Warhorses for Baritone and Orchestra

IndiaIndia Warhorses for Baritone and Orchestra :Anooshah Golesorkhi (baritone); Symphony Orchestra of India, Zane Dalal (conductor).Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai, 30.9.2012 (JSM).

Wagner: Rienzi – Overture
Verdi: Don CarloPer me giunto….O Carlo ascolta
OtelloCredo in un Dio crudel
Suppé: Poet and Peasant – Overture
Verdi: Il TrovatoreIl balen del suo sorriso
Un Ballo in Maschera – Prelude to Act 2; Eri tu che macchiavi
Puccini: ToscaTe Deum
Rossini: Semiramide – Overture
Verdi:MacbethPietà, rispetto, amore
Giordano: Andrea Chénier – Nemico della Patria
Johann Strauss Jr: Egyptian March
De Curtis: Non ti scordar di me
Johann Strauss Jr: “Emperor” Waltz
Leoncavallo: Mattinata


National Centre for Performing Arts Photo Courtesy NCPA

Baritone Anooshah Golesorkhi returned to Mumbai exactly two years (to the day) after his stunning performance here as Baron Scarpia in Tosca, to give a recital consisting of seven mainstays of the operatic repertoire and two popular songs, interspersed with orchestral favorites. A challenging program, executed with a modicum of success; with the participation of the Symphony Orchestra of India, conducted by Zane Dalal.

Mr. Golesorkhi possesses a voice of medium power, lacking the squillo of the true Verdian baritone. He is reasonably secure on the high notes, less so at the bottom of the stave. There is genuine musicality at work, an attempt at line and legato which sometimes, however, falls short and is further stretched by slow tempi or extremes in dynamics and tessitura. Above all, there is real awareness of character; an ability to adapt color and expression to suit psyche and emotion. Thus, the seven gentlemen portrayed did NOT sing with one voice.

The major disappointment herein was, surprisingly, Scarpia. Unlike his previous incarnation in this city at Mr. Golesorkhi’s behest, the Baron lacked almost all semblance of lust in the Te Deum; and was sometimes barely audible over the orchestra.

The baritone’s best performance of the evening was Gérard the revolutionary, in Giordano’s verismo warhorse Andrea Chénier. The character’s complexities and contradictions; his compulsion to live-up to ideals all came across in a moving performance of the aria Nemico della Patria. Within the singer’s limitations, it packed a powerful musico-dramatic punch.

The five Verdi villains, anti-heroes and noble souls lay somewhere between those two in accomplishment. Of these, Iago fared the best, his Credo delivered with bite, venom and vivid word-painting; in particular the penultimate utterance “La Morte e il Nulla!” given in a chilling whisper. But here again, Mr. Golesorkhi was sometimes almost drowned-out by Mr. Dalal’s orchestra whose “accompaniment” was often too loud.

Macbeth’s Pietà, rispetto, amore began with a vocally secure and appropriately blustering recitative, undergoing a sea-change at the thought of possible defeat and ending in a plangent mezza voce. The aria proper was performed with fine Verdian cantabile unfortunately compromised by occasionally intrusive aspiration.

Also compromised were Il balen del suo sorriso from Il Trovatore and Eri tu from Un Ballo in Maschera by inconsistent legato in phrasing and execution of ornamental gruppetti and a reluctance to give some notes their full value. The former aria was taken at a dangerously slow pace which exacerbated the singer’s problems; and in the latter, Renato’s bitter indictment of his unfaithful wife’s relationship with his best friend was, interestingly, conceived more in sorrow than anger.

The Marchese di Posa’s death scene from Don Carlo, with which the baritone began his recital, was a clear indication of what was to follow, indicating the singer’s strengths and weaknesses. These were again evident in the popular songs with which he concluded the program, Non ti scordar di me and Mattinata, both sung with verve, grace and generosity of spirit, making one forgive any previous shortcomings.

Maestro Dalal elicited fine, sensitive playing from members of his orchestra, particularly Principal Cellist Boris Baraz and, in the accompaniment to Eri tu, flautists Katherine Bicknell and Sarah Bennington, along with Tatiana Oskolkova on the harp. However, as noted earlier, the balance of orchestra with baritone-soloist needed to be better judged, especially since both were placed at the same physical level.

The trumpet calls which began Wagner’s Rienzi Overture (and the concert) were clarion-like and executed with perfect swell and ebb; and the music of Rienzi’s Prayer was meltingly played. Although one got the feeling it peaked too early, this utterly musical performance of the overture made the tiresome bombast of its concluding pages tolerable!

The Overture to Semiramide was variable. After some tentative phrasing by the quartet of French horns, the ensuing Allegro was taken at a clip with fine rhythmic sensibility and bounce, though one found the string pizzicati too soft in relation to the woodwinds, who played admirably. The brass section (here and elsewhere) seemed to lag a little behind the rest of the orchestra; and Rossini’s crescendi could have had better gradation.

One wondered why the comparatively lightweight Suppé and Johann Strauss Jr. selections were present in the program….perhaps to make it more palatable to mainstream audiences? In any case, the former’s Poet and Peasant Overture was given a sonorous opening, though the fiercely trilled tutti which followed from the strings lacked dramatic attack; and the waltz had little Viennese lilt. Similarly, the performance of Strauss’ “Emperor” Waltz, despite much fussing over details, came across as entirely unidiomatic. However, his insouciant little Egyptian March was delivered with brio and charm.

On the whole, the concert had the makings of an enjoyable evening, but was severely undermined by terribly fatiguing sound, apparently caused by the new reflectors hanging over the orchestra. They seem to amplify and project the sound unnaturally, especially from the strings and woodwinds, making it harsh and headache-inducing. This was never the case in the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre whose acoustics could, in fact, be described as somewhat cavernous and indistinct, depending on where one was seated. If installing the reflectors is an attempt by the NCPA to “improve” the sound, the method is evidently counter-productive and extremely ill-advised!

Jiten S. Merchant