Star-studded concert rings in the new year

There were fireworks in the Royal Opera House Muscat on New Year’s eve to welcome the New Year in style. The star-studded Gala Concert opened with Rachmaninov’s “Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini”, Op. 43 — a Concerto in 3 sections for piano and orchestra, in 24 variations. ROHM’s own favourite orchestra, the PKF — Prague Philharmonia, were there in strength under their animated, vivacious guest conductor, the world-renowned 56-year-old Czech, Leos Svarovsky.

Guest pianist for the evening was Andrew Von Oeyen, born in the US of Germanic roots, he has performed widely to formidable international acclaim. He has established himself as ‘one of the most captivating pianists of his generation’, and this was evident in his interpretation of the opening piece: The 1934 Concerto moved through every mood Rachmaninov is capable of, from fast, virtuoso ripples across the keyboard displaying Oeyen’s controlled yet brilliant technique, to huge, powerful chords, and that most lush, romantic harmony which evolves out of nowhere. Variation 18, ‘Andante Cantabile’, was made famous in the film, ‘Somewhere in Time’ and on Thursday it was performed with impossible artistry and poignancy. The rest was fireworks, a tour-de-force, which lit up the hall for 25 minutes.
In complete contrast of mood, Marcelo Alvarez, Argentinian tenor and top of the bill, sung the dark ‘Rodrigue’s Aria’ from Massenet’s ‘Le Cid’ with impressive passion and strength across his considerable range. It was a difficult choice of opening aria after the Rachmaninov, but he pulled off the change, in French, with intense expression and tremendous conviction. Even harder was for the young 23-year-old Valencian soprano, Marina Monzo, to warm the audience’ hearts in the melodramatic, ‘Norina’s Aria’ from Donizetti’s ‘Don Pasquale’, despite its ‘opera buffa’ context. But her voice was superb, measured and accurate, and her confidence was clear even in the high tessitura. It was a pity she chose to wear black in such a celebratory Gala performance, but it brought some gravitas to the repertoire and was certainly not distracting.
‘Cavaradossi’s Aria’ from Puccini’s ‘Tosca’, ‘E Lucevan e Stele’ is one of the big roles in the ‘verismo’ repertoire, and though short, it reflected the power of Alvarez’ technique and incredible warmth in his tenor voice. He somehow sings through his eyes and has tremendous facial expression and through gesture. Following with Juliette’s ‘Je Veux Vivre’ from Gounod’s ‘Romeo et Juliette’ gave Ms Monzo a chance to be coy and in love in French and show a lighter side of her talent. The audience was won over, and when they performed the famous ‘Rodolfo and Mimi’s duet’ — ‘O Soave Fanciulla’ from Puccini’s ‘La Boheme’ in a Finale to Part 1, they reflected a chemistry that was convincingly flirtatious and engaging, moving off stage as Mimi shyly agreed to step out with the charming poet.
After we all stepped out and back in to the auditorium, Part 2 was an entirely Hispanic set, beginning with Leandro’s dark romance from Pablo Sorozabal’s popular Zarzuela, ‘La Tabernera Del Puerto’, sung movingly by Alvarez in his native tongue. The 1941 orchestral ‘Huapango’ by the 29-year-old Mexican, Jose Pablo Moncayo, provided a lively rhythmic diversion. Clearly influenced by the Latin compositions of Copeland and Bernstein, it wasn’t strictly a Huapango but was deliciously fast and wild. It prepared the ground for two more Zarzuelas; Torroba’s ‘Maravilla’ and Gimenez’ 1901 ‘El Barbero de Sevilla’. The latter at last gave Marina a chance to fly in her native Spanish — and fly she did, to the heights of her soprano register, bringing the house down with rapturous applause and calls.
The grand piano was wheeled out again for Andrew Von Oeyen to accompany Marcelo Alvarez in his interpretation of French-Argentinian singer Carlos Gardel’s title-track to his 1935 film, ‘El dia que me quieras’ (The day that you love me) in an exquisite, Latin-jazz ballad with brilliant piano improvisation. Another orchestral interlude in the form of Mexican Arturo Marquez’ 2008 ‘Danzon No. 2’ provided a magical insight into the varying accents and tempi of that iconic Cuban dance style in a Contemporary classical Mexican composition, reminiscent of Ginastera’s compelling Latin American rhythms.
The Finale was perfect; Solea and Rafael’s duet from Penella Moreno’s, ‘El Gato Montes’, (The Wild Cat, 1916) at last gave this handsome and musically well-matched couple a chance to blend their voices in playful mode to everyone’s delight. Sadly Ms Monzo did not have an encore prepared, but Alvarez had three! Firstly, the Mexican Augustin Lara’s 1932 tribute to the Spanish city of “Granada” — made famous by Mario Lanza was sung here with immense power, passion and breadth. Then Oeyen returned to Romantic classical mode to accompany Marcelo’s Puccini solo with such poignant tenderness and elegance, it could have lasted till midnight. Finally, back with the full, 68-strong PKF Orchestra under its lead violinist, Jan Fiser, the concert concluded after over 2 amazing hours of nostalgia, with Pavarotti’s favourite chestnut, Bixio’s tribute to mothers everywhere. “Mama, mai piu” provided a fitting soundtrack for 2018 before revellers moved out into the night in time to celebrate the end of a wonderful year at ROHM.

Georgina Benison