Posts Tagged ‘Michele Pertusi’

Mariotti Cheers Up Bologna

Friday, March 25th, 2016

Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Attila, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Michele Mariotti

Published: March 25, 2016

BOLOGNA — Two years ago all was bleak in music circles here. Orchestra Mozart had folded. Claudio Abbado died. Teatro Comunale lumbered toward a fiscal guillotine mandated by the government. Now, the sun is back, much of it radiating from the reorganized opera house where Nicola Sani holds sway as sovrintendente. Certain theater functions have been outsourced, yet Sani retains his unions’ visible cooperation. The nation, the region and the comune (900 years old this year) underwrite his artistic program, as do private firms, starting with Bologna-born Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A., which parks a silver specimen in the foyer (called Foyer Respighi after the native composer, not Foyer Lamborghini). House income and expenses are perusable online. Tickets are affordable. An intermission glass of water (in a glass) costs 50 euro cents, the fresh torta di mele two euros. Not surprisingly Teatro Comunale is constantly full, its cheerful buzz spilling out onto Piazza Verdi and into the adjacent student-frequented cafés; any student can attend, and everyone knows it. Opera crowds, young and old, dress with a kind of sloppy elegance, as if perfect colors and fabrics chose themselves, but the listening is attentive — which is just as well because Sani offers two aces: direttore musicale Michele Mariotti, probably the most “complete” young Italian conductor around, and maestro del coro Andrea Faidutti, builder of an outstanding, musically alert team. For this season’s Attila (heard and seen Jan. 30 and 31) and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (Feb. 7) both were busy.

Newly staged by Daniele Abbado and co-produced with Teatro Massimo di Palermo and Teatro La Fenice di Venezia, the Verdi unfolded amid gloomy gray panels depicting nothing much, its action scheme stand-and-sing. Two quartets of principal singers enabled seven performances here in nine days, the first one (Jan. 23) televised by RAI. On Jan. 30, Stefanna Kybalova sang an agile, powerful Odabella; Giuseppe Gipali phrased Foresto’s music handsomely, though his voice went to the sides, not forward; and Gezim Myshketa intoned incisively as Ezio. Riccardo Zanellato’s obsessive invader sounded remarkably smooth and warm, with plenty of capacity; acting is not his strong suit. The next night the cast of the prima returned, except that Ildebrando d’Arcangelo’s dramatically vivid, but in the long lines unsteady, Attila did not make it past the Prologue. Jumping in, Zanellato this time moved and sang a little more wildly in his portrayal, without loss of vocal opulence. Maria José Siri’s Odabella had expressive power and a degree of magnetism, while Fabio Sartori’s awkward, rotund Foresto dealt only in f, ff and fff. The Jan. 31 Ezio proved especially fine, singing with imagination and reserves of power; Simone Piazzola is the name. Mariotti presided over a somewhat undersized string section, so that the score’s cantabile qualities were impaired. (Attila is at least his fourth Verdi opera, after Simon Boccanegra, Rigoletto and Nabucco, and this month he adds I due Foscari in Milan.) But his reading had conviction and sweep, and on both evenings he and the orchestra — more than any cast member — drew the loudest, longest applause.

If anything, Mariotti had more to say about Beethoven’s symphony. Conducting with a concern for lyricism that never softened the rhetoric, he drew virtuosic work from the Orchestra del Teatro Comunale strings and, as in Schubert and Mendelssohn last year, picked out just the right details to create a beautiful and cogent interpretation. Upshot: rhythmic applause, foot-stomping, smiles all round. At 68 minutes with brief pauses, Mariotti’s Nona was neither fast nor slow but merely the sum of apparently artlessly judged tempos. The first movement’s turbulent exchanges emerged in plain relief despite intermittent problems in the winds. The conductor sprang the Scherzo’s rhythms emphatically, playing up contrasts and accentuating colors. He ennobled the third movement on pastoral, not grandiose, terms, drawing attention to collateral ideas. Through the last movement, he kept a steady momentum without slighting the episodic drama or exaggerating one dimension at the expense of another. Faidutti’s choristers projected forcefully into the comfortable 1,034-seat house, but their work also had precision and plenty of shading, in discernible German. Vocal soloists Carmela Remigio, Veronica Simeoni, Michael Schade and Michele Pertusi neatly complemented their colleagues.

