Nov 21, 2008

Anna Jaho

Anna Bolena 

Gaetano Donizetti
Tragedia lirica in due atti, 1830
Libretto Felice Romani
Opéra de Lyon
November 20, 2008 Concert version

Next performance in Paris (Théâtre des Champs Elysées) on Nov. 23

Anna Bolena – Ermonela Jaho
Giovanna Seymour – Sonia Ganassi Enrico VIII – Marco Vinco
Lord Percy – Dario Schmunck
Smeton – Manuela Custer
Lord Rochefort – Shadi Torbey
Hervey – Stefano Ferrari
Evelino Pidó conducting the orchestra and chorus of the Opéra de Lyon

The orchestra and the conduction

I still remember how excited I was a couple of months ago, after hearing the great execution of the orchestra under new principal conductor Kasushi Ono. I then was pretty certain the era of unfocused musicians and approximate unison was past us. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Their execution during the first act yesterday was a total disaster, one of those unbearable moments that ruin an entire performance, no matter how good the conductor, the singers and the chorus. The violins started on that dreadful path from the very first bars of the overture and afterwards, the contagion pretty much extended to almost every section of the orchestra (most notably the altos and the horns). Every time I was beginning to relax and focus on the singers, a huge mistake would occur, one of those you would only expect from non-professional orchestras.

Evidently Pidó must have clearly voiced his concerns during the intermission, because the second act was much better executed – finally allowing the conductor's view on the score to fully emerge.

After that performance, I must admit I have a renewed appreciation of Evelino Pidó who, despite numerous efforts during act I couldn't prevent the catastrophe but didn't give up and managed to turn things around; I didn't even care that much for his grand gestures (although he constantly reinvents the concept and adds almost comic elements to it) for that matter.

The cast

An announcement before the start of the evening informed us that Ermonela Jaho was a bit ill but would sing anyway. She did massacre early on a high note and had slight problems with her breath in the first scene of act I and on several occasions after that. But the performance she delivered was clearly the huge highlight of the night.
If this is what she can do in those conditions, I can't wait to see her again in June, when she'll perform her alleged favorite role, Violetta, in the revival of Grüber's La Traviata [1]. I might even attend several performances, as a matter of fact.

The character of Anna Bolena was not just a role to her, as she completely embraced her and simply was her (both physically and vocally – the physical part being the biggest challenge of all in a concert version). She gave life to all the emotions the libretto unveils: deception, incredulity, aggressiveness, rage, despair, apathy, folly, derangement.

Her technique was pretty good as well, especially her sense of nuances and her ability to project her voice (no wonder she can sing in big houses such as Covent Garden or the Met).
Her absolute highlight, to me, was not so much the last scene of the opera but her "Sei t'abhorre / Ah! Per pieta del mio spavento" aria in the third scene of act I when I simply could not prevent my eyes to be filled with tears, something that doesn't happen to me very often at the Opéra de Lyon.

Truth be told, it's been an awful long time since I last felt so enthusiastic about a singer I had never heard before (probably since Rolando Villazón in 2001).

Jaho was also the driving force of the performance, as she clearly inspired Sonia Ganassi to be more expressive as Giovanna in their duet of the first scene of act II, an involvement Ganassi kept until the end. In the first act (especially the first scene) though, she had big issues with her breath (the unforgivable weakness with a bel canto piece); that part improved drastically during the performance. She couldn't obsviously compete with Jaho but was the second best element of the cast.

Manuela Custer as Smeton also had slight problems with her breath at the beginning, but ended up delivering a good performance overall, as well as both Stefano Ferrari and Shadi Torbey.

Both Dario Schmunck and Marco Vinco were unable to give life to their character and their singing was painfully inexpressive and emotionless. At least Vinco was pretty good on the technical side (though I didn't like his timbre); Schmunck's high notes on the other hand were bad at best, dreadful most of the time. That's the second opera I've heard him sing in (technically the third performance), and I'm pretty sure those recurrent weaknesses won't ever be conquered. So can someone please stop inviting him to perform in Lyon? I sure would appreciate that.

Conclusion [2]

Ermonela Jaho
Ermonela Jaho
Ermonela Jaho

[1] Grüber died last June at 67
[2] homage to the late Tim Russert

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