It got an endless ovation. It was an exceptionally fine piece of singing, but embedded as it was in a production with no other distractions, how could it not? This was your Platonic ideal of Wiener Staatsoper repertory performances: an adored star surrounded by solid but unexceptional ensemble costars, all engaging in well-worn dramatic shtick on a set that is older than any of them. The only exception was that your average rep night has rather fewer stage-orchestra train wrecks than this one did.
Donizetti, L’elisir d’amore. Wiener Staatsoper, 29/10/10. Production “after” Otto Schenk with sets by Jürgen Rose. Conducted by Yves Abel with Juan Diego Flórez (Nemorino), Sylvia Schwartz (Adina), Tae Joong Yang (Belcore), Lars Woldt (Dulcamara), Anita Hartig (Giannetta)
So far, so repertory. The attraction here was the Nemorino of the Flórez. I’m usually nuts for him, but he really rubbed me the wrong way in this. Nemorino's music gives him little space to display his virtuoso technique and high notes, leaving him to get by on his lyricism and charm alone. His singing is musically unimpeachable, but the tone is a bit narrow and nasal for the role. He can fill a performance with clever stage business, but it doesn’t really cohere into a character.
Absent his dazzling coloratura, I actually found him kind of smug and annoying. His charm is indeed plentiful, and bowled the rest of the audience over, but he seemed to know exactly how good he is, and that’s never attractive. It’s particularly not good when you’re playing a simple and sincere soul like Nemorino--tellingly, only Nemorino’s elixir-smashed confidence actually worked. What the hell am I asking for, I know! But the most sympathetic performances have a sort of generosity to them, and I found that absent here.
He did encore the aria, though. Of course.
|Yes, that's La Netrebka. Only picture I could find, sorry!|
Tae Joong Yang has a strong and noble baritone voice, but seemed to force unnecessarily both vocally and dramatically; his Belcore scored on pomposity but could have used more suavity. Lars Woldt was miscast as Dulcamara, with a fine voice but without the velocity to make the patter roll. Anita Hartig’s warm voice seemed overqualified for Giannetta.
Now for the biggest problem of the evening: the conducting. I have rarely heard such a messy performance. Yves Abel chose perfectly conventional tempos but nearly every number featured major coordination problems between orchestra and stage, including losing the entire soprano section in the Dulcamara entrance chorus, losing both tenor and soprano towards the end of the concertante Act 1 finale, and many, many places where the singers were a beat or two off from the orchestra. Recitatives featured odd pauses. It was BAD. That’s the only way to put it.
Lots of enthusiastic applause from everyone in the audience, though. Now I remember why I avoid these tourist-magnet repertory productions. I think I have discovered the proper place for that irritating word Startenor, though.
This was the final performance with Juan Diego but the opera marches on with various other casts later this season. This production can also be seen on DVD with Netrebko and Villazón in excellent form. However, my favorite Elisir remains the one with Alagna and Gheorghiu--cute 1920's setting and he’s got that sweet stupidity, she’s got that bitchiness.
This was part 2.1 of my newly-discovered series Operas I See in Both Vienna and Munich that the Bayerische Staatsoper Does More Weirdly. Meaning I’m going to see the notorious “underpants Elisir” with Calleja in Munich in January.
Photos copyright Wiener Staatsoper.