Photos © Rocco Casaluci (Attila), Michele Lapini (Beethoven concert), Teatro Comunale di Bologna (Piazza Verdi)

Related posts:
Mariotti North of the Alps
Parsifal the Environmentalist
MKO Powers Up
Carydis Woos Bamberg
Time for Schwetzingen

Nitrates In the Canapés

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

Karl-Böhm-Saal, a refreshment hall for Salzburg’s Felsenreitschule and Haus für Mozart performance venues

Published: August 27, 2015

SALZBURG — Two beggars sat on either side of the entrance to the Haus für Mozart Aug. 6 as attendees arrived for Norma. As if this was not alarming enough — and it disturbed one’s thoughts more than the tense Résistance staging of Bellini’s opera inside — another two panhandlers were positioned with military discipline at the Kollegienkirche’s door the next evening for the Klangforum Wien concert. And on Aug. 8, before Il trovatore, three beggars zigzagged back and forth between guarded entrances of the Großes Festspielhaus seemingly worried that they could not proceed with their assigned jobs — for these were E.U. citizens dispatched by predatory gangs from Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary, if media reports* are to be believed. Nowhere did the police intercept.

Gyrating in his nearby grave was Herbert von Karajan, the Salzburg maestro who ran the Salzburg Festival adroitly from 1956 to 1989. He liked his gypsies on stage, not on the steps. He continues to fret about his city as local people exile themselves to the suburbs, locally owned businesses die out, historic dwellings are gutted. Having launched two of the four classical-music fairs here, the Salzburg Easter Festival (in 1967) and the Whitsun Concerts (1973), he senses a certain festival fatigue now, with music visitors present eleven weeks of the year. And from Anif cemetery he projects his horror at the main festival’s fuzzy sense of mission and the preservatives lacing its corporate food.

Bärenreiter’s critical edition of Norma relates the tragedia lirica snugly with the rest of Bellini’s output, notably I Capuleti e i Montecchi. On the evidence of this performance — a revival of Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser’s May 2013 staging conducted by Giovanni Antonini — it is a swifter, more emotionally direct opera than known in the 20th century, with barer dynamic contrasts, airier textures, incisive choruses and instrumental vibrancy. Its melodies sound more articulate now that they are less dilated, its ornaments more germane. It wants a bright voice for Adalgisa, rationally, and an agile Pollione. The title role is exacting but no sui generis few can sing. Credit the curators. Maurizio Biondi initiated work from the autograph score for Parma performances in 2001 conducted by his brother Fabio; Riccardo Minasi, himself a conductor, furthered the effort for 2010 concerts in Dortmund led by Thomas Hengelbrock.

Already fluent in this version, Antonini brought tautness to Bellini’s lines no matter the tempo or expressive purpose. Lyrical charm flexibly balanced urgency. His cast — the same principals as for Hengelbrock, who left the Norma project before Decca began its related studio recording in 2011 — apparently shared his enthusiasm. Cecilia Bartoli stalked the boards as a priestess and mother possessed (in a production that trades devotion and sacrifice for World War II realism and madness), her long lines and embellishments articulated and colored to keen dramatic effect. Rebeca Olvera portrayed the torn Adalgisa with tender tones and skilled musicianship, partnering Bartoli precisely. John Osborn managed the awkward musical and theatrical chores of Pollione with fluency, almost garnering sympathy, while Michele Pertusi made a dull, unexpectedly suave Oroveso. The Coro della Radio-Televisione Svizzera (from Lugano) and period-instrument Orchestra La Scintilla (based in Zurich) supplied due degrees of vigor, fury and reflection.

