Thunderous celebrations at Opera på Skäret

SwedenSweden Tenth Anniversary Concert. Soloists, Opera på Skäret Orchestra & Chorus, Marcello Mottadelli (conductor). Opera på Skäret, Kopparberg, Sweden. 27.7.2013 (GF)

A lot of people raised their eyebrows when Sten Niclasson and his wife Anna-Carin in the late 1990s presented their idea of turning the closed down sawmill in the deep forests of Central Sweden into an opera house. ‘A dream, a vision, but complete folly!’, they said. But others saw the potential and through enthusiasm and indefatigable lobbying the dream became reality. In 2004 two gala concerts with international soloists were arranged and the Opera på Skäret Summer Festival was born. Next summer La traviata was presented in three concert performances and 2006 the first fully staged production, Rigoletto, eventually proved that Opera på Skäret was a force to be reckoned with among the musical summer activities in Sweden.

This year they will play the first comic opera, Il barbiere di Siviglia (premiere 9 August), but to mark that this is the tenth season for Opera på Skäret, two gala concerts with prominent Swedish and international singers were arranged (the second concert will be on 3 August).

The first concert took place in the midst of a heat-wave and the temperature rose quickly during a special celebration ceremony for in

vited guests an hour before the start of the concert. There a number of speakers pointed out the exceptional success of this enterprise and the inspirational work of the Niclassons – their son Alexander is also deeply involved and is the director of Il barbiere di Siviglia. When we entered the opera house for the concert we could already see dark clouds approaching across Lake Ljusnaren and halfway through the first part the Thunderer let loose a spectacular cannonade as his contribution to the celebrations. In combination with a heavy rainstorm the music was temporarily almost swamped, but it was comforting to be indoors and not exposed to the forces of nature as in some other opera arenas, as Sten Niclasson, who also was the superb compère, pointed out.

The programme to begin with became a retrospect of what hitherto has been performed at Skäret. After a well played overture to Nabucco we were invited to Flora’s party in the second act of La traviata, the whole scene, which contains some of the best music in the whole opera but is practically never heard isolated from complete performances. Violetta’s part was sung by Charlotta Larsson who also took the role back in 2005. Just a couple of weeks ago I heard her in a Verdi gala at the Concert Barn in Vattnäs and she was in the same terrific form here, confirmed through superb readings of Aida (the duet with Amonasro from the Nile scene), Tosca’s Vissi d’arte and Magda’s solo from Il tabarro. She also joined Matilda Paulsson in the barcarole from Les contes d’Hoffmann.

Other operas from the past years included Rigoletto, Carmen, Pagliacci and La bohème, but we were also treated to dainty morsels from Die Zauberflöte (it was presented as a children’s opera some years ago), Il trovatore, Don Carlo and Otello. It was a long concert, 3½ hours, and the orchestra played admirably throughout. It must have been a trial of strength to rehearse such a lot of music – and to have the stamina to play during so long a concert and at that tropical temperature! Besides the Nabucco overture they also played on their own the intermezzo from Pagliacci. The chorus also had a lot to do with participation in the Traviata scene, in the Carmen Habanera, the Te Deum from Tosca and the usual feature numbers for opera choruses: the Hebrew prisoners’ chorus from Nabucco and the Anvil chorus from Il trovatore.

I have already praised Charlotta Larsson and the other soprano, Russian Yana Kleyn, was also on top. She made her international debut at Skäret in 2010 as Mimi and returned the following year as Micaëla in Carmen. Earlier this season she has been singing Liù in Turandot and Elisabetta in Trovatore, both roles at the Stockholm Opera. Here she sang from the latter a marvellous Tacea la notte, was a vulnerable Gilda in the Rigoletto quartet and also a lovely Mimi from Bohème. Matilda Paulsson appeared as Flora in the Traviata scene and as Maddalena in the Rigoletto quartet, but her feature was no doubt the habanera from Carmen, where her charisma seduced most of the men in the chorus. Her slightly fluttery tone is sometimes a bit annoying, particularly in O Don fatale from Don Carlo. From that opera we also got Filippo II’s great monologue, touchingly sung by the Armenian bass Vazgen Ghazaryan – one of the finest achievements during the evening. Before that we had heard him as Sparafucile in the scene from the first act of Rigoletto and In diesen heil’gen Hallen from Die Zauberflöte. This was a finely nuanced reading but unfortunately the Thunderer up there was at his noisiest during this aria and some of the nuances were lost.

The Norwegian baritone Ole Jörgen Kristiansen is another veteran at Skäret and was Rigoletto as early as 2006 and returned the next year as Amonasro in Aïda. He sang from both these operas and in particular his Amonasro was magnificent. So was also his Scarpia and his Tonio in the prologue from Pagliacci and the crowning glory and the concluding number of the concert was the final scene from act II of Otello: Era la notte followed by the tremendous duet Si pel ciel marmoreo giuro, where he was joined by the American tenor Roy Cornelius Smith, a singer with seemingly unlimited stamina and brilliance, but also with uncommonly fine sense for nuances. He delivered an inward E lucevan le stelle from Tosca, a committed Vesti la giubba from Pagliacci and a restrained Nessun dorma from Turandot, here together with the ladies of the chorus.

The other tenor, Italian Marco Frusoni, was not in the same class. His father Maurizio was a leading lirico-spinto tenor in his day, singing Radamès at the Metropolitan, but the son is lighter-voiced and even Alfredo in the Traviata scene seemed too heavy for him. He may have had an off-day and under pressure his voice adopted a disturbing vibrato. He tried to compensate this with an interminable final note in La donna e mobile, but his best singing came in the duet O soave fanciulla from Bohème, where he obviously was inspired by his partner Yana Kleyn.

In toto superb opera entertainment where Sten Niclasson’s thumb-nail presentations of the various numbers were exactly what was needed to understand the situations and he also appeared as Giorgio Germont in the scene from La traviata.

Göran Forsling

Medverkande solister är Matilda Paulsson, Charlotta Larsson, Roy Cornelius Smith, Yana Kleyn, Vazgen Ghazaryan, Ole Jörgen Kristiansen och Marco Frusoni. Dirigerar gör Marcello Mottadelli och medverkar gör även Opera på Skärets orkester och Opera på Skärets jubileumskör.