Let me start off by saying that if anyone is looking for a Bocelli-bashing you should stop reading right now. Likewise if you're expecting a gushing endorsement of his appearance last Friday night perhaps it would be best to look elsewhere. And just as an aside all flames will be extinguished the minute they are set!
Last Friday evening the Teatro dell'Opera was almost full - something I haven't seen since that incredible Roberto Bolle Gala last December. It wasn't a regular subscription night except for those of us on what, for marketing purposes, is called Fantasia Opera so these were mostly off-the-street ticket sales. It is notable that only one of Mr. Bocelli's scheduled evenings was subscription the other three were box office and agency sales only - Francesco Ernani, the Teatro director, seems to have recognized the drawing power of his name. And its a good guess that most of the audience were there to see Mr. Bocelli more than Carmen. Which is just as well, as this production did poor service to Bizet's masterpiece and was almost as vulgar as the giant red lips they used for the poster.
Since arriving here in Italy I've seen two productions staged by director-designer Pier'Alli - the first was Oberto in Parma last October - and I can only hope I will never see another. However I'm not counting on it as he seems to be everywhere. The staging began promisingly enough with a holograph bullring projected onto a scrim at midstage but P'A doesn't like an unpeopled space. So we were treated to members of the less than stellar Teatro ballet all tarted up in Spanish-drag doing their morning calisthenics in time to the overture. And they just never stopped - every number was accompanied by cape swirling, mantilla twirling, cigarette puffing, pose striking dancers doing their best to distract the audience from the bothersome singing that was going on. And though that midstage scrim allowed for some picturesque effects the truth is that a cloth between singers and audience dampens the sound and in the case of most of the voices left one wishing for that bugaboo of all opera lovers - amplification!
Power was not the problem with Ildiko Lomlosi's Carmen. Mme Lomlosi is a large raw boned Hungarian mezzo with a large raw voice to match. She and P'A's concept favoured the Carmen as slut school. Her gypsy seductress was brash, brazen and frankly gave the impression that she could arm-wrestle any man in the audience and win. Poor Don Jose didn't stand a chance. And if her Carmen lacked charm so did Cinzia Rizzone's small-voiced Michaela. Simone Alberghini cut a good figure as Escamillo and managed a nicely-judged Toreador Song despite having to dodge bouncing banderilla bearing ballet boys. The smaller roles ranged from the unhearable to the adequate. And despite being stuck behind that bloody scrim - are you getting the idea I don't like scrims - our fine Teatro chorus turned in some stirring sounds. Its bad when the chorus turns in the best performance in Carmen!
However the big question was - how would Bocelli fare in all this? The staging worked around any difficulty he might have had reasonably well. Dramatically he was no less wooden and unresponsive than a few José's I've experienced - my first, Raoul Jobin springs to mind. The fights were brief but effective and the death scene worked reasonably well. The opéra-comique version was used and he delivered his dialogue convincingly. His "La fleur que tu m´avais jetée" was pleasant if thin sounding but by no means unacceptable. But the problem still remains that he is not an opera but a concert singer and there is a big difference between singing in front of an orchestra and singing surrounded by other singers, a full chorus and the depth of an Italian Opera House orchestra pit separating you from your audience. By the third act his voice was sounding tired. Fortunately at that point most of José's big sings are over but that third act ensemble is a killer and he just wasn't able to get there. His next appearance here is scheduled for October, as the Italian Tenor in Der Rosenkavalier. It a brief cameo in the first act - one and a bit stanzas of a pseudo-Italian aria. Unfortunately it smacks of stunt casting but one can hardly expect his fans to flood in for the three hours of Strauss's musical Sacher Torte if all they are going to get is two minutes of their Divo as whipped cream topping.
I mentioned in an earlier post that at times Alain Lombard did tend to let his orchestra swamp the singers - I should say that this did not apply to Bocelli. Lombard was careful to ensure that during his solo passages the orchestra was held in check. In other places his handling of the score suggested an affection and knowledge that would have worked wonders with a stronger cast.
For a taste of P'A's busy staging and the final scene the Teatro dell'Opera's video clip can be found here.
27 giugno - San Cirillo