Rewards at the Kollegienkirche (Aug. 7) lessened as the music got newer. Sylvain Cambreling on the podium coaxed precise yet nuanced sonorities in Boulez’s orderly cantata Le marteau sans maître (1955), smoothing the handovers of the vocal and instrumental strands and validating the “fertilizer” role of Char’s bitty poems. Hilary Summers’ confident contralto injected spontaneity. Still a functioning church, the lofty space tended to open up Klangforum Wien’s neatly delivered textures, a flattering effect that also helped Olga Neuwirth’s Lonicera caprifolium (Goat-Leaf Honeysuckle) after the break. This haunting 1993 piece for ensemble and audiotape deploys its forces sparingly to spin a distanced, hollowed plaint.

Then came the same composer’s Eleanor in its world premiere. A reduction in suite form of her disliked American Lulu venture of 2011, it promised to distill that work’s strongest ideas via blues singer (Della Miles), drummer (Tyshawn Sorey), ensemble and taped samples. What emerged was a formally hideous anthem to the bravery in political protest, a coarse Neo-Expressionist collage of fragmentary musical and non-musical material awkwardly scored. Sticking out like dusty saucers glued to a Schnabel canvas were Martin Luther King snippets, stale and mournfully unimposing. (Rebecca Schmid has fuller observations.)

Alvis Hermanis’ staging of Il trovatore, from 2014, places the action in the galleries of an art museum energized in reds and enlivened with sliding tableaux. It advances ably enough in Parts I and II of the opera but then, like Olivier Py’s production in Munich, runs out of ideas. There were reassignments this year. Gianandrea Noseda took over the conducting; Ekaterina Semenchuk and Artur Ruciński essayed Azucena and di Luna. Noseda insisted on an outsize orchestral sound, from an eager Vienna Philharmonic, but paid little attention to shaping and informing Verdi’s phrases, at cost to the whole work. Semenchuk sang in lucid Italian with power, expressive control, and theatrical zeal, and just about stole the show. Ruciński produced handsome legato lines, giving full value to notes. He also served as a smart foil to the Leonora, Anna Netrebko, who reprised her warm portrayal. Francesco Meli returned as the capable, not so memorable Manrico. Adrian Sâmpetrean made a clarion Ferrando. The night went sloppily, though, for the Vienna State Opera Chorus, muddying Cammarano’s words.

Perhaps it was the beggars, but this visit has underlined a number of maladies at today’s Salzburg Festival. Politicians run things now. They use proxy managers whose skills center on balancing the books and appeasing conglomerate sponsors — not exactly what Hofmannsthal, Reinhardt, Roller, Schalk and Strauss had in mind. There is no Intendant, or artistic director, this year or next. (The last one, Alexander Pereira, was ousted for having too robust a vision; Markus Hinterhäuser acquires the title in 2017, but he served in the artistically dithering regimes that preceded Pereira’s tenure.) Old formulas are being followed for programming, without a demonstrated understanding of why. The last innovation was the Ouverture spirituelle, back in 2012. Perforce we have seen a weakening in chamber music, a sharp cut in new opera stagings, a thinned, disjointed Ouverture spirituelle, and a miscellany of star-driven programs where there should be focus and mission.

If the institution looks half-detached from its artistic origins, it is fully so from local citizens, who operate, whether farming families or blue-collar workers, at some remove from the city center. Festival catering is emblematic. Conglomerates, not Salzburgers, decide the beverages, the appetizers, the employment contracts, the terms of service — all the while claiming sponsor privileges and bragging of “social responsibility.” A 1-fl-oz ristretto costs €3. Chewy-bread gravlax canapés under nitrate-laced dill sauce are €7.20 a pair. In nearby Munich, where labor costs are higher, vying local caterers offer pure-ingredient fare for reasonable prices, and less recognition.

