Tag Archives: Igor Golovatenko

Glyndebourne’s engaging Traviata

4 Jun

“Did you think that ending was outrageous?” asked an excited American lady as I queued for coffee at the end of the performance of La traviata at Glyndebourne on 31 May.  I thought that she was referring to the moderately controversial ending of Tom Cairns’s production, where Violetta dies alone.  But no, it was to the end of the opera itself: that the woman, who was about the only one in the opera not at fault, should be the one who dies and ends up apologising for it.  She was right, of course, and it’s the reaction Verdi would have wanted. And I thought that it was great that a newcomer could react to an opera so freshly and intelligently, reminding me how easy it is to take this piece for granted.

I think it was also a tribute to Tom Cairns’s production that, while not being outstanding is, in fact, a very good, clear, thoughtful version of the opera.  It often happens that the second showing of a production here improves upon the first and this felt more settled and secure than in 2014.  If there are problems, I think it they are to do with Hildegard Bechtler’s set which feels strangely cluttered and ugly and with the modern setting: our social mores are very different today and there are occasions, particularly in the Germont/Violetta duet where this becomes naggingly worrying.

There was, pretty much, a new cast and a very, very strong one.  It’s perhaps worth noting the lesser roles that are so important in Traviata and which were cast from strength.  William Dazeley, for example, made the best Douphol that I’ve seen simply through his experience and authority (and he sang it very well, too): his acting and presence were crucial in creating the wider milieu and context.  Ditto Henry Waddington as Grenvil, creating the sympathetic outsider who is also part of the revelry (I loved him hastily hiding the evidence of a night on the tiles in Act III) and singing it really well.  The casting throughout, right to James Newby’s single line as the messenger at the end of the first scene of Act II – clearly, authoritatively delivered but presenting a character as well.  These included a vital, flirtatious Flora from Rihab Chaieb, an elegant Marchese from Daniel Shelvey and a passionately concerned Annina from Eliza Safian.  These, and the excellent chorus, clearly having a high old time with some really detailed characterisation and acting, reminded you that Glyndebourne really has the time to prepare things from scratch.

Kristina Mkhitaryan was the new Violetta.  She is rather special. She looks beautiful and elegant and she acts the part beautifully – you felt that she was the only one of the cast who really understood the implications of what was going on and she created a highly sympathetic, intelligent character.  Vocally, she sounded more comfortable in the conversations than in the show pieces: Ah fors’e lui better than Sempre libera.  I’ve heard individuals (Cotrubas, Miriciou) make more of some of the passages and present a more sparkling, emotional figure, but she was a very satisfying, vulnerable, striking Violetta and I’d like to hear her again.

Zach Borichevsky sang Alfredo on the tour in 2014.  He’s strikingly tall and provides just the right gauche, young, thoughtless, impulsive character.  I don’t think that I’ve seen a more convincingly acted Alfredo.  Vocally, he was stretched by the end of his cabaletta but, that apart, sounded good and sang as if he meant it.

Igor Golotavenko was the Germont.  It was a joy to hear this baritone again after the joys of Poliuto.  Off hand, I can’t think of another voice that sounds more “right” for this sort of role.  The sound is burnished, bronzed and seems to flow effortlessly.  His phrasing is thoughtful and, I don’t think I can recall anyone who has given me quite so much sheer pleasure from his singing in this role or the sheer glory of the sound.  I was less taken by his acting which didn’t really seem to have got into the role.  He did some nice things – suggesting the sexual attraction he also feels for Violetta and in trying to manage the relationship with his son but he made me realise what a very difficult role this is to put across convincingly these days.

Richard Farnes conducted, pacing the score very well indeed and accompanying the singers very thoughtfully.  Perhaps he focussed a little too much on the details but I enjoyed the way he brought ou, first the oboe and then the cellos in Dite alla giovene.  The LPO played very nicely – the clarinet as Violetta writes to Alfredo marvellously phrased.

This may not go down as one of Glyndebourne’s great, unforgettable occasions, but it was typical of what the place does well: a fresh, beautifully prepared evening with keen singers and musicians, giving a very, very good take on the opera.  And, if it brought out that reaction in a newcomer, that suggests that it got very close to complete success.

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Premiere of Poliuto

21 May

I’m just back from the first night of Glyndebourne’s new production of Donizetti’s Poliuto – the British premiere of the Italian version.  I loved it.

