Lessons from a lunchtime recital

Short but sweet, lunchtime recital at Opera Galleria showcased the best of up and coming singers of the future. The Royal Opera House Muscat held its Open House, “Animal World”, on Saturday this week which included many Workshops and events for children. It was in preparation for “Peter and the Wolf” by Prokovief, ROHM’s next family concert which will include arias about animals by Rossini and Ravel enriched by a shadow puppet show, next Saturday at 4pm.

There was ‘Improvisation and Composing’ led by Australian musician Cathy Milliken, ‘Drum Circle’ with percussion facilitator Ernesto Raymat, ‘Puppet Making’ with Mahmoud Hourani from Arab Puppet Theatre Foundation, ‘Arabian Storytelling’ with Jamal al Mahrooqi and a variety of ‘Soundscapes’ led by Clare Hibberd from ROHM Sound and Broadcast Department.
The central performance, for all ages at the Opera Galleria, was a 45-minute recital of extracts from Opera de Lyon’s forthcoming production of Bellini’s “Norma”, sung by the under-study soloists from the company.
Lunch Music concerts are held each month in the central courtyard of Opera Galleria, with chairs provided for members of the public and a ‘Shiny Piano’ from the Opera House. This weekend’s recital featured Frederic Rouillon, conductor and pianist with Opera de Lyon touring company, who opened the performance with a beautiful rendition of Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’ on the grand piano to set the (lunar) mood. Two members of the cast stood facing each other across its breadth, like statuesque scenery, as the soprano, Diana Axentil, entered in a neat segue to sing the impossibly beautiful and haunting ‘Song to the Moon’ from Dvorak’s “Rusalka”, in Czech. It was sublime; her voice soaring to the heights of its well-known refrain with superb control, belying her young age, full of emotion and pathos. As an ‘Entree’ in the gastronomically-styled programme menu, it was satiating in itself, leaving little room for the ‘Main Course’.
Half hidden behind the piano lid, Korean Baritone Seung Pil Choi performed Schubert’s delightful Lied, ‘Standchen’, with an even, consistent vocal quality and warm timbre which bewitched the audience into silence. Elisa Fortunati, a young emerging Italian mezzo, was captivating in Schumann’s ‘An den Mond’ Lied with her light, gentle, but well-placed voice. Finally the Tenor made his anticipated entrance in Francesco Paolo Tosti’s ‘Luna d’estate’(Spring Moon), maintaining the lunar theme which permeated the Entree section. Francesco Pittari is dapper with great stage presence. He performed the song with power, good projection and clear intonation in his considerable high register. All those solos were just tasters to whet the palette for what was to come – a tour de force of Operatic heavy weights for carnivores.
Frederic Rouillon played a lengthy Sicilienne introduction to Norma’s Aria from Act 1, ‘Casta Diva’. Diana Axentil reappeared on the upper floor to sing with wistful passion Bellini’s mournful, poignant belcanto Aria. This soprano is surely one to look out for as an up-and-coming star in the operatic galaxy, her stunning voice haunting and tingling the mesmerised listeners.
The opportunity to hear her again will come next Saturday when she will sing a Ravel Aria in the Family Concert.
Another strong, rhythmic piano intro led to ‘Norma and Pollione’s Duet’ from Act 2. In an abrupt change to the brighter, major mode came Francesco Pittari’s interpretation of ‘Qual cor tradisti, qual cor perdesti’ (What heart betraying). He sustained his high tessitura in this heart-felt duet with power and passion until Ms Axentil entered with her striking voice.
The spaces in the Galleria were creatively used in the choreography of the performances, and this was especially so in Seung Pil Choi’s second appearance. In Arrigo Boito’s ‘Lo Son lo Spirito Che nega sempre tutto’ (I am the spirit who denies everything, always) from his dark opera, “Mefistofele”, Mr Choi’s rich, warm bass register resounded through the hall as he emerged from the back of the audience and walked slowly through to the front. It was especially gratifying as now he could be seen without the obscuration of piano, to appreciate his charisma and vocal intensity in this huge, dramatic declamation, completed with some live whistling, as tradition demands!
The more lyrical qualities of Francesco Pittari’s tenor voice were enjoyed in another Tosti song, ‘L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra’ (the dawn divides darkness from light). It was superbly mirrored by Ms Fortunati singing ‘Totem tom-tom’ in English from the Broadway Musical, “Rose Marie. Her voice is light but perfectly engaging, and she won hearts by inviting a gentleman on the front row to waltz with her as she sang, without missing a beat.
The programme was brief and well chosen, with just one encore prepared for the company to satiate the sweet tooth. They finished with a Franz Lehar’s Quartet – so good they sung it twice! The next and final lunch music will be from the cast of Teatro dell ‘Opera di Roma’s production of Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” on March 10 at 12.30pm.

GEORGINA BENISON