|Gustavo Ahualli, Anna Tonna, Luiz Ottavio Faria, Lucy Arner, and Miguel Borrallo
At this point, dear reader, we have realized just how difficult it is to pull off a successful recital; furthermore we have learned how valuable it is to have a good theme. It was a brilliant idea to present arias from operas that were inspired by Spain, or located in Spain. Quick....how many can YOU name?
Last night, with the stunning Church of the Transfiguration providing an appropriate backdrop, we were treated to a satisfying survey of arias and ensembles drawn from some of these operas, sung by an experienced cast. At this level of singing our attention is drawn to interpretation and emotional content. If we see in our mind's eye an imaginary setting, or perhaps a remembered one, we know the singer is giving her/his all. Last night we heard just such a cast, accompanied by the excellent pianist Lucy Arner.
Ladies first! We have heard mezzo-soprano Anna Tonna many times and feel that this was the best we have ever heard. Perhaps there was something in the music that inspired her, just as the country of Spain inspired the composers.
She opened with what must be every mezzo's favorite aria, "Una voce poco fa" from Rossini's comic masterpiece Il barbiere di Siviglia. With a beautifully textured tone, Ms. Tonna used a variety of vocal colors to capture the nuances of a basically good young woman who is capable of all kinds of devious behavior to get her way. Ms. Tonna's embellishments to the vocal line were often incredibly inventive and illustrated Rosina's fiery temper. The gestures and facial expressions sprang directly from the text. Altogether a fine performance!
From Donizetti's La favorita, "Fia dunque e vero...Oh mio Fernando" was performed with dramatic recitativo and a lovely legato aria with a fiery cabaletta. We couldn't help but admire the secure placement of the voice. The purity of the vowels was ensured by an accurate embouchure. The sound of "maledetta, disperata" still rings in our ears. Povera donna!
If we had to name our top five favorite operas by Verdi, Don Carlo would surely be among them. We were fortunate to hear several selections which brought to mind the first time we saw the opera at the Metropolitan Opera with Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the role of Rodrigo, the Marquis de Posa.
Ms. Tonna sang Princess Eboli's Act II aria in the original French with a fine brightness of tone in the upper register and flights of fioritura. We detected a strong whiff of saffron in the melody.
The other selections from Don Carlo took up a major portion of the program. The male members of the cast were similarly excellent. It isn't often that we hear Verdian voices since we write mainly about singers at the beginning of their careers.
We always wonder how Verdi's music could make us feel pity for King Filippo who is a thoroughly reprehensible character. The performance of "Ella giammai m'amó" by bass Luiz Ottavio Faria accomplished just that as he realizes the wife he stole from his son (!) has never loved him. Faria's voice is authoritative and his delivery revealed a deep understanding of the text. To the credit of the accompanying pianist Lucy Arner, the theme was beautifully highlighted.
Argentinian baritone Gustavo Ahualli showed depth of tone and depth of feeling in his delivery of "Per me giunto", Rodrigo's aria of self-sacrifice. There was a great beauty of harmony in Mr. Ahualli's duet with tenor Miguel Borrallo "Dio che nell'alma infondere" in which they establish their loyalty and brotherhood. We'd call it perfect casting! Mr. Borrallo has a ringing tenor with lovely overtones.
Mr. Borrallo also had his special moments with other composers: from Mozart's Don Giovanni, we heard Don Ottavio's aria of devotion "Dalla sua pace" sung with tenderness. This artist utilizes dynamics to expressive ends; the messa di voce was more than admirable.
He also had a chance to exhibit his bel canto chops with one of the best arias in the tenor fach--Nemorino's showstopper "Una furtiva lagrima" from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'amore. There were a couple times we wished he would back off a bit at the upper register; we notice this a lot when tenors go for volume. Just in case you were wondering about the inclusion of this opera on the program, Mr. Borrallo assured us that the setting is the Basque part of Spain. We believe him!
"Lo vedremo, veglio audace" from Verdi's Ernani was introduced by a propulsive piano, after which baritone and tenor joined once more in gorgeous harmony. The entire company sang the ensemble from the finale of Act I and we wished that we knew the opera better. Mr. Faria's booming bass filled the sanctuary of the church with overtones in "Infelice tu credevi" and dug deeply into the sound at the lowest end of his register.
We enjoyed the trio from Donizetti's Don Sebastiano, although we know nothing about the opera. Ms. Tonna sang a phrase and then Mr. Borrallo and Mr. Ahualli joined in with harmony. We realize that our high estimation of Donizetti's artistry has been "kicked up a notch".
Finally, let us mention something about the Brazilian composer Antônio Carlos Gomes. We have heard excerpts from his opera Salvator Rosa but never heard the entire opera. The libretto is in Italian and the music is definitely worth a hearing. Thanks to Mr Faria we heard "Disposo di Padre", a gem indeed.
The program was presented by Centaurus Artes which showcases artists from Spain and Latin America.
© meche kroop