The passion of two tragic heroines

STORY BY GEORGINA BENISON –
Photos by gill howell –

The open courtyard at the Opera Galleria was packed on Saturday lunchtime well before the concert began. So much so that extra chairs had to be sourced to enable the many music buffs to be seated during the hour-long performance. Word on the street has it that these are must-go-to events as a free taster for the big upcoming production at the House, usually featuring favourite arias and vignettes. In this case it would be next weekend’s presentation of Verdi’s ‘La Traviata’ with Placido Domingo in the baritone role of Germont. While the audience was unable to experience the great Spanish superstar himself, there were several surprises in store for those lucky attendees.

The first was the appearance of male members of the ‘Chorus of Teatro Massimo di Palermo’ who sang powerfully from the side-lines during the opening number from Vincenzo Costanzo, who made a sympathetic pose as Alfredo as he emerged from the audience, joining Violetta the heroine on stage. The second was the just-landed baritone, Simone Piazzola, who will sing Germont on Sunday when Placido Domingo takes to the orchestral baton. In ‘Di Provenza del Mare’ as Violetta’s father, the measured control of his warm, round timbre utterly transfixed listeners, broken only by a resounding applause at the end.

Maria Mudryak was stunning as Violetta, both visually and vocally. She was elegant and delicate of stature as she sang, ‘Un dì, Felice, eterea’ in duet with Costanzo where their voices matched perfectly and blended powerfully. In contrasting mood, Bizet’s tragic cigarette girl, Carmen, was performed brilliantly by mezzosoprano Beatrice Mezzanotte. Her French was good and her voice was almost contralto in quality in the beloved Habanera, as a seductive flamenco dancer from the Antonio Gades Dance Company twisted and flounced in front of the singer. Providing new choreography for the forthcoming production by Placido Domingo’s wife Marta, the company was last in Muscat in September for their highly acclaimed dance production, ‘Fuego’.
The guest appearance of Italian soprano, Anna Bordignon, was a splendid surprise bringing her personal interpretation of Violetta’s iconic, soaring, ‘Ode to Freedom’. ‘Sempre Libera’ filled the space at the galleria with her amazingly powerful high-register coloratura, finishing with a very top ‘C’ flourish.
A youthful Vincenzo Costanzo implored sincerely from the heart as the jealous Alfredo in the next impassioned aria. The unfaithful Violetta responded in forceful argument with, ‘Amami, Alfredo’ from Mudryak with perfect phrasing and impossibly beautiful falling, pleading lines which stole yet more hearts.
In delightful relief the flamenco dance duo reappeared to the accompaniment of pianist Marta Pujol’s introduction, ‘Les tringles des sistres tintaient’ with spell-binding agility. Beatrice Mezzanotte arriving in arresting red, seduced and transfixed with ‘Chanson Bohème’ in her deep contralto quality. Never was ‘La la la’ so infused with passion and conviction.
After more tragic confrontations between the star-crossed lovers with a surprising male chorus commenting on their fate, a convincing Escamillo was executed with gravitas by Omar Kamata. His rich, warm bass qualities in the famous ‘Toreador song’ with excellent French pronunciation was shadowed by the evocative lithe male dancer, complete with Spanish shawl and brown spats! Ms Mezzanotte responded with compelling facial expressions and confidant defiance in the ‘Seguidilla’, performed on the Sevillano ramparts.
Finally a Love Song, from the ill-fated pair in, ‘Parigi, O Cara’ as Violetta and Alfredo made their way to Paris in a tender, delightful duet, infused with beautiful ensemble and lyrical blending of their voices. The next trio, from near the end of ‘La Traviata’, ‘Prendi, quest’è l’immagine’, so dark and full of foreboding, augmented into a Quintet Finale for the soloists and dancers. They could never have finished on that poignant note, and one cannot imagine Traviata without the famous ‘Brindisi Chorus’. If Saturday is anything to go by, the three performances next week will surely be packed to the rafters. With some unorthodox interpretations of, ‘Libiamo’ (Let’s drink from joyful cups), and some involuntary audience participation, the whole company of twelve joined in the most fitting and memorable improvised encore imaginable.