Donizetti’s Dom Sébastien debuts at Covent Garden
martes, 13 de septiembre de 2005
'Dom Sébastien' is not only Donizetti’s last opera, but also one of the best representatives of grand opéra, every bit as good as other classics of this genre such as Rossini’s Guillaume Tell, Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots, Verdi’s Don Carlos and Donizetti’s own La Favorite. As it happened with most of these titles, Dom Sébastien was quite successful for a few decades after its première in France (Paris, 1843) and in many other countries, but it circulated in a highly corrupted text (and also mostly in Italian translation). Then it disappeared almost completely, apart from a few occasional outings (notably in Florence in the 1950s).
Mary Ann Smart’s magnificent critical edition, first performed in Bologna in 1998 but only recently published by Ricordi as part of the Donizetti Critical Edition, restores Donizetti’s original intentions, incorporating the important changes he made for the première of the work in Vienna in 1845. The Royal Opera’s concert performance used this edition, which, it is hoped, will encourage other theatres to mount complete productions of this opera, whose dramaturgy crucially relies on the visual dimension, as is typical of grands opéras. Even without scenes and costumes, however, Dom Sébastien made a huge impression at Covent Garden, for the sheer quality of the music and the very impressive way in which it was performed.
Mark Elder remains unsurpassed as a conductor of nineteenth-century Italian opera, each performance more thrilling than the previous one. His was a perfect balance of seemingly inexhaustible energy and firm control. Elder’s ability to bring out the beautiful instrumental details in this score (and there are many) was equalled, if not surpassed, by his subtle rhythmic flexibility, especially remarkable in the large ensembles in Acts 3 and 4, and in the ballet music in Act 2 -which could easily have sounded empty and a little silly rather than excitingly light and sexy, as it did.
The Royal Opera Orchestra responded vividly to Elder’s guidance, bringing out the new and unusual orchestral colours which Donizetti lavished on this score with zest. But it is to the chorus that must go the highest praise, for their wonderful ways with words and rhythms in a long and demanding evening for them. The work of chorus master Renato Balsadonna could not have been on better display at the beginning of his second season with the Royal Opera.
All the soloists brought hard work and total commitment to the enterprise, each making an important contribution to the excellent final result. The role of 'Zayda', written for the powerful voice, virtuosic technique and fiery temperament of Rosine Stolz, suits well the voice, technique and temperament of Vesselina Kasarova. I sometimes wished for a little more legato, a little more faith in the expressive potential of the melodic line, which on occasion fell victim to Kasarova’s overarticulation of the text; but this is a minor criticism in the face of an impassioned interpretation.
Giuseppe Filianoti is the lucky owner of a wonderful voice, at the same time sweet-toned and penetrating, and of a fautless technique -a couple of minor incidents on the highest notes of his Act-2 aria were due only to first-night nerves. Unlike Kasarova, sometimes he trusts the melodic line too much and lets the words take a decidedly back seat. In the last two acts, however, he visibly relaxed and threw himself into the part with more conviction, which resulted in a heightened emotional impact.
Carmelo Corrado Caruso, replacing the ailing Renato Bruson, sang the role of the poet 'Camoëns' with nobility, but his voice is not particularly rich in colours: occasionally, therefore, nobility ended up sounding perilously close to lack of involvment. Simon Keenlyside, on the contrary, threw himself into the parlante-like writing and angry outbursts of 'Abayaldos' with relish, and scored a huge success, thanks also to his excellent French, surely the best of the evening. Alastair Miles knows how to sing the bass roles of early-nineteenth-century Italian and French opera like nobody else these days, and his faultless sense of style was very much in evidence. The many comprimarios made their own considerable contribution to the resounding success of this performance.
Any opera house out there willing to give Dom Sébastien the fully staged production this magnificent opera richly deserves?