Two Italian Views Of Imprisonment at the Teatro Real

SpainSpain  L. Dallapicolla, Il Prigioniero, G. Puccini: Suor AngelicaTeatro Real Orchestra and Chorus, Ingo Metzmacher (conductor), Madrid Teatro Real, 2 & 3.11.2012 (JMI)

New production Teatro Real and Barcelona’s Liceu. Il Prigioniero coming from Paris National Opera.

Direction: Lluis Pasqual
Sets: Paco Azorín
Costumes: Isidre Prunés
Lighting: Pascal Mérat

Il Prigioniero
Prigioniero: Vito Priante/Georg Nigl
Mother: Deborah Polaski
Jailer and Inquisitor: Donald Kaasch

Suor Angelica
Suor Angelica: Verónica Dzhioeva/Julianna Di Giacomo
Aunt Princess: Deborah Polaski
The Abess: María Luisa Corbacho
The Monitress: Marina Rodríguez-Cusí
The Mistress of Novices: Itxaro Mentxaka
Sister Genovieffa: Auxiliadora Toledano
The alms Sisters: Sandra Ferrández & Maite Maruri

Il Prigioniero – Picture © Javier del Real

 Teatro Real offers a double bill of 20th century operas.  Besides their proximity in time – just 30 years separate the two premieres – they have little in common, since Dallapicolla remains probably the most representative Italian composer of dodecaphonic music.

Il Prigionierocontinues to be performed only rarely, since its importance to musicologists isn’t something shared or particulaly appreciated by the  average opera goer. On the other hand, it does seem appropriate that this opera has finally reached  Madrid, because, if I’m not mistaken, this production is almost the work’s  Spanish premiere. The only previous staging I can recall happened in Seville a few years ago.

The stage production is by Lluis Pasqual and was premiered in 2008 at the Palais Garnier in Paris – see Mark Berry’s review here. The sets are the same for both operas, consisting of a rotating stage in the form of a prison with bars and stairs with the action moving to modern times and changing the form of the prisoner’s execution to a lethal injection. In fact the setting works very well  for both operas since the convent is also a form of prison for Suor Angelica, who is forced into taking the  veil. Mr. Pasqual’s  direction is very efficient and I think it was a good idea to place the chorus of angels on the top floor of the theater.

The musical direction was entrusted to Ingo Metzmacher, who was making his debut at Teatro Real. He was much the best part of the show and if he was excellent at Dallapicolla, he was absolutely first rate at Puccini, in a wonderful reading of the score. I hope he’ll be back soon at the pit since under his baton both orchestra and chorus were uniformly splendid.

In the first cast the protagonist of Il Prigioniero was Vito Priante, who offered an intense and convincing performance, although his baritone is not intrinsically  very powerful. In the second cast Georg Nigl was also quite convincing, with a better suited voice for the character. Deborah Polaski was the prisoner’s mother and she came across as  much more convincing actress than a vocalist:  the voice is  shadow of what it once was and her Italian diction  was poor. Donald Kaasch sang both the jailer and the Inquisitor and he was serviceable but no more.

Suor Angelicaneeds an exceptional protagonist and Verónica Dzhioeva was not up to the task.  A singer who does not move the audience at Senza Mamma is not a good choice for the role and unfortunately Ms Dzhioeva sang uniformly forte with some shouted top notes. I think that Madrid  – which has had the opportunity to enjoy both Diana Soviero and Raina Kabaivanska in this role in the past – deserved better.

In the second cast however we had exactly that  from American soprano Julianna Di Giacomo. Her soprano is well suited to the demands of Suor Angelica, and I thought  that she sang the score precisely as it should  be done, conveying much emotion in her singing and delivering a wholly remarkable performance.

Deborah Polaski was the Principessa and her performance was better than in  Il Prigioniero. The secondary characters were generally very well covered and I should mention particularly Auxiliadora Toledano as Sister Genevieffa.

Teatro Real was filled to about 90 % capacity. The audience was warmer for Puccini than Dallapicola and the biggest applause of the evening went to Julianna Di Giacomo and Ingo Metzmacher.


Jose Mª Irurzun