WHEELS OF FORTUNE
Musikalische Leitung Will Humburg
Il Marchese di Calatrava Dirk Aleschus
|Cologne Opera at the Musical Done on the west bank of the Rhine.|
A party mood pervaded the season opening of the Cologne Opera last week, as first-nighters mingled prior to curtain time in the foyer and bars of the company’s temporary home at the Musical Dome on the banks of the Rhine. (The Opera House is undergoing a lengthy, costly and controversial renovation.) The late-setting sun brightened the red carpeting in the lobby area, as it poured through the wide windows facing the Rhine. The opening took place just as Photokina, the world's biggest trade event for photography and video, was about to get underway at Cologne's Convention Center directly accross the river. Extra performances have been added to accomodate conventioners in search of lyric theater.
|Opening Night patrons included former General Manager Eric Uwe Laufenberg, who planned the current season.|
|Production: Oliver Py, Sets: André Weisz, Lighting: Bertrand Killy|
What remains omnipresent throughout the proceedings are three large faux-iron wheels mounted at each side of the proscenium arch. They spin remorselessly throughout the evening. Okay, I think I get the idea -- wheels of fortune, spinning, spinning. But they also become pesky, pesky. And if I’m right about their on-stage significance, they ultimately contradict the storyline throughout the opera. Wheels of fortune tell of bad and good luck, but the principal characters in Forza are beset with misfortune only, triggered by the curse invoked at the outset.
The stage-wide bank of ten stairs leading to the peregrinating edifaces may not be as distracting as those gears of ruin, but they pose hazards for the singers, who risk tripping as they mount and descend them. They also restrict everyone to moving in often awkward and unmotivated combinations.
I admit I don't get Py's concept, although I've now attended three performances of his production and plan to go again -- to hear the music. In the demi-monde of Continental theater, he has become a legend, following his dismissal last year from Théâtre de L'Odéon in Paris, presumably for mounting an unflattering play about France's late president François Mitterand. To which, some might ask: So what? I ask:, So what else? French theater has always prided itself on fomenting provocation, but I, for one, believe that when theater directors of any nationality or persuasion tread beyond the borders of their empyreal realms, they owe their foreign, unwashed hosts some measure of elucidation about what they are provoking, apart from -- in the case of Py's production at the Cologne Opera -- non-Brechtian alienation.
|Enrique Ferrer, Adina Aaron|
Dalia Schaechter appeared to be having the time of her life as a bawdy Preziosilla. Her ballsy mezzo is in great shape, and her jug-juggling antics are as delightful as they are shameless.
As Alvaro and Carlo respectively, Enrique Ferrer and Anthony Michaels-Moore seemed to be suffering first-night nerves. (It was Ferrer’s first Alvaro). Both sounded vocally constricted and were occasionally challenged in finding the center of some notes. They both have sung better and no doubt will again in succeeding performances.
Dirk Aleschuss as Calatrava and Liang Li singing Padre Guardiano were in fine form. But it was Patrick Carfizzi who enlivened Fra Melitone’s scenes with his gift for seizing a comic moment, while eliciting that wanna-hear-more buzz through his distinctive, light-weight vibrato. He received a well-earned ovation at the calls.
|Maria José Siri/Patrick Carfizzi|
Two nights later, Cologne Opera presented the Maria José Siri (Leonora), Vsevolod Grivnov (Alvaro), Dmitris Tiliakos (Carlo) and Katrin Wundasam (Preziosilla) heading a semi-alternate cast. Again it was Ladies’ Night Out as Siri and Wundsam largely out-sang their male coevals. Siri has a Verdi-prone temperament that came boldly to life after Leonora goes into seclusion, but she tired somewhat in the fourth act, cracking while attempting the pianissimo on B-flat in the treacherous line “Invan la pace... quest'alma...” (At a later performance I attended, she hit the note squarely, ma meramente con mezzo-piano.) Wundsam created a sassy young Preziosilla all her own, leaving no doubt of her character’s lusty predisposition. Grivnov is in possession of a bright, forwardly produced tenor, whose sound lingers in the mind’s ear. But he has a tendency to growl under pressure. Tiliakos has an ample saturnine voice that makes him a good choice for Escamilio and Lescaut. But it needs to acrue more heat before he becomes a choice Verdi baritone. Both he and Grivnov also are disposed to aspirating on vowels sung over two notes or more. My Italian is at best maimed, but Dio, pieta and other frequently uttered sustained words heard as "dee-hee-io" and "pee-hay-ta" tend to "gray-hate" on the nerves.
Vocally, Nikolay Didenko proved an even exchange for Liang Li as Padre Guardiano, but broad experience has purchased him a bigger stage personality. Patrick Carfizzi, as well as Young Doon Park, Ralf Rachbaier and Andrea Andonian confirmed the impressions they made at the premiere.
|Musical Dome interior|
Production Photos: Paul Leclaire
Will Humburg: Theater Bonn
All other Photos and Graphix Post-Production: Sam H. Shirakawa