and Riccardo asks him “you, here?” (tu qui?) For Christ’s sake, it’s HIS bedroom, what are YOU doing there, rather?!? Renato warns him of the plot to murder him, Riccardo leaves, and here comes the whole male chorus (in Amelia and Renato’s bedroom, in case you forgot) and the whole scene follows. An ugly, meaningless, idiotic thing.
The orchestra, directed by Daniele Callegari, did their job, even if, as usual, I was not impressed. I read many reviews where people complained that the orchestra was “too loud”, but I think the problem was different. The scenery was a couple of meters inside the edge of the stage, and, moreover, it provided no support on the back; so the singers were always at least 4 or 5 meters inside, and they had nothing at their back to help them reflect the sound forward, hence they could not be heard as easily. It wasn’t the orchestra that played too loud, it was the absurd scenery that didn’t help singers, nor the music. Bah.
Riccardo was the tenor Piotr Beczala, who screams a bit. His voice is big and nice, actually, he as a very good passaggio, but his technique does not convince me. Every high note is a gamble, you have the feeling he’ll get it wrong. As a matter of fact, his voice cracked on two big high notes, at the beginning and at the end. No big deal, it happens, but in my opinion Beczala does something wrong. When his voice doesn’t crack it is very pleasant, but something is wrong.
Renato was Franco Vassallo, a real Italian singers, for good and for bad. For good, because he sings with a great canto spianato, a beautiful legato, and very emotional and “spoken” recitativi. When his wife removes her veil (which is actually a curtain, in this crazy production) to avoid the duel with the plotters, and he realizes that the woman Riccardo was meeting in the middle of the night was actually his wife, his “Amelia!” was wonderful, it froze the blood in my veins. For bad, because he actively looks for applause (and finds it, because he’s very good), he’s a bit of a show-off. He’s very good anyway, great voice and great technique.
An amazing Okka von der Damerau was Ulrica, with a loud, big, smooth voice, she gave me goosebumps. Her voice is NOT Slavic, but a real contralto, non-metallic, deep and really enjoyable. She has a great passaggio (often deep altos have problem in their passaggio, but not Okka) and a very good stage presence. She was on stage all the time, the idea (I guess) being that she was the author of everybody’s fate.
The Russian singer Sofia Fomina was Oscar. Her body does not help her, because she’s all-woman, with all the curves in the right places, so not very credible as a “page”. But she played the part very well, and in the end her character came out. The voice is beautiful, crystal clear as it should be, maybe not very personable.
All in all, I would have preferred a concert version. Again.