Friday 8 November 2013

Giorgio Berrugi at Rosenblatt Recitals

Giorgio Berrugi and Eytan Pessen in recital at Wigmore Hall, photo Rosenblatt Recitals
Giorgio Berrugi and Eytan Pessen
at Wigmore Hall, photo Rosenblatt Recitals
One of the joys of the Rosenblatt Recitals series is the discovery of voices entirely new to you. I have to confess that until his recital last night (7 November) for Rosenblatt Recitals at the Wigmore Hall, I had never come across the Italian tenor Giorgio Berrugi. Accompanied by Eytan Pessen, Berrugi dislayed a fine lyric tenor voice in an imaginative programme which mixed opera arias by Donizetti, Puccini and Cilea with songs by Bellini, Respighi, Gounod, Faure and Hahn plus arrangements of Ladino songs.

Berrugi's musical career started with the clarinet, he was a solo clarinettist with the Orchestra Sinfonica in Rome. He made his debut as Rodolfo in La Boheme in Treviso and Venice in 2008 and from 2010 to 2013 was a member of the ensemble at the Staatsoper in Dresden. The fact that Berrugi was over 30 when he made his debut (he was born in 1977) is perhaps significant, his voice has a beauty and sheen to it which speaks of great care being taken and pressure not being applied too early. Looking at his schedule, his roles are continuing in the lyric tenor fach which is heartening. Judging from last nights recital, Berrugi's voice clearly has the potential for greater power and intensity, but at the moment this is combined with an admirable flexibility and delicacy in his chosen repertoire.

Berrugi and Pessen opened their recital with Quanto è bella quanto è cara from Donizetti's L’elisir d’amore in which Berrugi displayed all his considerable virtues, a lovely sense of line, beautiful fine grained tone, well shaped phrases and a firm focussed tone which was wonderfully even throughout the range even when loud. Donizetti's aria was given with stylish and elegant phrasing, with a real feel for the detail of the music.

They followed this with a pair of Bellini's songs, Dolente immagine di Fille mia and Malinconia ninfa. In both Berrugi made them really songs, fining his voice down, rather than presenting them as quasi arias. Each was song with a lovely shape to the melody and a fine accompaniment from Pessen.

Wearing a three piece suit, Berrugi presented a rather studied presence on the platform which suggested that he might be more comfortable in opera than in recital.

Slightly more unusual repertoire followed with three songs by Ottorino Respighi. Here we moved far closer to the art song, rather than Bellini's ballads written for domestic consumption. O falce di luna calante set a rather over-cooked text by Gabriele D'Annunzio about the crescent moon. Starting with a flowery piano part, Respighi complemented this with a seductive vocal line which was sung by Berrugi in a lovely mezza-voce. Here was a real song, something dark and complex. The following two songs, Nevicata and Nebbie both set words by Ada Negri and each uses the weather (first snowfall and secondly mists) as an allegory of failed love. Nevicata contrasted a flowing piano part in the lower register, with an understated conversational vocal line. As the passion developed in the song, Berrugi displayed great control. Nebbie, perhaps one of Respighi's best known songs, was highly dramatic with Berrugi giving a very intense performance and displaying a lovely evenly projected tone.

For the final item in the first half we returned to opera with La dolcissima effigie from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur with the aria being prefixed by a long, characterful piano prelude. Berrugi gave a nicely impassioned performance, rising to a fabulous climax and then dying away in a honeyed mezza-voce.

Berrugi and Pessen opened the second half with three French songs, by Gounod, Faure and Hahn. Berrugi sang with highly creditable French but more than that, he modulated his tone so that in the quieter passages the songs felt more French (the French language is less open than Italian and French singers of the past sang with a tighter, less open sound), only opening up for the climaxes. Yes this was an Italian tenor singing French songs, but he had clearly thought about how he was going to perform them and the effect that he would have.

Gounod's Le soir was simply magical, being sung in finely contained tones. In Faure's Après un rêve we got some lovely mezza-voce, beautifully modulated lines and seductive tones though the climax veered closer to the operatic. Duparc's Phidylé was quietly magical for the first two verses and then Berrugi opened up, still with firm tones giving us a thrilling climax. It wasn't quite the sort of interpretation of this song that I was used to, but in the context it worked very well.

Berrugi moved briefly back into opera with À toi que j’ai chérie from Verdi's Les vêpres siciliennes. This aria from the fourth act comes from a revival of the opera when Verdi wrote a new aria for the tenor to replace O jour de peine. Singing with firm tone and impassioned line, Berrugi made us regret that the aria wasn't longer.

Next came a group of arrangement's of Ladino songs. Ladino is the Spanish-Hebrew creole spoken by Jews in Spain in the 15th century. When they were expelled from Spain in 1492 the language was preserved, complete with the echoes of medieval Spanish. The arranger was not credited in the programme but the piano accompaniments were highly imaginative. Also, in performing these Berrugi's stage demeanour relaxed somewhat and he seemed to be really enjoying himself.  A la una yo nací was a lively number with a rather exotic feel. Al deredor de la mi cama was slow and soft, with Berrugi singing in seductive, hypnotic tones.  Ya viene el cativo was dramatic and rather fierce, whilst in the final number Avre tu puerta cerrada Berrugi was beautifully impassioned with a perfectly filled out vocal line.

The final item on the programme was E lucevan le stelle from Puccini's Tosca which Berrugi sang with passion, impressing also with the beautiful evenness of his voice, finely produced.

Throughout the recital Berrugi was well supported by Pessen's highly characterful piano playing. The audience response at the end of the recital was overwhelming and we were treated to three encores by a visibly delighted Berrugi and Pessen finishing with a beautiful rendition of Una furtiva lagrima from Donizetti's L’elisir d’amore
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