Amazing Opera Festival in the Midst of Nowhere

SwedenSweden Opera Festival at Dala-Floda, Dalecarlia. Soloists, Jacob Moscovicz (piano). Floda Church. 11.8.2012 (GF)

Take a map of Central Sweden, find Borlänge, the town where Jussi Björling was born, draw a circle with a diameter of approx. 150 kilometres with Borlänge as the centre. Within that circle you will find Kopparberg (Opera på Skäret), Vattnäs (with the brand new concert barn), Dalhalla (the magnificent outdoor arena) and Dala-Floda. In all four places there has been opera – and other classical vocal music – of high quality during the summer, and I wonder where else in so relatively sparsely populated area one can find such a great supply of opera.

In Dala-Floda, with a population of around 700 inhabitants, soprano Anna Eklund Tarantino found the ideal place for her summer house and it didn’t take long before she established her own summer music festival. Anna is a Godsend fiery spirit, she knows everyone in the music business and when she pulls the right strings things happen. She is imaginative, she finds unusual solutions. At this year’s two-day-festival he opening event was a morning concert at the local grocer’s. At lunchtime there was outdoor opera in the green grass, followed in the afternoon by a gala concert in the church. In the evening there was opera dinner at the local inn with Italian menu and opera entertainment, and at 11 p.m. there was a performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in the church with chorus, orchestra and soloists. It ended well after midnight. The next day offered a morning serenade at the inn, and from there the visitors were invited to opera workshop at the nearby barn and finally in the afternoon there was children’s opera at the barn. And Anna was everywhere, organizing, singing. Amazing!

I only was able to hear the gala concert in the church on Saturday afternoon, with six singers and a pianist. The latter, Jacob Moscovicz, has been one of the foremost pianists in Sweden for many years with innumerable concerts, recitals and recordings to his credit – and a very sought after accompanist. At this concert with limited rehearsal time and programme changes in the last minute he was a pillar of strength, flexible, sensitive, alert. The programme offered titbits from the opera repertoire, some arias, a couple of duets in a well varied mix. Carolina Bengtsdotter-Ljung, dramatic mezzo-soprano, for several years engaged at the Nationaltheater Mannheim in Germany, opened the proceedings with Santuzza’s aria from Cavalleria rusticana, and returned after the interval with another favourite, Dalila’s Mon coeur s’ouvre from Saint-Saens’ Samson et Dalila. Both arias amply demonstrated her magnificent voice as well as her charismatic stage presence. This was even more pronounced in the concerts finale, the intense duet between Santuzza and Turiddu from Cavalleria rusticana. Her tenor partner was Peter Tornborg who sported a dark-tinted dramatic spinto voice with power and metallic ring that even Mario Del Monaco in his heyday would have envied. Before this he had introduced himself with a charming version of Gern hab’ ich die Frauen geküsst from Lehar’s Paganini. The other tenor, India-born John Haque, who was a last minute replacement for an ailing colleague and had flown from Parma in Italy for this occasion, found a suitable Mimi in the audience and kneeled in front of her, held her hand and sang Che gelida manina from La bohème. Very touching! The young coloratura soprano Petra Valman had chosen two of Konstanze’s arias from Die Entführung aus dem Serail with crystal clear lyrical tone and fluent technique.

After the interval Paula Hoffman moved the audience almost to tears with a deeply felt Piangerò from Handel’s Giulio Cesare. Cleopatra’s tragic state was expressed in finely graded nuances but in the fast and dramatic middle section she was intensely dramatic and let off the fearful coloratura runs with élan. More high strung drama came in the seguidilla from Carmen, where John Haque assisted as a both repelled and infatuated Don José and then on his own sang a beautifully nuanced flower song from the same opera.

And more flowers were to come, not only the physical bouquets to all the participants at the end but in the shape of the flower duet from Delibes’ Lakmé. This was one of the loveliest moments in a concert that was filled with lovely things Paula Hoffman and Anna Eklund Tarantino joined forces in perfect harmony and sang the final phrases off stage. I heard a deep sigh from a lady sitting behind me. Oh, so beautiful!

But I still have to report on the most impressive moments in the whole concert: Anna Eklund Tarantino’s two solos. In the first part of the concert she was Violetta, the tragic heroine in Verdi’s La traviata. I have heard her singing the big aria that finishes the first act, E strano, before and knew what to expect, but this time her identification with poor Violetta was even more total: facial expressions, the colouring of the voice, the many fine nuances and the glorious top notes. Her second contribution was another of the unhappy heroines, Cio Cio San in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. We all felt that it wasn’t Anna Eklund but Cio Cio San who stood there. The closeness enhanced the impression, the singers were literally at arm’s length and I believe that for listeners not yet won over by opera, a concert like this one must be a revelation. Anna has already promised that there will be a festival next summer too.

Göran Forsling