Giacomo Puccini’s Opera Hits Serenade Opera Galleria

The latest in ROHM’S series of free lunchtime recitals in the Opera Galleria presented a special gourmet concert of Puccini delicacies. The programme provided a taste of Italian gastronomy with Puccini as the chef, the audience as diners and the soloists of Festival Castell Peralada as the experienced, highly talented waiters, delivering the delicious menu.
The Yamaha grand piano was elevated on a small improvised stage in the courtyard and plenty of chairs were provided for the impromptu audience — though so many people attended last Saturday that some had to stand. Unusually the extracts were introduced by the Italian Opera journalist, Fabio Larovere, providing contexts for each song in the story.
The show began with the vain Manon Lescaut in an Eighteenth Century French convent, in an aria sung from her highest register in strong, declamatory style to her impossibly soft control, by Italian soprano, Raffaella Angeletti. In a switch to the Twentieth Century, Giordano Lucà proved a fearful Dick Johnson, the bandit from ‘La Fanciulla del West.’ With clear diction in, ‘Ch’ella mi creda’, the powerful melody was sometimes emphasised by Puccini’s signature doubling in the piano.
High above on the upper floor, Angeletti’s impossibly high soprano was projected down to earth — or rather a waiting Calaf — in Turandot’s bitter heartfelt aria, declaiming why she will never marry. It concluded with a superb duet in their highest registers, perfectly matched. The Entrée course concluded with Baritone, Manel Esteve in Frank’s tragic aria from “Edgar”. Esteve presented, ‘Questo Amor, vergogna mia’ with his arresting warm, rich vocal quality and such powerful dramatic gesture that the audience was drawn in by the sheer passion of his performance.
Side dishes came in the form of ‘Gianni Schicchi’ excerpts. The much loved and often performed, ‘O mio babbino caro’ was given a fresh, tender interpretation by Raffaella Angeletti as Lauretta. Lucà performed a convincing 14th century Rinuccio in the lighter mood of, ‘Florence is like a flowering tree’, finishing with Manel Esteve’s compelling delivery of the Opera Seria, ‘Era Uguale la Voce? Ah! Vittoria’.
Sadly these fine solo singers will not be appearing on stage in Puccini’s 1904, ‘Madama Butterfly’ at the Royal Opera House Muscat next weekend — there will be other soloists — but being so close to the performers had its own special magic, and gradually the audience warmed and bonded with these top-notch performers.
The Main course of the proceedings was to follow, in famous numbers from the forthcoming production. The lengthy duet between Pinkerton and Sharpless — the US Consul — from Act One, ‘Dovunque al Mondo’ included a musical quote of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ to give the American context of the protagonists — “Americans take liberties with natives throughout the world without regard for the consequences” — with spine-tingling effect.
The second, more poignant Love Duet, ‘Voglatemi Bene’ from Act Two underlined the innocent tragedy of Cio-Cio-San’s fate and Pinkerton’s callous disregard for Butterfly with some stunning ensemble singing, blending voices with palpable chemistry between Angeletti and Lucà. ‘Un bel dì Vedremo’ is one of the most well known yet moving moments in the repertoire, and Raffaella instilled so much pathos into the aria, she made it her own.
In a breath-taking surprise, the Chorus of the Festival Castell Peralada, dressed for Saturday shopping, appeared from behind with the famous ‘Humming Chorus’ which opens Act Three. They moved silently to the front in seamless motion, barely opening their mouths in the evocative acapella ‘Intermezzo’ and received a rousing ovation which effectively broke the spell.
The ‘Letter Scene’ between the Consul, when he informs Butterfly that Pinkerton’s ship has arrived in the harbour, was of Shakespearean proportions of pathos and inevitability. It was reflected by pentatonic melodies from the piano to emphasise her oriental simplicity as the letter is read, and again unison singing with the piano at the betrayal of this gullible beauty. Accompanying the whole recital was the brilliant Italian pianist, Marta Pujol, who performed flawlessly throughout. Whole tone passages suggested the fluidity of his moral fibre in Pinkerton’s short Aria, sung with intense feeling and gesture from Giordano Lucà. The Finale of the performance was Cio-Cio-San’s challenging, ‘Tu, tu piccolo iddio!’ as she says goodbye to her little son in a prayer-like plea to God. It is an exceedingly hard aria to sing, in a sustained high tessitura, yet Angeletti did it perfect justice despite an emerging throat irritation. In the acoustics of the galleria and proximity of the audience to stage the dynamics of the performance reached striking levels, and one is aware of the skill and abilities of these visiting opera singers which Muscat is privileged to experience. It provided a tempting taster for the full production next Thursday and Saturday — but the public is well warned to come armed with tissues!

Text by Georigina Benison

Photo Credit: Lisa Navach