It’s fascinating to compare the piece to Les Martyrs.  It’s more concise, a more human drama – the love triangle is more interesting here and you still get the strong sense of religious conflict.  The French one is longer, has a much greater role for the governor, Felix, than in the Italian version and there is, obviously, a greater sense of the public, though the difference here is not as great as I’d anticipated – there’s a very strong role for the chorus in this piece.  In a less strong performance the weaknesses in Cammarano’s libretto might be more apparent – Poliuto is out of the action for quite a lot of time after the first scene; you never get any sense that the evil high priest Callistene is in love with Paolina until she mentions it in the last scene and so a lot of the motivation for the second Act is a bit unclear.  Maybe Paolina’s conversion could be signaled a bit earlier.  And musically the French version is more ambitious, more spacious.

But there’s lots of glorious music here.  The arias are strong and well placed with great opportunities for all the main singers – Poliuto’s Act II aria is a really strong study of jealousy, and I thought that Severo’s entrance aria was among his most grateful baritone numbers.  The duets, particularly, enable the singers to strike sparks of each other.  I was particularly taken with the duet in Act II for Severo and Paolina and the final one for Poliuto and Paolina.  The finale to the second act is one of Donizetti’s strongest – another glorious sextet followed by a really exciting stretta.  I defy anyone to leave a performance without at least those two ringing in their ears.  This is Donizetti at his best and I felt that the Verdi of Aida and Don Carlos was not that far away.

Mariame Clément’s production struck me as outstandingly good.  She’s set it in a totalitarian state, probably in the 1930s, to judge by the costumes.  The sets are a set of massive blocks, on which videos are delicately projected to suggest location.  It feels like a fascist state and one where people are afraid.  She uses them really well to enable the more intimate scenes to be nicely downstage and to suggest different locations, even images.  There’s a fluidity about it – locations switch easily and she manages to get more out of scenes than you’d think possible.  In Severo’s entrance aria, she uses the silent chorus to suggest how his speech is really going, while he sings privately, to us, about his love for Paolina and it moves effortlessly in the next scene with Felice and Callistene.  In Callistene’s Act III aria about using the people for his ends, we suddenly see his soldiers dancing at a cafe with the unthinking population.  She doesn’t shrink from the viciousness of the state: this is a police state and you’re left in no doubt about the fate of the Christians in this society.  It works with the music and this struck me as a very classy staging indeed.

Provided that you don’t demand Callas and Corelli, this was musically hugely satisfying.  Enrique Mazzola had the piece absolutely under control and the LPO played their socks off for him.  He made you realise how good Donizetti is at suggesting atmosphere and finding the right instrument for the emotions.  He accompanied the singers really sensitively.  This was as fine a reading as Elder’s of the French version last year.

In the title role, Michael Fabbiano was very good indeed.  Perhaps he didn’t need to sing quite as loudly as he did early on but he seized on the anger and intensity of the emotions – a fascinating mixture of human jealousy and religious fervour.  His Act II aria was a highlight, as was the prison duet with Paolina.  Ana Maria Martinez doesn’t strike me as a natural bel canto singer and the voice has lost some of its sweetness since she sang Rusalka here, but there’s an intensity about her acting and a conviction about her singing that made this a really satisfying performance to watch and here.  You believed in the two of them in that final duet.

The discovery of the evening, however, was Igor Golovatenko as Severo.  Here is a really wonderfully schooled baritone who sang with outstanding style.  He has that great legato line that you need for Donizetti baritones and I imagine that he’ll also be a fabulous Luna, Posa and Belcore.  He understood what the role was about and conveyed the intensity of the man’s love for Paolina.  This was one of the most exciting baritone debuts here that I can recall.

At his curtain call, Matthew Rose seemed rather upset – easily the most graceless acknowledgement of applause that I’ve seen.  I thought he sang Callistene really well and suggested aptly the political manouevring.  As Nearco, Emanuele d’Aguanno was impressive.  The chorus sang and acted excellently.

I found this a wholly compelling, fascinating performance that rose above the cliches that people peddle about Donizetti – this was about politics and human emotion and this production conveyed a vision of the opera with absolute clarity and, for me, real success.  I hope Glyndebourne is planning a revival (or how about trying Les Martyrs so we can compare properly?) but, just in case they’re not, there are still tickets left, so I’d snap them up.

If you do, you’ll see that they’ve been playing about with the garden and have put up a rather ugly box of an art gallery.  New bits of garden never look their best in their first year and I’m not convinced that the rather camply baroque topiary yew plants quite fit into a garden that’s built on a grander scale, but the rose garden looks much more promising. Irrespective of that, this seemed to me to be one of the best Glyndebourne new productions for a while