Some issues run deeper. Locally owned storefronts that forty years ago proudly displayed festival posters, leaflets, mementos and trinkets are now scarcely to be found. A beloved antiquariat vanishes, an Intimissimi opens for business. No large inn remains that is both of the town and independent. Austrian law, protecting building façades not structures, has allowed corporate vandals to rip out the staircases, inner walls and woodwork of a historic block of houses below the Kapuzinerberg to make way for the conforming spaces and plastic fittings of a chain hotel. Festivalgoers’ alienation mounts on the streets, where hoards of tourists from nations that supply the West’s fuel and factory goods now roam in packs, with prams, sticks, mobile devices and religious garb, oblivious to the city’s Roman Catholic roots and its place in music, never mind the goings-on on Hofstallgasse. Only Prague has it worse as a real-life theme park.

Detached and alienated of course is how the beggars feel. So what would Karajan do? He would press the politicians to tighten the laws. He would identify and demand remedies for the harm to the festival within the powers of the city. He would partner with the few local food businesses persevering in the center — Schatz Konditorei, Café Tomaselli, Zum fidelen Affen, a couple of brasseries off the Kaigasse. When he ran the festival, he lured sponsors even as he navigated the artistic direction, and driving Volkswagen’s Scirocco never meant betraying Salzburg’s interests.

[*Nine O’Clock: “Highly irritated by a large number of Romanian beggars taking over … , local authorities have initiated a large-scale operation … . Salzburg media [quoted Mayor Harald Preuner] as saying ‘these people do look for sympathy, but helping them would mean supplying all sorts of mobsters, because the cash does not get to the beggar.’” The Local: “At present, police … have very little power to stop organized begging. … Begging was a central theme in Salzburg’s local election campaign.” “At peak times, around 150 beggars per day have been counted in the center of Salzburg.” UPDATE, The Telegraph (May 25, 2016): “Salzburg banned begging on most of its streets on Wednesday. The ban comes just days after a court overturned fines imposed on four people by the Salzburg police for ‘aggressive begging’ because they said ‘please’ to passersby.”]

Photo © Tourismus Salzburg

Related posts:
Salzburg Coda
Netrebko, Barcellona in Aida
Mozartwoche: January’s Peace
Horses for Mozartwoche
Bartoli’s Scot-Themed Whitsun

Muti Taps the Liturgy

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Precious mosaics above the apse of the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna, consecrated in AD 547

Published: January 8, 2013

RAVENNA — Sacred music has lent gravitas to Riccardo Muti’s career since the 1960s. Settings of the Ordinary and the burial service by Bach, Mozart, Cherubini, Schubert, Berlioz, Brahms and Verdi have drawn his attention and received, more often than not, a disciplined performance.

No, this is not the repertory that leaps to mind when discussing the maestro from Molfetta. The operas of Verdi come first, and peer names like Arturo Toscanini, Herbert von Karajan and Claudio Abbado are soon raised. Muti the Verdian enjoys high standing — so high that he will be valued long after his own burial service for a trove of Verdi readings wider than Abbado’s, more eloquent than Karajan’s and better sung than Toscanini’s. (In context, it is worth hoping that his new biography of the composer will offer greater insight than his patchy 2010 autobiography.)

But music for the church points to the heart of this artist more directly than any opera. Where Abbado sees himself as a gardener, Muti’s alter ego is equipped as historian. Muti studies and diligently performs Mass settings — and antiphons, canticles, hymns and oratorios — out of a perceptive sense of their place in history, in a composer’s output, in the genesis of compositional technique and thought.

The effort is somewhat thankless. Sacred scores, particularly whole services, lack sway in a secular society and often lack musical balance too because of the characteristics of the liturgical sections. Many are front-loaded by a euphoric Gloria. Most end soberly, Haydn’s Paukenmesse being an exception to prove the rule. An established conductor who is not a choral conductor needs no Mass setting to boost his reputation, impress authenticists, sell tickets or oblige a record company. Yet Muti has forged ahead, Pimen-like, documenting scores others have not deigned to read. In one championing example, he has chronicled in sound no fewer than seven services by Cherubini.

In 2012–13 three sacred-music projects occupy him. Last August with the Vienna Philharmonic he persuasively reasserted his advocacy of Berlioz’s flamboyant, long-mislaid Messe solennelle, which he sees as a tribute to Cherubini, and this April in Chicago he revisits Bach’s B-Minor Mass.

