Photo by Antoni Bofill
The Liceu has been giving a series of free concerts (donation expected or hoped for) to remind everyone of its importance for the cultural life of Barcelona and how it is threatened by the ongoing 'crisis'. The series is called 'Actuem pel Liceu' and is an example of the gutsy determination of the institution.
That said, the concert itself, which took place in the hospitable lobby space at the base of the building on Thursday April 11th, was something of a disappointment. With the exception of the last soloist, Sonja Gornik—an experienced soprano who has sung leading roles in opera houses across Germany, who gave a very satisfactory performance of arias from Wagner’s Tannhäuser and Lohengrin—the other singers were both lacklustre and surprisingly unmodulated. My first thought was that they were young hopefuls from the Conservatory with good voices but little experience. But after the concert I discovered that several of the singers have a long record of international performance, so I remain baffled. Neither the voice control nor the physical performance was sophisticated and much-loved arias by such composers as Verdi, Donizetti, Mozart, Gounod and Weber were not what they could have been.
I am sorry to say all of this, because the spirit of the occasion and its purpose were energetic and important. I can only hope that other concerts in the series were and will be better.
The next day was a much more satisfactory occasion: a performance of Verdi’s Requiem that gave enormous pleasure. Since childhood I have found his music (especially the 'Dies irae') quite scary, a bellicose forcefulness that raises goosebumps. The Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya was in great form and the combined Cor del Gran Teatre del Liceu and the Cor de Cambra del Palau de la Música Catalana were so good that I greatly regretted their relatively small role. As a composer of operas, Verdi quite obviously focused on soloists and the later his operas, the less there was for the chorus to do. But their combined efforts in the more bombastic portions of the work were gratifyingly strong.
Regrettably, the soloists were not as satisfactory as the choirs and orchestra. Each on his or her own was quite excellent, but somehow it was not a good chemistry. Mezzosoprano Ildiko Komlosi, who recently played the witch to great effect in the Liceu’s Rusalka, has a lush, mature voice; Maria Luigia Borsi, the soprano, has a young, fresh and strong voice. The two did not blend well. As for the men, tenor Russell Thomas has a sweet, attractive voice, but at times it was not strong enough. I sometimes wonder if it depends on where I am sitting and perhaps the singer is more audible in other parts of the concert hall, but questioning friends as we left, I discovered they had the same experience. Riccardo Zanellato, the bass, was excellent.
All in all, it was a great evening, even if getting home from the Auditori at night remains less than easy for those without a car.
The next Liceu main event is Wagner’s Das Rheingold, the opening chapters of his over-the-top, impassioned Ring of the Nibelungen. For those who have resisted Wagner until now, try it; you may well get hooked, as I have. Opening night is April 29th, and as ever, tickets move fast.