Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Rosenblatt Recitals - Dimitra Theodossiou

Dimitra Theodossiou
(c) New Press Photo, Firenze
I have to confess that the name Dimitra Theodossiou was new to me. The Greek soprano won a number of competitions including the Belvedere and Operalia and for the last dozen years or so has established herself as a Verdi soprano with a career mainly in Italy. She sang Odabella in Attila at Covent Garden in 2002. This along with a Verdi Requiem seem to be the extent of her London appearances, so her  recital in the Rosenblatt Recitals series at the Wigmore Hall on Monday 12 November represented a welcome opportunity to hear her. Accompanied by Elda Laro, the vocal coach at the Teatro Massimo Bellini in Catania, Theodossiou performed a selection of arias by Verdi, Puccini, Donizetti  and Mascagni.


She opened with Pace, pace mio Dio from Verdi's La forza del destino and it became clear that here was a soprano with that rare thing, a real spinto soprano voice. In the confines of the Wigmore Hall it seemed quite a big voice, but delivered with a nice degree of focus and brilliance. She had slightly more vibrato than I would have liked. This did not affect the core of the voice, nor its flexibility, but the upper notes did open out somewhat. Granted, her upper register seemed a little wayward at first, but this settled down to a certain extent as the evening progress. And was far outweighed by the great virtues that she brought to singing Verdi, with some finely focussed thrilling singing.

She paired this with the Willow Song and Ave Maria from Verdi's Otello, admirably performing the two as a continuous scene. In the quieter passages she floated the line quite entrancingly. The combination of her rich voice and expressive vibrato robbed her Desdemona of a feeling of youth, but in its place was great dignity and expressiveness. In style, her voice is closest perhaps to Caballe, with that combination of flexibility, power and edge though I feel that Theodossiou's voice is perhaps a little more wayward than the Spanish soprano's was.

Theodossiou's style of performance was highly redolent of an earlier age. She used a great deal of rubato when singing, stretching out phrases as necessary and combined this with highly theatrical emoting and dramatic gestures (my companion thought her stage manner reminded him of a silent film actress). She sang from memory and in each aria created a consciously dramatic entity, moving about and using her arms a great deal. There was something consciously artful about her dramatic performance, there was no attempt at a naturalism of delivery. I have to admit that her platform style took a bit of getting used to.

She sings Lady Macbeth, Odabella, Aide and Abigaille so it was clear that her voice is clearly centred on the dramatic Verdi roles. Surprisingly she does not list Ponchielli's La Gioconda in her repertoire, a role that would seem to suit her. She still counts Donizetti and Bellini operas in her repertoire and to conclude part 1 she sang the mad scenes from Donizetti's Anna Bolena and his Roberto Devereux.


Between the Verdi and the Donizetti, Laro gave us an elegant and powerful account of Liszt's Il mormorio del bosco, impressing with the evenness as clarity in the myriad arpeggio passages in this piece.


I am not sure it was quite wise to sing a pair of Donizetti mad scenes, though the soprano clearly felt each one strongly. Hers was a very theatrical form of madness, you didn't quite believe that she was demented but you could not but help admire the technique and the art, as well as being bowled over by the performance. She sang the passagework lightly and fluently, and produced some lovely quiet high singing. Her recitative was very free, and even in the arias proper she allowed herself quite a bit of leeway. But at moments of key emotion the power was thrilling. There was one moment in the Roberto Devereux aria when tuning came awry in the cadenza, but this was the only slip in a highly technically accomplished performance. But I felt that she would benefit from a quite firm hand in the pit, and that on the concert platform her performance was verging on the waywardly self-indulgent.

Everything changed in the second half. Theodossiou had changed from a virginal white to a dramatic black loosely draped dress, and from the opening notes of Ecco l'orrio campo from Verdi's Un ballo in maschera it was clear that here was a spinto soprano of rare power and control. Her opening section was thrilling, with the horror vividly realised, and she seemed an almost ideal spinto soprano in the middle section. The closing Miserere was beautifully handled, with the tone thinning finely. Dramatically she was still very studied, but the performance seemed less artful and more direct.

This continued with the following item, Voi lo sapete, o mamma from Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana. Her slightly old fashioned style suited the piece admirably, with a fabulous combination of power and focus in the voice. When she really let rip, the result was glorious but you could see that she never ever lost control.

Next came another piano interlude, rather oddly this was the prelude to Verdi's La traviata. Laro played it nicely enough, but one rather missed the orchestra.

After this a pair of Puccini arias. First of all Si, Mi chiamano Mimi from Puccini's La Boheme. At first sight it might seem odd for a strong spinto soprano to sing Mimi, but during Puccini's lifetime dramatic sopranos did sing the roles like Butterfly and Mimi. Theodossiou's account of the aria was nicely done, though you were aware of the art needed to create. She was neither visually nor vocally the very young woman, but instead sang with intelligence and great charm. The ending was very slow indeed, but this allowed Theodossiou to pour forth a torrent of glorious sound. Again, with Vissi d'arte from Puccini's Tosca you were very aware of the art in her voice, but as with Mimi, there was a great deal to love and admire. Temperamentally Theodossiou seemed far closer to Tosca than to Mimi, with her flashing eyes and dramatic hand gestures.

Another Verdi piano solo, this time the prelude to Aida. Then Theodossiou concluded with a simply stunning account of La luce langue from Verdi's Macbeth, the aria added during Verdi's 1867 revisions to the piece. Theodossiou very clearly staged the piece, even to the extent of making an entrance during the music. She was thrillingly and vividly Lady Macbeth, singing with power, focus and brilliance of tone. Of the arias that she sang, it is this that one that I would like to hear most in context; Theodossiou as Lady Macbeth would be  a thrillingly vivid performance I feel.

Throughout the evening, her Italian diction was excellent and you certainly did not need the Italian words to follow what she was singing.

The audience's response was rapturous, which clearly delighted and, I think, surprised the soprano. She sang one encore, Puccini's setting of the Salve Regina in an Italian text which is a free elaboration of the Latin. A delightful end to a fine evening.

Theodossiou's voice is one which is rare nowadays, a genuine spinto soprano which it was thrilling to hear. Her stage manner, redolent of a vanished age, required a little adjustment but once you got used to it, there was a great deal to enjoy in this powerful and flexible voice.

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