Three weeks ago in Munich came Schubert’s A-Flat service, a non-commission from 1822 (D678). The songsmith struggled with its form. He did not follow early polyphonic precedent in imposing thematic unity; did not enjoy Bach’s or Haydn’s flair for satisfying church provisos while enhancing structure; did not write his own rules as would Berlioz and Verdi. Five handsome musico-liturgical sections were the result. A serene Kyrie and a radiant Agnus Dei, each with inventive, contrasting subsections. A protracted and prodigious, finally portentous, Gloria. A Credo that covers its narrative ground with storyteller fluency. A pastel-pretty Sanctus sequence. Call them Mass movements in search of containment.

Undeterred by the implicit challenge, Muti for his Dec. 20 concert with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra chose an 1826 revision that caps the Gloria with a bulky fugue, for Cum Sancto Spiritu. He made no attempt to harness Schubert’s ideas: sectional detachment and stylistic incongruities spoke for themselves, often elegantly.

Vocal and instrumental forces cooperated under tight reign, temporal more than dynamic. The BR Chor sang with customary refinement, applying Teutonic conventions in the Latin text. Ruth Ziesak and Michele Pertusi reprised the parts they took when Muti led this music in Milan’s Basilica di San Marco ten years ago. Still fresh of voice and keen to give notes their full value, the soprano found her form promptly after a grainy opening to the Christe eleison. Pertusi, in the modest bass part, blended neatly with his colleagues. Alisa Kolosova contributed an opulent alto, Saimir Pirgu an articulate, secure tenor; he participates in all three of the conductor’s Mass projects in 2012–13. On the Herkulessaal program’s first half, Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony received a mundane traversal except in its agitated fourth movement, where taut rhythms left a lingering impression. The orchestra played attentively in both works.

Tepid applause followed the Mass, a contrast to the cheers that had erupted in Salzburg after the Berlioz work. Was this foreseen? Disappointing? In Italy they say Muti is addicted to applause. More likely is that audience reaction is beside the point for him: he simply wants clean execution, and he received it in Munich. Muti: “ … non siamo degli intrattenitori. La nostra professione è di un impegno maggiore … .” Pimen turns another page.

Toscanini and Karajan, those fellow Verdians, are not remembered for works destined to fall flat in concert. Both built careers on small sacred repertories: some half-dozen Mass settings each, beyond the not-quite-liturgical requiems of Brahms and Verdi. Beethoven’s hyper-developed and intimidating Missa solemnis had pride of place. Karajan revered the Bach as well (29 performances) and occasionally turned to Mozart’s Great C-Minor Mass and Requiem.

Abbado has, like Muti, taken up two Mass settings by Schubert: the tuneful early G-Major, which Muti performed in Milan twelve years ago, and the resourceful, variegated E-Flat Mass, the composer’s last. This work he paired with Mozart’s Waisenhausmesse (1768) in a jolly two-service concert in Salzburg six months ago. Both conductors have performed the two mature Mozart works and the Brahms and Verdi, but curiously neither man has tried a Mass setting by Haydn or Beethoven, casual research suggests.

To be sure, sacred music is not the mainstay of Muti’s career. His commitments to the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and to Italy’s young-professional Orchestra Cherubini pull the emphasis elsewhere. But the passion for historical context that drives his Mass projects also shapes his priorities in symphonic repertory and opera. Instilled surely during formative years in Naples, it accounts for starkly independent programming choices and probably explains his famously firm way with the details of a score: the chronicler demands accuracy as well as loyalty to the composer. A tempo, però!

By happenstance this post is being drafted a few yards from the home of Muti and the tomb of Dante. They lie in opposite directions.

Photo © Soprintendenza per i Beni Architettonici e Paesaggistici

Related posts:
Spirit of Repušić
Muti Crowns Charles X
Muti the Publisher
Netrebko, Barcellona in Aida
Safety First at Bayreuth