Barcelona Rarity: Damrau and Flórez can’t Salvage Linda di Chamounix

SpainSpain Gaetano Donizetti, Linda di Chamounix: Soloists, Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Gran Teatre del Liceu, Marco Armiliato (conductor), Barcelona’s Liceu, 27 & 28.12. 2011 (JMI)

New production Barcelona’s Liceu, coproduction with Opera di Roma

Direction. Emilio Sagi
Sets: Daniel Bianco
Costumes: Pepa Ojanguren
Ligting: Albert Faura


Linda: Diana Damrau / Mariola Cantarero
Carlo: Juan Diego Flórez / Ismael Jordi
Antonio: Pietro Spagnoli / Fabio Capitanucci
Pierotto: Silvia Tro Santafé / Ketevan Kemoklidze
Prefect: Simon Orfila / Mirco Palazzi
Marquis de Boisfleury: Bruno de Simone / Paolo Bordogna
Maddalena: María José Suárez
Intendant: Jordi Casanova

Photo courtesy Gran Teatre del Liceau, © A. Bofill

Linda di Chamounix is an opera of full-blown maturity Donizetti. When it premiered in Vienna in 1842, Donizetti’s greatest hits were already well established. Only Don Pasquale (1844), among his best known operas, came later. Although Linda di Chamounix was a major success at its premiere and at its revival in Paris (revised and with the addition of its best-known aria), it is now one of the least performed operas by Donizetti. In Spain it was last performed in Bilbao in 1998 with Edita Gruberova in the title role. In major opera houses it was seen last season at London’s Covent Garden, but only in a concert version.

Now the Liceu in Barcelona has decided to bring it back on stage, and with an exceptional cast. Is the presence of two exceptional singers like Diana Damrau and Juan Diego Flórez enough for Linda di Chamounix to succeed? Alas, no.

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G.Donizetti, Linda di Chamounix,
M.Elder / Royal Opera
E.Gutiérrez, L.Tézier et al.
Opera Rara

Linda belongs among the semi-serious melodramas, which might have had its day, but not nowadays. There are exceptional lyrical pages in some Donizetti buffo operas, but no particularly successful lightheartedness in his lyrical or dramatic operas. Especially the quality of the music that Donizetti wrote for the buffo scenes of Marquis Boisfleury is poor. The libretto by Gaetano Rossi is weak enough to stand out even among other Rossini libretti and the music is very uneven, with outstanding moments (among them several of the main duets) right next to , but at times the music that does not go above oompah-pah. At three hours, nearly 3 hours of opera can get rather long.

The Liceu has commissioned a new production from Emilio Sagi, which doesn’t go beyond simply narrating the weak plot. He updates the action to the early 20th century and drapes it in kitschy sets for acts I and III: Some forested landscape with flowers and later a few trees replaced by tables and chairs to celebrate the return of the Savoyards from Paris. In the second act shows Linda’s apartment on two levels, and blends in with the costumes kept soft colors to match the sets. The lighting work is good, but the stage direction unconvincing.

Marco Armiliato has become one of the most requested conductors by today’s top singers, presumably because he is always at their service (if necessary at the expense of the music). Nothing was therefore more natural than to have him in the pit with Diana Damrau and Juan Diego Flórez on stage. His reading was not exciting; much as if the singers were in fact conducting. No question, Mr Armiliato can be (and was) very efficient at his job, but it’s not enough for an opera like Linda di Chamounix. His reading, interestingly, seemed much better with the second cast, when he managed for something altogether more lively—shaving a remarkable eleven minutes off the net music-time from the previous evening.

Diana Damrau is the ideal interpreter of the character of Linda: A great singer, a great actress, and a voice that is very well suited to the character, even if her very top register is not as bright as a couple of years ago. She has a lot to sing and many opportunities to shine and she was excellent. Her initial aria—or rather cabaletta—”O luce di quest’anima”—was good already, but she was at her very best in the madness scene that closes act II.

The second-cast Linda was Mariola Cantarero, with legions of her own fans in this theater. Her performance contained light and shadow. No question she is an excellent singer with an impressive technique that allows her to modulate her voice as few singers can do today. Unfortunately, the high notes were problematic, some of them just shouted and she offers some signs of fatigue… improper for a singer of her age, in addition to breaking three times in pianissimo passages.

Juan Diego Flórez as Carlo was a luxury. The score is not as long or complicated as Linda’s, but he threw about his expensive top notes for the pleasure of the audience, and did so with gusto! To my taste his voice is still rather too light for this Donizetti role; when Alfredo Kraus triumphed as Carlo at La Scala in 1972, he was a light-lyric tenor, not a light Rossini tenor, as Juan Diego Flórez continues to be. But that doesn’t mean that he is not an exceptional singer; indeed one of the best in recorded history.

Yet I found Ismael Jordi better suited to Carlos than his superstar colleague. He is much more in line with a “tenore di grazia.” He phrased with elegance and good taste and he was a good stage performer. What he cannot produce are the insultingly easy over-the-top notes that Juan Diego Flórez adds and delivers. Ismael Jordi was busy enough to cope with the notes as written in the score, lacking that extra bit of brilliance at the very top. Now a cross between these two tenors would be a Carlo for all history!

Silvia Tro Santafe was well-suited to Pierotto if somewhat monotonous in her singing. I preferred Ketevan Kemoklidze of the second cast, although her advanced pregnancy poked right through the fourth wall. Pietro Spagnoli was a mediocre Antonio, Linda’s father. This is not a minor character and a more important baritone is needed. Fabio Capitanucci was much better in the part, although his top notes remain too far much back. Simon Orfila was a remarkable interpreter of the Prefect, once you get used to his voice: not exactly beautiful, but always guaranteed to do well in any role he sings. In the second cast Mirco Palazzi offered a pleasant voice in the middle, of rather small volume—too whitish at the top and rather weak in the bottom register. Bruno de Simone was a better actor than singer as Boisfleury but again the singer of the alternative cast, Paolo Bordogna, gave the better performance.

José Mª Irurzun