Wednesday 11 January 2017

Uneven partnership: Maria Katzarava & Stefano La Colla at Rosenblatt Recitals

Maria Katzarava
Maria Katzarava
Verdi, Puccini, Massenet, Gounod, Giordano; Maria Katzarava, Stefano La Colla, Simon Lepper; Rosenblatt Recitals at the Wigmore Hall
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 10 2017
Star rating: 3.5

Some fine soprano solos redeem and evening of unequal duet partnership

The first Rosenblatt Recital of 2017 on 10 January at the Wigmore Hall saw the Mexican soprano Maria Katzarava and the Italian tenor Stefano La Colla, accompanied by pianist Simon Lepper performing a programme of arias and duets by Verdi, Puccini, Massenet, Gounod and Giordano including music from Aroldo, Manon Lescaut, Le Cid, Romeo e Juliette, Andrea Chenier, Tosca, La Boheme and Madama Butterfly.  Neither singer seems to have worked much in the UK so it was a welcome opportunity to hear them their core repertoire. Maria Katzarava won the first prize and zarzuela prize at Placido Domingo's Operalia 2008 and plans include Maguerite (Faust) in Lausanne, Mimi (La boheme) in Bologna, and Madama Butterfly in Palermo. Stefano La Colla's plans include Radames (Aida) in Naples and Verona, Des Grieux (Manon Lescaut) in Amsterdam, Rodrigue (Le Cid) in St Gallen, Ismaele (Nabucco) in Milan and Calaf (Turandot).

Stefano La Colla
Stefano La Colla
The evening started with an element of confusion. The programme led the audience to believe that we were were to hear Aroldo and Mina's duet Sotto il sol di Siria ardente from Verdi's Aroldo, his 1837 re-write of Stiffelio. But Stefano La Colla sang us a solo, which turned out to be the tenor cavatina extracted from the duet with the soprano part omitted, which seemed a shame given that there was a soprano included in the evening. But this was indicative of the general tenor of the evening, when the partnership of Stefano La Colla and Maria Katzarava seemed, from our side of the footlights, to be somewhat one-sided with the tenor as the dominant partner. At least it was noticeable that Maria Katzarava gave her best, and most subtle performances in her solos.

Stefano La Colla has an attractive, spinto voice and a vocal style which seems to be modelled on Mario del Monaco with a firmness of line, yet a rather unsubtle robust attitude to phrasing. He has the virtue of reliability, with a nice evenness of emission though he seemed to have only two volume settings, mezza-voce and loud. The mezza-voce moments were lovely, and we could have done with hearing more, but virtually everything at the top of his voice was sung full. This was rather too loud for the Wigmore Hall, and in the duets it forced Maria Katzarava to match him. La Colla also had a habit which, heard once was acceptable but when repeated came to annoy. For climactic top notes he tended to push his voice somewhat and kept going sharp.

For her first solo Maria Katzarava sang Vissi d'arte from Puccini's Tosca (a change from the advertised programme). She displayed a voice which, though lyric, seemed well on the way to developing into a spinto. The aria was taken at quite a slow speed, with lovely sculpted phrases. I could have done with more colour in the words, but there was lovely control of line and wonderful evenness to the voice all the way to the top.

Next came the first duet, Tu, tu amore! Tu? from Puccini's Manon Lescaut. Here the couple did strike sparks from each other. Visually it was highly old-fashioned as the two gave us lots of 'operatic acting', both gave us lots of sculpted line, and what they did with their voices was thrilling.

Stefano La Scolla followed this with O Souverain, o Juge, o Pere from Massenet's Le Cid; something of a war-horse but welcome nonetheless. In this aria La Scolla showed that he could give us a somewhat subtle performance, with lots of expressive mezza-voce though the thrilling ending was back to the default loud setting.

A further French aria followed, Dieu! quel frisson court dans mes veines!, Juliette's Act Four aria from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette. The role is one that Maria Katzarava has had in her repertoire for some time, and despite the voice's apparent increase in power she could still deliver a remarkable performance. Her Juliette was perhaps more assured and dramatic, less girlish than some, but she sang with creditable French and created real drama in the recitatives. We also had a trill, and some lovely fined down top notes (which we discovered to be something of a trademark).  Overall a strong performance, with far less generic 'operatic acting' and more sense of character.

Part one finished with a further duet, Vicino a te s'acqueta from Umberto Giordano's Andrea Chenier, the final climactic duet when Andrea and Maddalena go off on the tumbril together. Though this is Verismo, the robustness and volume could have done with scaling back,  and the phrasing had an uneven, chopped up quality to it. Yet the more subtle moments showed what the couple could do.

Part two opened with Recondita armonia from Puccini's Tosca in a performance from Stefano La Colla which had enough quieter moments to make you wish that he had given us more of them, rather than concentrating on sheer volume for thrills. Cavaradossi and Tosca's Act One duet, Mario! Mario! is perhaps a slightly strange recital choice, more a bleeding chunk of drama than a satisfying musical whole. Still, we were able to appreciate more of Katzarava's temperamental and colourful Tosca, with plenty of temperament and flashing eyes.

Mimi's Act Four aria Donde lieta usci from La Boheme followed, with some beautifully contained performance from Katzarava. But here her acting was less subtle, yet we were also aware of the bleeding chunk nature of the piece, and longed for the scene to go on. La Colla's account of Nessun dorma was all we might have expected, and by now his mannerism and the stentorian nature of the delivery, ignoring the nature of the venue, were beginning to make us tire.

Maria Katzarava's account of Liu's Act Three aria Tu che di gel sei cinta from Puccini's Turandot redeemed everything and gave us the finest and most complete performance of the evening. She combined an expressive, shapely line with intensity and power, and made you want to hear more.

I would definitely have loved to hear Katzarava in Butterfly's final aria), but for a final duet we had Butterfly and Pinkerton's Act One duet from Madama Butterfly. It had its subtle moments, and Katzarava in particular gave us some lovely, affecting singing, and La Colla was in character enough not to grand-stand all the time. But there were moments when he entered at a volume level a good notch above Katzarava, and you felt she tried to match him. The result was thrilling in its way, but not the most erotic of performances. As an encore the couple repeated the final section of the duet.

Throughout Simon Lepper accompanied in exemplary fashion, often providing musicality and subtlety when it was lacking elsewhere and encouraging the performers to respond.

Elsewhere on this blog:
- CD review
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