Rapturous applause demands four encores from operatic aristocracy

Sunday is an odd day of the week for a major operatic concert, but one of the most celebrated tenors in the world today, the French-Sicilian Roberto Alagna, graced the stage of the Royal Opera House Muscat with his internationally acclaimed, Polish soprano wife, Aleksandra Kurzak. This aristocratic couple of the operatic world was joined by ROHM’s favourite symphony orchestra, the 68-strong PKF – Prague Philharmonia, under the energetic control of Italian Maestro, Marcello Mottadelli.
The show was unusual in two ways; the couple opened the concert in a duet BEFORE the overture, and the programme was divided into substantial vignettes rather than just single, unconnected arias. Alagna is hailed as “the most famous French tenor in the world” and this was evident in the opening set from Bizet’s “Carmen”. The pair entered without ceremony right at the start of the performance, more arresting than their photos allowed, and stunning in their magnificent couture. Don Jose and Micaela’s duet from Act 1, ‘Parle-moi de ma mere’ plunged the captivated audience into the intimate sound-world shared by this emblematic pair on stage, ‘a love that flourishes and sings… a real treat for both eyes and ears’. Roberto Alagna sings through his smile and lights up each aria he inhabits with the warmest, most expressive voice imaginable. It was his second visit to Muscat, following his October 2012 presentation, and notably the very year he met Aleksandra Kurzak while performing Donizetti’s “L’Elisir d’Amore” at Covent Garden. As Micaela, Aleksandra introduced the rich, warm colours of her considerable range to the ROHM audience for the first time, and won hearts and rapturous applause from the entranced auditorium; the rest was sheer joy. The section was completed by the almost house-band, the PKF, playing two exquisite Preludes from Acts 3 and 4 of “Carmen”, featuring their outstanding woodwind section, which was spine-tinglingly poignant.
In 2015 Alagna made his debut in Berlin as Meyerbeer’s Vasco de Gama, in a rarely staged version, “L’Africaine”. He treated Oman to a sample of that title role in the aria, ‘Pays merveilleux… O, paradis’ – and it was indeed a taste of paradise through his extraordinary solo rendition and sustained high notes
One had the opportunity to hear Ms Kurzak in Violetta’s famous solo from Verdi’s “La Traviata”, ‘E strano! …Ah, fors’e lui… Sempre libera’ – a role she has made her own in Vienna, Turin and Warsaw. She has huge stage presence, expressiveness in gesture and an impossibly agile coloratura voice which never falters or fails to deliver. The adoring public was hooked.
The Overture from Verdi’s “I Vespri Siciliani” provided an opportunity for the Brass section of the Prague Philharmonia to shine and impress. They did splendidly, and the enigmatic couple returned to sing Otello and Desdemona’s aria from “Otello” which they are both currently performing in Vienna. ‘Gia nella notte densa’ was a captivating Finale to Part 1, blending their voices in the haunting duet, serenading the beauty of the night sky.
Accolades a plenty were bounding about over coffee in the interval, and it was hard to imagine how the performance could develop further. It did, with the iconic duet from Puccini’s “Tosca”, ‘Mario, Mario…. Son Qui’ which Ms Kurzak is learning anew, but was carried confidently by Alagna’s robust, firm grip of the role, perfected over his 30-year career. A symphonic interlude came from Alfredo Catalani’s unusual 1890 opera, “Loreley”, and then back to Verdi in Elena’s lively, flirtatious aria from “I Vespri Siciliani”, ‘Merce, dilette amiche’ performed with flair and humour by Aleksandra.
A darker aria followed from Mr Alagna in Cilea’s “Adrian Lecouvreur”. The strength and range of his tenor voice was explored in, ‘L’anima ho stanca’, along with his incredible breath control and tone-quality. It was brief but intense, endearing listeners further to Alagna’s wide capacity for emotion and colour.
The final orchestral performance of the night was one of the most beautiful. The PKF excelled in its interpretation of Mascagni’s ‘Intermezzo from Act 3’ of “Guglielmo Ratcliff”, reminiscent of the lush, romantic chromatic harmonies of his “Cavalleria”. But the Finale was even more exquisite and poignant. The chemistry between Alagna and Kurzak had been palpable throughout the evening in all their duets, but it came to the fore in Pinkerton and Cio-Cio-San’s duet from Act 1 of Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly”.
It was not the end, however, as standing ovations brought them back to perform a very funny spoof from Donizetti’s melodrama giocoso, “L’Elisir d’Amore” with Alagna sporting a dodgy blue drink in a plastic bottle(!) for an elixir, popping his cheek at the elusive Kurzak as Adina, and she booting him off stage at the end with her back side. They made up quickly, and performed a most romantic French duet, ‘La Veuve Joyeux’ by Franz Lehar, and departed to ecstatic ovation, only to return for a third encore. A very special composition by Roberto’s brother, David Alagna, heard the rousing, patriotic song, ‘Cielo’. The personal connection explained its inclusion, but not being the note to end on, the re-energised pair returned with another drinking song, that beloved chestnut, ‘Brindisi’ or ‘Libiamo’ from Verdi’s, “La Traviata”, to send us on our way after two and a half hours of sheer magic.

GEORGINA BENISON