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Il Pirata 1
Bellini's Il Pirata performed at the Liceu. Photo by Antoni Bofill
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Il Pirata 2
Bellini's Il Pirata performed at Barcelona's Liceu theatre. Photo by Antoni Bofill.
Josephine Novak reviews Bellini's Il Pirata at the Liceu and gives a preview of coming events.
The British newspapers treat reviews of television events the same way they treat opening night of the theater (or did when I last looked). The review appeared on the morning after, and all the reader could do was sigh with frustration at a good program lost.
So I feel bad at doing the same; please accept my apologies. The review in question is of a concert performance of Vincenzo Bellini’s “Il Pirata,” and it was one of the special events at the Liceu that appear from time to time on the calendar and do not stay around. To make amends, I list some other upcoming events that merit quick action.
Liceu concert performances of operas are almost as satisfactory as the full thing. All they lack is scenery, and, often, the artists get so involved in their roles that, despite themselves, they end up acting. Certainly the music and singing lack nothing.
An early work of Bellini's, “Il Pirata” is very rarely performed, even though it races from one lusty aria to another, with charming, almost witty orchestral back-up. But, apparently, the roles are so taxing that few singers have the courage to tackle them, so it is hard to get a performance together. A pity: I would take this opera over the popular and frequently offered “Norma,” any day.
The story demands little intellectual effort. It concerns an ongoing war in which the two “heroes” have chosen opposite sides. Gualtiero (Gregory Kunde) is on the losing end and has become a pirate to make a living. His beloved Imogene (Mariella Devia) has been forcibly married to his worst enemy, Ernesto (Vladimir Stoyanov). A shipwreck washes him up near Ernesto’s castle, and the two ill-fated lovers meet again, to loud, melodious protests of love and anguish. It all ends badly, of course, when the very jealous, and not particularly likeable Gualtiero kills Ernesto (who, at least as played by Stoyanov, comes across as more sympathetic than his rival) and is himself sentenced to death by the court. Imogene is blessed with a mad scene which set a fashion and is believed to have inspired Donizetti in “Lucia di Lammermoor.” The opera is based on a book by an Irish clergyman, R.C. Maturin. If his weekly sermons were half as melodramatic, it must have been fun to go to church on Sundays.
A full-blown bel canto opera, “Pirata” is basically a duet (duel?) between the lead soprano and tenor. The secondary characters, who were all excellent, had little to work with. One almost felt that they and the chorus, also very good, could have stayed at home and let the two of them, with occasional input from the baritone Ernesto, battle it out between them.
I had been a bit nervous when I realized that Mariella Devia, long an international star of bel canto, was 64 years old. Voices (with few exceptions) tend not to last forever. But it was a revelation to hear her. Yes, her truly high notes were a trifle hard and thin, but otherwise she was glorious and all I could think was that, if she is as great as this now, what must she have been thirty years ago, and how I wish I could have been there.
Gregory Kunde worried me at first. He was very unmodulated and loud and seemed not to have allowed for the fact that this was a concert performance and he was standing at the front of the stage, in front of the orchestra, rather than moving around. But he improved after a short while and held his own. Vladimir Stoyanov, in a role that doesn’t offer him much opportunity to blaze,offered a handsome performance. And Imogene’s loyal friend Adele (Elena Copons) made the most of a minor role, and it will be nice to hear more of her.
The audience went wild at the end. The only time I have known them to surpass this level of enthusiasm was when Edita Gruberova (also an elderly singer) performed “Maria Stuarda” back in 2003. They surged to the stage from all parts of the house and kept her bowing and smiling for a full 20 minutes, maybe more. This time things did not reach that height of fan madness, but came pretty close.
Here are upcoming events that really should not be missed. All of them, and much more, can be found (in English) on the Liceu website at www.liceubarcelona.cat.
On January 10 and 13, the internationally popular Russian soprano Anna Netrebko (cossetted star of the New York Metropolitan Opera) is singing Tchaikovsky’s “Iolanta” in concert version with the chorus and orchestra of the Marinsky Theater of St. Petersburg, conducted by Valery Gergiev.
On January 10 at the Palau de la Musica, owing to the sickness of the violinist Frank Peter Zimmerman, the soloist part of this concert will consist of Richard Strauss' "Four Last Songs," sung by Anne Schwanewilms, accompanied by the Liceu orchestra.
On January 27, also at the Palau de la Musica, violinist Julian Rachlin will play the amazing Brahms violin concerto which has been described as a battle between orchestra and soloist and, well done, brings out the best in both of them.
And don’t miss Joyce Di Donato in a concert of baroque music at the Liceu on March 6.
Coming up in early February is Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann” with, in the first cast, Vittorio Grigolo and the amazing Natalie Dessay and her husband Laurent Naouri. A must-go.