Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Nemorini X 2 for Danni's dazzling Donizetti

Wet, wet, wet. We nearly drowned at Glyndebourne on Sunday - so much for the drought - but I had quite a treat, being assigned to review L'elisir d'amore (photos by Bill Cooper/Glyndebourne): http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/classical/reviews/lrsquoelisir-drsquoamore-glyndebourne-lewes-2297043.html

It's hard to believe this was Danielle de Niese's first Adina - she doesn't half hold the stage, seemed to relish every coloratura whoosh, twirl and ping, and even made the taming of this shrew into a reasonably palatable and believable tale. She's not only a tremendous singer, but a born performer in every respect.

I really have some problems with this production, though, and wouldn't mind explaining why at more length. And now I can also offer you two tenors for the price of one...

The relationship between Adina and Nemorino is beautifully staged, but to counterbalance that dramatically you also need to believe that she could be intending to go off with Belcore. I mean, come on, she nearly marries the guy. She even gets a wedding dress. And in this 1930s take he's a Blackshirt, so the situation shouldn't be all that funny. But that relationship is staged more or less as a comedy revue and tends to be subsumed in all the fussy goings-on around - which rarely stop and, while occasionally amusing, do leave you wishing they'd just keep still even for five seconds (Nemorino does 'Una furtiva lagrima' alone and in comparative quietude beside the water pump. That's about it.) As for Dulcamara's phenomenally annoying mute, tattooed sidekick - what is he for? What's he doing, miming childbirth and other such fun and games? Why? Perhaps some wire extracted from the innards of the recreated authentic fortepiano in the pit would sort him out.

So, what happened to Stephen Costello? He was off with a sore throat and apparently had been poorly for a while. UPDATE: He has just dropped me a line saying this is the first time in his career he's ever had to cancel. I blame our British summertime...certainly on Sunday the best place a singer with a sore throat could possibly be was: tucked up somewhere warm and dry with a steam bowl.

I heard him at the dress rehearsal, though missed the first night (below, Costello as Nemorino, with Danni as Adina). Do have a read of this interview with him.

We expected him not to "sing out" for the dress, but if that wasn't singing out, and he wasn't feeling well, you wonder what it's like when he's on top form. He's an all-out, in-yer-face romantic lyric tenor: big sound, lots of overtones and undertones, bags of character and a predilection for that mannerism that starts a note some way under and swoops up to target, producing an Italian-broken-heart sound-effect while so doing. The trick is pleasingly Golden Age-ish, though it felt over-used. Glyndebourne is a small house, of course, but in this setting Costello's tone, throat problem notwithstanding, comes over as big and reasonably tough - a sound that might be more at home in Verdi than Donizetti, though in scale, projection and vibrato his seemed a more seamless match with Danni's voice than was Lee's lighter, slenderer instrument. Of the two, Costello won in 'Una furtiva lagrima', by a breath-control whisker; Lee won for charm and purity of style. Costello is to sing Alfredo at Covent Garden next season; that should suit him down to the ground. Watch that space. I reckon we'll be hearing a good bit more of both of them in the years ahead.